#30DaysWild No 1. Hawthorn

#30DaysWild 2021 No. 1. It’s hard to believe June is already upon us, and so is #30DaysWild, organised by the Wildlife Trusts. But since we’re not quite ready to say goodbye to May yet, we’re taking a moment to enjoy the flower named after the month – May, or hawthorn blossom.

This picture is taken from near the wildlife pond at Wheatland Farm, with Balebarn Eco Lodge in the background. The hawthorns here are fairly mature now, but were planted back in 2008 for ‘Tree o’clock’ – and attempt to break the world record for how many trees could be planted in an hour. We were given the saplings to take part by the North Devon Coast and Countryside Service, as it was then. Hawthorn wasn’t the only native species we planted, but it is very common all across Devon and indeed most English counties. It was a great plant for hedges, back before barbed wire, as it ‘lays’ well and is dense and prickly enough to be stock proof. Since Devon is a county of small fields and deep hedges, it feels almost emblematic of spring in the South West.

It’s not quite our favourite spring blossom though – that accolade goes to blackthorn, the similar plant that flowers before it’s leaves come out. Blackthorn we grow up against Nuthatch Lodge and outside Beech Lodge – to bring spring cheer as early as possible.

Hawthorns are such pretty plants, and they are so laden with blossom it’s not hard to see why they might have developed an association with fertility. The flower used to be part of May day celebrations. But that does seem a bit surprising in other ways, as you don’t often see May in flower at the beginning of the month of May. But apparently, the folk lore customs pre-date the shift to the Gregorian calendar in 1752 – so it used to make sense!

Hawthorn blossoms have an odd smell – not a particularly pleasant one. They are much prettier to look at than to sniff. The scent sort of smells a bit like old laundry. Apparently, the flowers give off trimethylamine, a chemical which is also produced as flesh begins to decay. No wonder we don’t use hawthorn in perfumes then! And that presumably accounts for the old idea that it’s unlucky to bring flowering May into your house – you’d be bringing in the smell of death. Mind you, we’ve heard that ‘unlucky’ idea for other spring flowers too, like cow parsley. Maybe flower picking in general was frowned on!

Anyway, with the flowers left in the hedgerows we’ll get more berries in autumn. People use the berries to add pectin to jams and jellies – but at Wheatland Farm we usually leave them for the birds. Come winter, the field fares and redwings will want them.

Right now, the fresh leaves are quite tasty too. But be careful, as all parts of hawthorn contain a chemical that acts on heart muscle. In fact, it supposedly has medicinal uses for blood pressure, but it’s not something anyone should be dosing themselves with.

Previously for #30DaysWild

This time last year: We’d found some southern marsh orchids in flower. That’s a good reminder to go looking again.

In 2019: We got started with 10 wild minutes. Always a relaxing thing to do.

This time in 2018 year: Damsels, but not in distress

This time in 2017: The boys were in the pond!