Prunus spinosa (blackthorn, or sloe) is a species of flowering plant
in the rose family Rosaceae. It is native to Europe, western Asia, and
locally in northwest Africa. It is also locally naturalised in
Tasmania and eastern North America.
5 See also
8 External links
Plant in flower in early spring
Prunus spinosa is a large deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 5
metres (16 ft) tall, with blackish bark and dense, stiff, spiny
branches. The leaves are oval, 2–4.5 centimetres
(0.79–1.77 in) long and 1.2–2 centimetres
(0.47–0.79 in) broad, with a serrated margin. The flowers are
1.5 centimetres (0.59 in) diameter, with five creamy-white
petals; they are produced shortly before the leaves in early spring,
and are hermaphroditic and insect-pollinated. The fruit, called a
"sloe", is a drupe 10–12 millimetres (0.39–0.47 in) in
diameter, black with a purple-blue waxy bloom, ripening in autumn and
harvested – traditionally, at least in the UK – in October or
November after the first frosts. Sloes are thin-fleshed, with a very
strongly astringent flavour when fresh.
Prunus spinosa is frequently confused with the related P. cerasifera
(cherry plum), particularly in early spring when the latter starts
flowering somewhat earlier than P. spinosa. They can
be distinguished by flower colour, creamy white in P. spinosa, pure
white in P. cerasifera. They can also be distinguished in winter by
the more shrubby habit with stiffer, wider-angled branches of P.
spinosa; in summer by the relatively narrower leaves of P. spinosa,
more than twice as long as broad; and in autumn by the colour of
the fruit skin—purplish-black in P. spinosa and yellow or red in P.
Prunus spinosa has a tetraploid (2n=4x=32) set of chromosomes.
Sloe flower, fruit, seed and leaves illustrated by Otto Wilhelm Thomé
The specific name spinosa is a Latin term indicating the pointed and
thornlike spur shoots characteristic of this species. The common name
"blackthorn" is due to the thorny nature of the shrub, and its very
The word commonly used for the fruit, "sloe" comes from Old English
slāh. The same word is noted in Middle Low German, historically
spoken in Lower Saxony,
Middle Dutch sleuuwe or, contracted form,
slē, from which come Modern
Low German words: slē, slī, and Modern
Old High German
Old High German slēha", "slēwa, from which come Modern
German Schlehe and Danish slåen.
The names related to 'sloe' come from the Common Germanic root
*slaiχwōn. Cf. West Slavic / Polish śliwa; plum of any species,
including sloe śliwa tarnina—root present in other Slavic
languages, e.g. Croatian/Serbian šljiva / шљива, and Russian
The expression "sloe-eyed" for a person with dark eyes comes from the
fruit, and is first attested in A. J. Wilson's 1867 novel Vashti.
See also: List of
Lepidoptera that feed on Prunus
Plum gall on Blackthorn, caused by the fungus Taphrina pruni
The foliage is sometimes eaten by the larvae of Lepidoptera, including
the small eggar moth, emperor moth, willow beauty, white-pinion
spotted, common emerald, November moth, pale November moth, mottled
pug, green pug, brimstone moth, feathered thorn, brown-tail,
yellow-tail, short-cloaked moth, lesser yellow underwing, lesser
broad-bordered yellow underwing, double square-spot, black and brown
hairstreaks, hawthorn moth (Scythropia crataegella) and the
case-bearer moth Coleophora anatipennella. Dead blackthorn wood
provides food for the caterpillars of the concealer moth Esperia
The pocket plum gall of the fruit caused by the fungus Taphrina pruni
produces an elongated and flattened gall, devoid of a stone.
Plum and sloe output in 2005
Grafted blackthorn tree; called a Husband and Wife tree
The shrub, with its savage thorns, is traditionally used in Britain
and other parts of Northern
Europe to make a cattle-proof hedge.
The fruit is similar to a small damson or plum, suitable for
preserves, but rather tart and astringent for eating, unless it is
picked after the first few days of autumn frost. This effect can be
reproduced by freezing harvested sloes.
The juice is used in the manufacture of fake port wine, and used as an
adulterant to impart roughness to genuine port. In rural Britain
a liqueur is made by infusing gin with sloes and sugar.
