Prunus spinosa is a species of Prunus
Prunus is a genus of trees and shrubs, which includes the plums, cherries, peaches, apricots and almonds. There are around 430 species spread throughout the northern temperate regions of the globe. Many members of the genus are widely cultivated for fruit and ornament.-Botany:Members of the genus...

native to Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, western Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

, and locally in northwest Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

. It is also locally naturalised
Naturalisation (biology)
In biology, naturalisation is any process by which a non-native organism spreads into the wild and its reproduction is sufficient to maintain its population. Such populations are said to be naturalised....

 in New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

 and eastern North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...


The expression "sloe-eyed" for a person with dark eyes comes from the fruit, and is first attested in A. J. Wilson
Augusta Jane Evans
Augusta Jane Wilson, or Augusta Evans Wilson, was an American Southern author and one of the pillars of Southern literature. She wrote nine novels: Inez , Beulah , Macaria , St. Elmo , Vashti , Infelice , At the Mercy of Tiberius , A Speckled Bird , and Devota...

's 1867 novel Vashti.


The word "sloe" comes from Old English . The same word is noted in Middle Low German
Middle Low German
Middle Low German is a language that is the descendant of Old Saxon and is the ancestor of modern Low German. It served as the international lingua franca of the Hanseatic League...

, historically spoken in Lower Saxony, Middle Dutch
Middle Dutch
Middle Dutch is a collective name for a number of closely related West Germanic dialects which were spoken and written between 1150 and 1500...

 "sleuuwe" or, contracted form, "slē", from which come Modern Low German
Low German
Low German or Low Saxon is an Ingvaeonic West Germanic language spoken mainly in northern Germany and the eastern part of the Netherlands...

 words: "", "", and Modern Dutch "", Old High German
Old High German
The term Old High German refers to the earliest stage of the German language and it conventionally covers the period from around 500 to 1050. Coherent written texts do not appear until the second half of the 8th century, and some treat the period before 750 as 'prehistoric' and date the start of...

 "slēha", "slēwa", from which come Modern German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 "" and Danish
Danish language
Danish is a North Germanic language spoken by around six million people, principally in the country of Denmark. It is also spoken by 50,000 Germans of Danish ethnicity in the northern parts of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, where it holds the status of minority language...


All these come from Common Germanic
Germanic languages
The Germanic languages constitute a sub-branch of the Indo-European language family. The common ancestor of all of the languages in this branch is called Proto-Germanic , which was spoken in approximately the mid-1st millennium BC in Iron Age northern Europe...

 root }. Cf. West Slavic
West Slavic languages
The West Slavic languages are a subdivision of the Slavic language group that includes Czech, Polish, Slovak, Kashubian and Sorbian.Classification:* Indo-European** Balto-Slavic*** Slavic**** West Slavic***** Czech-Slovak languages****** Czech...

 / Polish
Polish language
Polish is a language of the Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages, used throughout Poland and by Polish minorities in other countries...

 ""; plum of any species, including sloe "" – root present in other Slavic languages
Slavic languages
The Slavic languages , a group of closely related languages of the Slavic peoples and a subgroup of Indo-European languages, have speakers in most of Eastern Europe, in much of the Balkans, in parts of Central Europe, and in the northern part of Asia.-Branches:Scholars traditionally divide Slavic...

, e.g. Serbian
Serbian language
Serbian is a form of Serbo-Croatian, a South Slavic language, spoken by Serbs in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia and neighbouring countries....

Croatian language
Croatian is the collective name for the standard language and dialects spoken by Croats, principally in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serbian province of Vojvodina and other neighbouring countries...

 šljiva / шљива.


