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Blackthorn - Draighean

Blackthorn and Whitethorn Hedgerow

The Blackthorn  Draighean (Prunus spinosa)


The Blackthorn Shrub, also know as the Sloe or Wishing Thorn is a member of the plum genus of the family Rosaceae (the rose family, which includes most of our best-known fruits, including apples, pears, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries). It is widely found through out Ireland, and is one of the most common hedgerow shrubs in Europe.


It can be identified in winter by its dark brown almost black thorny branches and is often one of the first flowering shrub in spring with little white five petalled flowers which appear in February to April. It produces small oval shapes leaves, which develop after the flowers. The purple fruits of the tree are called sloes are found in the autumn. These fruit are not generally eaten by humans as they are a very bitter fruit, but are used for making wine, sloe gin and preserves. This fruit is a great food source for birds and is a favourite food of many moth larvae. The shrub itself is a great safe hiding place for small birds due to its dense thorny branches.








There are many traditions associated with the Blackthorn. The wood is strong and has traditionally been used in Ireland to make shillelagh (walking stick or fighting stick). The Blackthorn has been associated with old nature religions and with old Wiccan ways and there are many myths and legends that are connected with this shrub. 




The Blackthorn shrub is one of the plants recommended as a good native hedgerow plant in the REPS handbook. Blackthorn is a robust species and can grow in most types of soils, it forms a dense thorny shrub which will spread in to other areas of the hedgerow.


Hedgerows commonly support many native and non-native trees and shrubs including ash, hazel, beech, elder and willows. Frequently hedgerows support climbing plants such as ivy and honeysuckle. They provide a very important wildlife habitat in the Irish landscape and are also a familiar and traditional aspect to the Irish landscape. As we have so little native woodland in Ireland, hedges are an important substitute for woodland edge habitat, many species rely on them for somewhere to live, feed and reproduce. The most significant threats to hedgerows include inappropriate management and clearance of hedgerows for development of land and agricultural expansion. Good management of this habitat is essential. Hedgerows should be cut when the are bare, between the months of September to the end of February in accordance with the Wildlife Act of 2000 section 46.


For more information on Hedgerow Management please see the

Check out the Notice Nature list of links for more information on Trees and Shrubs

©2007 Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government