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Prunus spinosa (blackthorn)

A shrub with pure white flowers and dark, thorny branches, blackthorn is perhaps best known for its fruits, which are used to produce sloe gin.
Prunus spinosa (blackthorn) fruits

Blackthorn fruits have a white bloom that can be wiped off (Photo: Martin Olsson, licensed under CC by 3.0)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Prunus spinosa L.

Common name: 

blackthorn, sloe

Conservation status: 

Not assessed according to IUCN Red List criteria.


Hedgerows, thickets, scrubland, screes and woodland edges.

Key Uses: 

Flavouring for alcoholic beverages, timber.

Known hazards: 

Branches bear sharp thorns and fruits produce a compound that can generate small quantities of hydrogen cyanide in water.


Genus: Prunus

About this species

Blackthorn is a shrub belonging to the same genus (Prunus) as almond, cherry and plum trees. The specific epithet spinosa refers to the sharp spines or thorns that are characteristic of this plant.

An important plant for wildlife, its early spring flowers provide nectar for early emerging insects, and its branches create a spiny thicket, providing secure nesting sites for birds. Great grey shrikes (Lanius excubitor) often nest in blackthorn and hang food items on the large thorns, hence their colloquial name of butcher-bird.

Blackthorn is the food plant of many moths including the clouded silver (Lomographa temerata), lunar-spotted pinion (Cosmia pyralina), dark dagger (Acronicta tridens) and green-brindled crescent (Allophyes oxyacanthae). It is the only food plant of the sloe carpet (Aleucis distinctata), a moth that occurs in southeastern England.


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