A popular farming hedging choice of the 17th-18th centuries in Gower, Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, bears copious sprays of white blossom in April and purple-black fruits, called sloes, in autumn. The branches have black bark and vicious thorns, which gives its name.
The shrub is a symbol of austerity, difficulty and bad luck, and according to legend the branches were used for Jesus' crown of thorns. For this reason bringing a spray of blackthorn flowers into the home is considered a death-token (similar to snowdrops); an omen of death.
However the branches were at one time also used to create wreaths for New Year, before the blossom emerged, to be scorched over a fire and decorated with mistletoe. The branches would also be used as a farming fertility offering, baked in an oven and burnt in the fields to sprinkle the ashes on the ground of the earliest sown wheat.
Folklore also surrounds the blackthorn fruit; a cold winter would be predicted from the number of sloes on the bushes:
"Many sloes, many cold toes"
William Cobbett wrote:
"The Black Thorn blows very early in the spring. It is a Plum and it blows at the same time, or a very little earlier, than the Plums. It is a remarkable fact that there is every year of our lives, a spell of cold and angry weather just at the time this hardy little tree is in bloom. The country people call it the Black Thorn winter and thus it has been called, I dare say, by all the inhabitants of this island, from generation to generation, for a thousand years."