Prunus spinosa is a deciduous
Deciduous means "falling off at maturity" or "tending to fall off", and is typically used in reference to trees or shrubs that lose their leaves seasonally, and to the shedding of other plant structures such as petals after flowering or fruit when ripe...

 large shrub
A shrub or bush is distinguished from a tree by its multiple stems and shorter height, usually under 5–6 m tall. A large number of plants may become either shrubs or trees, depending on the growing conditions they experience...

 or small tree
A tree is a perennial woody plant. It is most often defined as a woody plant that has many secondary branches supported clear of the ground on a single main stem or trunk with clear apical dominance. A minimum height specification at maturity is cited by some authors, varying from 3 m to...

 growing to 5 m tall, with blackish bark and dense, stiff, spiny branches. The leaves
A leaf is an organ of a vascular plant, as defined in botanical terms, and in particular in plant morphology. Foliage is a mass noun that refers to leaves as a feature of plants....

 are oval, 2–4.5 cm long and 1.2–2 cm broad, with a serrated margin. The flower
A flower, sometimes known as a bloom or blossom, is the reproductive structure found in flowering plants . The biological function of a flower is to effect reproduction, usually by providing a mechanism for the union of sperm with eggs...

s are 1.5 cm diameter, with five creamy-white petals; they are produced shortly before the leaves in early spring, and are hermaphroditic
Plant sexuality
Plant sexuality covers the wide variety of sexual reproduction systems found across the plant kingdom. This article describes morphological aspects of sexual reproduction of plants....

 and insect
Insects are a class of living creatures within the arthropods that have a chitinous exoskeleton, a three-part body , three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes, and two antennae...

-pollinated. The fruit
In broad terms, a fruit is a structure of a plant that contains its seeds.The term has different meanings dependent on context. In non-technical usage, such as food preparation, fruit normally means the fleshy seed-associated structures of certain plants that are sweet and edible in the raw state,...

, called a "sloe", is a drupe
In botany, a drupe is a fruit in which an outer fleshy part surrounds a shell of hardened endocarp with a seed inside. These fruits develop from a single carpel, and mostly from flowers with superior ovaries...

 10 – 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
An astringent substance is a chemical compound that tends to shrink or constrict body tissues, usually locally after topical medicinal application. The word "astringent" derives from Latin adstringere, meaning "to bind fast"...

 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. cerasifera.

Prunus spinosa has a tetraploid (2n=4x=32) set of chromosomes.


See also List of Lepidoptera that feed on Prunus

The foliage is sometimes eaten by the larva
A larva is a distinct juvenile form many animals undergo before metamorphosis into adults. Animals with indirect development such as insects, amphibians, or cnidarians typically have a larval phase of their life cycle...

e of Lepidoptera
Lepidoptera is a large order of insects that includes moths and butterflies . It is one of the most widespread and widely recognizable insect orders in the world, encompassing moths and the three superfamilies of butterflies, skipper butterflies, and moth-butterflies...

, including emperor moth, willow beauty
Willow Beauty
| image = Peribatodes.rhomboidaria.7197.jpg| image_width = 240px| image_caption = Adult male from Dresden | regnum = Animalia| phylum = Arthropoda| classis = Insecta| ordo = Lepidoptera| zoodivisio = Ditrysia| familia = Geometridae...

, white-pinion spotted, common emerald
Common Emerald
The Common Emerald is a moth of the family Geometridae. The species is found throughout the Nearctic and Palearctic regions and the Near East. In the British Isles it is not found in Scotland but is a common species elsewhere...

, November moth
November Moth
The November Moth is a moth of the family Geometridae. It is found throughout Europe and the Near East....

, pale November moth
Pale November Moth
The Pale November Moth is a moth of the family Geometridae. It is a fairly common species in Europe including the British Isles....

, mottled pug
Mottled Pug
The Mottled Pug is a moth of the family Geometridae. It is found across the Palearctic region apart from around the Mediterranean Sea. It is common in the British Isles apart from Scotland where it is rather local....

, green pug
Green Pug
The Green Pug is a moth of the family Geometridae. It is sometimes placed in the genus Pasiphila. It is common throughout the Palearctic region and the Near East....

, brimstone moth
Brimstone moth
The Brimstone Moth is a moth of the family Geometridae. It is found throughout the Palearctic region and the Near East....

, feathered thorn
Feathered Thorn
The Feathered Thorn is a moth of the family Geometridae.-Etymology:The common name Feathered Thorn derives from the very strong feathering on the antennae of the male...

