Bread and cheese in May

Sometimes one species, at one particular time, appears to dominate an ecosystem. Yesterday in Macclesfield River Park it was the hawthorn trees and hedges in full ‘May’ blossom, white against the surrounding fresh green of spring, the air heavy with that pungent scent, the trill of birds hidden within.hawthorn_tree

We easily take the hawthorn for granted, so ubiquitous in the English countryside. This fine self-standing tree is also widely used for hedging, along with the earlier-flowering blackthorn. The young leaves and flower buds are said to be edible; I remember them being called ‘bread and cheese’ in my childhood.

The densely interleaved branches make hawthorn a fine shelter and nesting place for birds. In autumn the fruits, ‘haws’, can be used to make jelly or wine, although I’ve never tried it.

That pungent smell of hawthorn blossom is not particularly pleasant. According to the Woodland Trust, it contains trimethylamine, which is one of the first chemicals formed in decaying animal tissue, so it is definitely not to be brought indoors.


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