Nature on our doorsteps: Sloes, the fruit of the Blackthorn

By Rosaleen Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures

Blackthorn is a very abundant shrub in our hedgerows. In springtime, clusters of cream-coloured flowers cover its dark twigs.

By autumn, these have been replaced by the plant’s blue berry-like fruit, the sloe.

Peach Pocket fungus causes deformed flattened sacs instead of blue plump sloes

Peach Pocket fungus causes deformed, flattened sacs instead of blue, plump, sloes

Unlike other hedgerow fruits like blackberries, sloes are not usually eaten raw and they are rarely gathered for jams and tarts.

Although they contain Vitamin C, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and other antioxidants, they have a very sharp, astringent taste which leaves your mouth feeling very dry.

For this reason, sloes are more widely collected for use in making wines.

They are also infused in alcohol and sugar to make drinks like pink-coloured sloe gin. 

Sloes are the fruit of the Blackthorn

Fruit of the Blackthorn

While Blackthorn is widespread along the banks of the River Dodder, you are unlikely to find sloes on these shrubs.

For many years, the Dodder Blackthorns have been infected with a fungus that is referred to as the ‘Peach Pocket’ or the ‘Pocket Plum’ fungus. 

This fungus chemically affects the sloes as they develop, resulting in flattened, brown, empty sacs. These are totally unusable for us and are inedible for birds like thrushes who like to eat sloes.

While Peach Pocket fungus reduces the production of fruit and seeds, the overall health of the shrub is not affected, and Blackthorn can still spread outwards using suckers.    

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