, brown-tail
The brown-tail is a moth of the family Lymantriidae. It is distributed throughout Europe.The wings of this species are pure white, as is the body, apart from a tuft of brown hairs at the end of the abdomen. The brown coloration extends along most of the back of the abdomen in the male...

, yellow-tail
The Yellow-tail, Goldtail Moth or Swan Moth is a moth of the family Lymantriidae. It is distributed throughout Europe.This species has a wingspan of 35-45 mm, the female usually noticeably larger than the male...

, short-cloaked moth
Short-cloaked Moth
The Short-cloaked Moth is a moth of the family Nolidae. It is distributed through most of Europe. It was collected in 2008 in the greaterVancouver area of British Columbia...

, lesser yellow underwing, lesser broad-bordered yellow underwing
Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing
The Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing is a moth of the family Noctuidae. It is distributed throughout southern and central Europe, and southern Sweden....

, double square-spot
Double Square-spot
The Double Square-spot is a moth of the family Noctuidae. It is distributed through most of Europe.This species has pale brown forewings marked with two distinctive black marks . The hindwings are similar in colour to the forewings. The wingspan is 36-46 mm...

, black
Black Hairstreak
The Black Hairstreak is a butterfly in the family Lycaenidae.-Appearance, behaviour and distribution:This small brown butterfly is one of Britain's most localised and rarest. At first glance it is very similar to the White-letter Hairstreak but the Black Hairstreak has a row of orange spots along...

 and brown hairstreaks, hawthorn moth (Scythropia crataegella
Scythropia crataegella
The Hawthorn Moth is a species of ermine moth from western Eurasia. It is usually placed in a small subfamily Scythropiinae, which is sometimes included in the Yponomeutinae....

) and the case-bearer moth Coleophora anatipennella
Coleophora anatipennella
Coleophora anatipennella is a moth of the case-bearer family . It is the type species of its genus and, via that, of its family....

. Dead blackthorn wood provides food for the caterpillars of the concealer moth Esperia oliviella.

The pocket plum gall is found on the fruit, where it results in an elongated and flattened gall, devoid of a stone.


The shrub, with its savage thorns, is traditional in Northern Europe and Britain in making a hedge
Hedge may refer to:* Hedge or hedgerow, line of closely spaced shrubs planted to act as a barrier* Hedge , investment made to limit loss* Hedge , intentionally non-committal or ambiguous sentence fragments-See also:...

 proof against cattle.
The fruit is similar to a small damson
The damson or damson plum is an edible drupaceous fruit, a subspecies of the plum tree. Sometimes called the Damask plum, damsons are commonly used in the preparation of jams and jellies...

 or plum
A plum or gage is a stone fruit tree in the genus Prunus, subgenus Prunus. The subgenus is distinguished from other subgenera in the shoots having a terminal bud and solitary side buds , the flowers in groups of one to five together on short stems, and the fruit having a groove running down one...

, 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 not be reproduced by freezing harvested sloes, but is the result of the plant withdrawing tannin
A tannin is an astringent, bitter plant polyphenolic compound that binds to and precipitates proteins and various other organic compounds including amino acids and alkaloids.The term tannin refers to the use of...

s from the sloes in freezing weather.

The juice is used in the manufacture of spurious port wine
Port wine
Port wine is a Portuguese fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal. It is typically a sweet, red wine, often served as a dessert wine, and comes in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties...

, and used as an adulterant to impart roughness to genuine port.
In rural Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

, so-called sloe gin
Sloe gin
Sloe gin is a red liqueur flavoured with sloe berries, which are a small fruit relative of the plum. Sloe gin has an alcohol content between 15 and 30 percent by volume. The traditional way of making sloe gin is to infuse gin with the berries. Sugar is required to ensure the sloe juices are...

 is made from the fruit, though this is not a true gin
Gin is a spirit which derives its predominant flavour from juniper berries . Although several different styles of gin have existed since its origins, it is broadly differentiated into two basic legal categories...

