N'er cast a clout till May is out

Hawthorn © Chris Gomersall/2020VISION

Mid May and as the saying goes, “n'er cast a clout till May is out”. The proverb basically reminds us of our fickle British weather and its ability to bathe us in warmth one day and bring chilly winds the next. It is an old saying but still a very apt one. It is commonly agreed that the reference isn't about the end of the month of May, but one of our commonest and often most overlooked tree, the hawthorn.

The proverb basically reminds us of our fickle British weather and its ability to bathe us in warmth one day and bring chilly winds the next. It is an old saying but still a very apt one. It is commonly agreed that the reference isn't about the end of the month of May, but one of our commonest and often most overlooked tree, the hawthorn.

Hawthorn trees in full bloom © Jon Traill

Hawthorn trees in full bloom © Jon Traill

The alternative name of May blossom couldn't be more accurate, as flowers erupt in cloudlike billowing masses. Insects are provided with a feast of nectar and pollen, the tree humming with noise as bees bounce from branch to branch.

Most often seen as a hedge, many people never encounter a hawthorn in full bloom, as the flowers only appear on second year growth. The annual cut along our field and road boundaries takes away the stems that would burst forth with colour the following year. In autumn, those blossoms would produce the red 'haw' berries that provide us with our common name for this archetypal British tree.

Fieldfare feeding on haw berries in autumn © Chris Gomersall/2020VISION

Fieldfare feeding on haw berries in autumn © Chris Gomersall/2020VISION

The bushy dense growth, created from regular cutting, provided a wonderful barrier used to keep in livestock, long before post and wire fences were thought about. It also offers a home for a wide range of birds from sparrows to blackbirds, and small mammals create their nest holes in the roots at the hedge base.

The hawthorn's full majesty is only released when left to grow as a tree, as twisted limbs and fissured bark are clothed in an ever-changing wardrobe of colours. From vibrant green shoots and leaves in early spring, to be cloaked in a frothy mass of white by May and topped off with a scattering of red berries in autumn.

May blossom abound.