Vodka can also
be infused with sloes.
In Navarre, Spain, a popular liqueur called pacharán is made with
sloes. In France a similar liqueur called épine or épinette or
troussepinette is made from the young shoots in spring. In Italy, the
infusion of spirit with the fruits and sugar produces a liqueur called
bargnolino (or sometimes prunella)—as well as in France where it is
called "prunelle" or "veine d'épine noire". Wine made from fermented
sloes is made in Britain, and in
Germany and other central European
Sloes can also be made into jam, chutney, and used in fruit pies.
Sloes preserved in vinegar are similar in taste to Japanese umeboshi.
The juice of the fruits dyes linen a reddish colour that washes out to
a durable pale blue.
Blackthorn makes an excellent fire wood that burns slowly with a good
heat and little smoke. The wood takes a fine polish and is used
for tool handles and canes. Straight blackthorn stems have
traditionally been made into walking sticks or clubs (known in Ireland
as a shillelagh). In the British Army, blackthorn sticks are
carried by commissioned officers of the Royal Irish Regiment; this is
a tradition also in Irish regiments in some Commonwealth countries.
The leaves resemble tea leaves, and were used as an adulterant of
Shlomo Yitzhaki, a
Tanakh commentator of the High Middle
Ages, writes that the sap (or gum) of P. spinosa (which he refers to
as the prunellier) was used as an ingredient in the making of some
inks used for manuscripts.
The fruit stones have been found in Swiss lake dwellings. Evidence
of the early use of sloes by man is found in the famous case of a
5,300-year-old human mummy discovered in 1991 in the Ötztal Alps
along the Austrian-Italian border (nick-named Ötzi): among the
stomach contents were sloes.
A "sloe-thorn worm" used as fishing bait is mentioned in the
15th-century work, The Treatyse of Fishing with an Angle, by Juliana
The flowering of the blackthorn may have been associated with the
ancient Celtic celebration of Imbolc.
^ "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species". Retrieved 27
^ a b c Rushforth 1999[page needed]
^ a b Den Virtuella Floran:
Prunus spinosa map
^ Vedel 1960[page needed]
^ Weinberger 1975, pp. 336–347.
Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University
Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library
^ a b Coats 1992, Prunus.
^ Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Sloe".
New International Encyclopedia
New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
^ a b c One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text
from a publication now in the public domain: Rines, George Edwin,
ed. (1920). "Sloe". Encyclopedia Americana.
^ a b Kerri. "Sloe
Gin and Sloe Chutney". Dinner Diary. Retrieved 31
^ "The Burning Properties of Wood" (PDF). The Scout Association. 1999.
Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-12-23.
^ a b One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text
from a publication now in the public domain: Beach, Chandler B.,
ed. (1914). "Sloe". The New Student's Reference Work. Chicago: F. E.
Compton and Co.
^ Chouinard B.A., Maxime. "The stick is king: The Shillelagh Bata or
the rediscovery of a living Irish martial tradition" (PDF). Retrieved
5 July 2011.
Talmud Bavli, Tractate Shabbat 23a
^ Tia Ghose (8 November 2012). "
Mummy Melodrama: Top 9 Secrets About
Otzi the Iceman". LiveScience. Retrieved 10 November
2012. (to locate, click ahead to part 4)
^ The Treatyse of Fishing with an Angle (attributed to Dame Juliana
Berners in the 15th century)
^ Aveni 2004, p. 38.
Aveni, Anthony F (2004). The Book of the Year: A Brief History of Our
Seasonal Holidays. Oxford University Press. p. 38.
Coats, Alice M (1992) . Garden Shrubs and Their Histories. New
York: Simon & Schuster. Prunus. ISBN 0671747339.
Rushforth, K (1999). Trees of Britain and Europe. Collins.
ISBN 0-00-220013-9. [page needed]
Vedel, H; Lange, J (1960). Trees and Bushes in Wood and Hedgerow.
London: Methuen & Co Ltd.
ISBN 0413301605. [page needed]
Weinberger, JH (1975). "Plums". In Janick, J; Moore, JN. Advances in
Fruit Breeding. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press.
pp. 336–347. ISBN 0911198369.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
Cookipedia entry for Sloe Recipes
Plant List: rjp-43