YOU have probably seen the hawthorn blossom, or the mayflower, around this spring but may not even have known what you were seeing. The hedgerow flower doesn’t need a greenhouse, plant food or any special treatment to show off its beautiful bouquets but grows freely in the wild, and right now it is putting on one of its best blooms for years.
Rob Williams, 46, a partner with the Secret Garden Centre just outside Pontypool, spoke to the Argus about why the blooms are doing especially well this year.
“I think it could be because we have had quite a good spring,”, he said. “Things were a bit early, and we have had a mild winter so it’s in full flower now. It’s a good, reliable performer. It’s such a bog standard thing but it’s a beautiful thing, when it’s out in flower. We have got hedgerows round us and they do look stunning at the moment.”
Hawthorn, sometimes called the May, is so nicknamed because it flowers this month, continuing on to June. It is the most common hedgerow flowering plant, Mr Williams said, and it puts on a good show. You may have heard the plant referred to as the may blossom, white thorn, thorn apple or bread and cheese tree, as its long pedigree in the UK means it has developed strong roots in folklore. Many believed it to have supernatural properties, often considered a home for fairies, particularly if the tree was a lone hawthorn. The tree has also been associated with witches and this has continued even until the present day, with Draco Malfoy using a hawthorn wand in the Harry Potter series.
Aside from beautifying the hedges and providing a source of folklore, Mr Williams said some even enjoy it in more adventurous ways. “I have heard this: when the leaves first come out you can eat them. I think they call it ‘bread and butter’, a bit of an old farming term. I have tried it – it was maybe a bit buttery. You can nibble on the leaves when they first come out. You might be able to now.”
Most blooms are white, Mr Williams said, but he added there are several varieties you can find: “You can get a touch of pink on certain plants. You can get ornamental ones for the garden as well, with double pink flowers. They bloom for about three to four weeks. Because the winter was so mild, they have already been out about two to three weeks.”
The useful plant is a hardy addition to hedgerows, often chosen because it regenerates well. Many hedgerows are about 50 per cent made up of the plant, Mr Williams said. “It’s often the main plant in a field hedgerow so it’s very popular, especially for farm hedges. You can lay it. To regenerate hedges, they sort of cut it at an angle at the bottom, not totally off but halfway.”
Native to Britain and Europe, the plant has a distinctive scent when in full flower. “It’s not an unpleasant smell but when it’s in flower it does have a bit of a smell, or scent I suppose,” Mr Williams said. “It produces red berries later on in summer, which are quite good for the wildlife.
Soon the May’s season will be over for another year but flower spotters should not fear as fellow hedgerow plant the June Berry will take over the show, he said. The newcomer's leaves will turn from green to red and black berries follow sprays of cream flowers as spring becomes summer.
Hedgerow flowers are best left to enjoy in the garden or the field, Mr Williams said, with the blossoms not something that will do well after being cut.
If you go for a walk in the countryside this spring, however, you’re sure to be able to enjoy the sight.