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Dark Crone Of The Woods

  • Fri 21st Feb, 2020

Exploding white flowers from bare black branches, blossom before leaf, March belongs to blackthorn. Every winter I look forward to that first spring bloom, and then as if by magic an amazing carpet of white covers the whole tree. The darkness of winter transformed and my spirit is lifted.

Blackthorn in flower © Jo RuthBlackthorn in flower © Jo Ruth

Look out for bumblebees around the flowers. Early spring blossoming trees such as blackthorn and willow are important sources of food for queens emerging from hibernation. The buff-tailed bumblebee is a good one to look out for early in the spring. They have one of the most varied diets of any bee visiting a diverse range of flowering plants. Buff-tailed bumblebees are eusocial animals meaning the live in a cooperative group composed of one female, several reproductively active males whilst non-breeding bees look after the colony.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee © Dan LombardBuff-tailed Bumblebee © Dan Lombard

A host of other flying insects also benefit from this surge in food including bristly flies and solitary bees. So, if Sloe Gin is your favourite tipple, love your flies and bees, without them there would be no pollination or fruit for your gin.

Blackthorn in flower © Jo RuthBlackthorn in flower © Jo Ruth

Blackthorn, hawthorn and dog rose conjure up images of dense scrub, an impenetrable tangle of thorns, full of life and fantastic places to nest if you’re a bird looking for a safe haven. A large range of our best loved birds’ nest in scrub or large high and wide hedges. Listen out for the amazingly rich song of a song thrush, the males often perch up high above their territory, belting out their staccato tunes.

Song Thrush © Richard BainesSong Thrush © Richard Baines

The dark wood and thorns of blackthorn have a long history of myth and folklore. In Ireland the tree is thought to be inhabited by moon fairies, the ‘Lunantisidhe’. The best time to harvest sloes is said to be after the fairies have left the tree at full moon when they worship the moon goddess. The wood has long been associated with primordial powers. It was used by witches as a cursing rod symbolising a two-faced god, used in defence as well as attack, for good and evil. A crone is a dark goddess who can be wise or sinister…

In the north of England, we have to wait a little longer for the first snow white flowers of blackthorn than further south but when they arrive, the north blooms. If you are lucky enough to have flowering blackthorn in your garden tend it with care not only for birds and bees but also for the crone that lives inside!

Richard Baines

Yorkshire Coast Nature