, but an infusion of vodka, gin, or neutral spirits with the fruit and sugar to produce a liqueur
A liqueur is an alcoholic beverage that has been flavored with fruit, herbs, nuts, spices, flowers, or cream and bottled with added sugar. Liqueurs are typically quite sweet; they are usually not aged for long but may have resting periods during their production to allow flavors to marry.The...

. In Navarre
Navarre , officially the Chartered Community of Navarre is an autonomous community in northern Spain, bordering the Basque Country, La Rioja, and Aragon in Spain and Aquitaine in France...

, Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

, a popular liqueur called is made with sloes. In France a similar liqueur called ("spine") is made from the young shoots in spring. Wine made from fermented sloes is made in Britain, and in Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 and other central European countries. Sloes can also be made into jam
Fruit preserves
Fruit preserves are preparations of fruits and sugar, often canned or sealed for long-term storage. The preparation of fruit preserves today often involves adding commercial or natural pectin as a gelling agent, although sugar or honey may be used, as well. Prior to World War II, fruit preserve...

 and, used in fruit pies, and if preserved in vinegar
Vinegar is a liquid substance consisting mainly of acetic acid and water, the acetic acid being produced through the fermentation of ethanol by acetic acid bacteria. Commercial vinegar is produced either by fast or slow fermentation processes. Slow methods generally are used with traditional...

 are similar in taste to Japanese
Japanese cuisine
Japanese cuisine has developed over the centuries as a result of many political and social changes throughout Japan. The cuisine eventually changed with the advent of the Medieval age which ushered in a shedding of elitism with the age of shogun rule...

Umeboshi are pickled ume fruits common in Japan. Ume is a species of fruit-bearing tree in the genus Prunus, which is often called a plum but is actually more closely related to the apricot. Umeboshi are a popular kind of tsukemono and are extremely sour and salty...

. The juice of the berries dyes linen a reddish color 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
Club (weapon)
A club is among the simplest of all weapons. A club is essentially a short staff, or stick, usually made of wood, and wielded as a weapon since prehistoric times....

 (known in Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 as a shillelagh
Shillelagh (club)
A shillelagh is a wooden walking stick and club or cudgel, typically made from a stout knotty stick with a large knob at the top, that is associated with Ireland and Irish folklore.- Construction :...

). In the British Army, blackthorn sticks are carried by commissioned officers of the Royal Irish Regiment; the tradition also occurs in Irish regiments in some Commonwealth countries.

The leaves resemble tea leaves, and were used as an adulterant of tea.
Shlomo Yitzhaki
Shlomo Yitzhaki , or in Latin Salomon Isaacides, and today generally known by the acronym Rashi , was a medieval French rabbi famed as the author of a comprehensive commentary on the Talmud, as well as a comprehensive commentary on the Tanakh...

, a Talmudist and Tanakh
The Tanakh is a name used in Judaism for the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh is also known as the Masoretic Text or the Miqra. The name is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the Masoretic Text's three traditional subdivisions: The Torah , Nevi'im and Ketuvim —hence...

 commentator of the High Middle Ages
High Middle Ages
The High Middle Ages was the period of European history around the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries . The High Middle Ages were preceded by the Early Middle Ages and followed by the Late Middle Ages, which by convention end around 1500....

, writes that the sap (or gum
Gum (botany)
Gum is a sap or other resinous material associated with certain species of the plant kingdom. This material is often polysaccharide-based and most frequently is associated with woody plants, particularly under the bark or as a seed coating...

) of P. spinosa (or what he refers to as the ) was used as an ingredient in the making of some inks used for manuscripts.

The fruit stones have been found in Swiss lake dwellings.

A "sloe-thorn worm" used as fishing bait
Fishing bait
Fishing bait is any substance used to attract and catch fish, e.g. on the end of a fishing hook, or inside a fish trap. Traditionally, nightcrawlers, insects, and smaller bait fish have been used for this purpose...

 is mentioned in the 15th century work, The Treatyse of Fishing with an Angle, by Juliana Berners
Juliana Berners
Juliana Berners , English writer on heraldry, hawking and hunting, is said to have been prioress of Sopwell nunnery near St Albans...


External links

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