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April blossom and shrubs

Other April pages: Intro and woodland flowersVerge and field flowersThe greening of the treesBirds Butterflies and insectsWeather

Put your cursor over any photo to see its caption, or click here to see more April blossom photos

The blossom sequence which began back in February or March with cherry plum continues into April. Around the end of the first week blackthorn bursts into flower, its twigs totally covered with tightly packed white flowers. It is ubiquitous enough in the countryside to briefly turn every hedgerow white, before it fades about ten days later. Once the flowers are over, tiny green sloe buds appear where the flowers have been fertilised.

(But these timings are quite variable. In the milder springs of 2012 and 2014 blackthorn was out in the last week in March - with isolated examples out even earlier - going over by the end of the first week of April. In 2017 it was starting widely in the last week of March, at its best at the start of April and fading in the second week. In 2015 it did not come out till the second week of April, and in the very cold March of 2013 it did not flower till the fourth week of April and lasted into the first week of May. Exceptionally in that year the blossom and leaves came out together: usually blackthorn foliage only appears after flowering is over. In 2016 blackthorn flowering was very spread out, with some starting in the second week, others in the third week, and some lasting into early May. The result was always patchy - some out, some not yet out or over - and there was never one period when the flowers were at their best everywhere.)

Also in the second week you see wild cherry (not to be confused with cherry plum) flowers, its blossom hanging down in bunches like the cherries to come. (Again, this happened a week earlier in 2011, 2014 and 2017, a week later in 2016, and not till the last week of April in 2006 and 2013). Various hybrids of this tree – including the “plena” version with heavily layered flowers - bloom in gardens and city streets at the same time. All are going over as the month ends, however (in 2017 even though many cherries came out quite early, some still seemed to last till the month end). As with blackthorn, small unripe green cherries appear quite quickly once the flowers are over. Juneberry - really a garden tree but sometimes found in the while - flowers at the same time as wild cherry.

Apple blossom is next – appearing on orchard trees and wild crab apples a little while after the leaves. Sometimes this happens in April and sometimes in May. In 2011, 2014 and 2017, for example, it started in the second week of April, but in 2012 not till the last week, and in 2010, 2013 and 2016 not till early May. Once out, it lasts about two weeks.

Gardens also contribute to the blossoming feeling in April. At the start of the month forsythia is still in glorious yellow flower, but it fades mid month. (In 2008 and 2011 it was over at the start of April, having come out in early March, while in 2015 it came out at the very end of March and lasted till the end of third week of April. In 2013 after starting in the first week of March and then being kept in suspension by the intense cold, it finally came to life at the end of the first week of April and lasted till the end of the month. In 2016 forsythia was also late and flowered all April and into the first week of May in places).

Forsythia can sometimes be found in semi-wild situations, but that is not true of magnolia trees, which put out their enormous flowers in early April (in the last week of March in 2012, 2017 and - in a few places - 2014, and in the fourth week of April in 2013). They fall about ten days later. (In 2016 magnolia flowering was all over the place, with some even flowering in late December due to a very mild winter up to that point, and others from the fourth week of March: however some still kept to their normal early April slot.)

Lilac trees – often a garden tree but also found, for example, along railway embankments – also produce masses of mauve flowers from around the second week (the fourth week in 2015, not till the second week in May in 2016). Another garden plant that very noticable at this time of year and sometimes escapes into the wild is kerria japonica pleniflora - a glorious shrub with yellow bobbles for flowers. Again timings are variable, but it tends to last till mid month. (In both 2015 and 2016 it was very tentative till mid month, at best in the second half of April, with some lasting into the first ten days of May: in 2017 it came out at the start of April, but also seemed to last till late in the month). Another prominent garden shrub, this time with orange leaves, is barberry, which seems to be at its best earlier in the month. In addition, rosemary can flower throughout the month if it has not done so earlier in the spring.

Shrub and tree flowers that are more normally seen in May but may just appear in the second half of April include clematis montana, a garden escapee which drapes masses of pink flowers over fences and verges along railway lines and near houses. It was in flower from mid April in 2014 and from the third week in 2017. The exotic climber wisteria (which is definitely confined to gardens) also came out from mid month in 2014 and in the last week in 2017, while laburnum, a tree with cascades of yellow flowers, was out in the fourth week in 2014 and (to a lesser extent) in 2017. Also in 2014 as well as in 2011, hawthorn blossom came out in the last week of April: in 2017 this happened as early as mid month in London but not to any great extent till May in rural areas. Rowan flowers also appeared in the last week of April in 2011 and 2014, and in a few places at the same time in 2017.

Heathland and shrubs

April is the peak month for gorse flowers, and you get some broom flowers, though they seem to remain tentative all month. The month also sees the blooming of the candle-like flowers on cherry laurel, which send out a sickly-sweet aroma. (In 2016 they flowered in places in early January, due to a very mild November and December, and patchily from then on till the third week of April: in 2010 and 2013 they did not flower till early May.) The very similar-looking rhododendron has much more conventional bulb-shaped flower buds at this time of year but they generally do not open until May.

Other shrubs worth noting this month are the flowering currant - a garden escapee that is now naturalised on verges: it has serrated three-lobed leaves like a strawberry and lovely clusters of pink flowers in the first half of the month (till the third week in 2016). Towards the end of the month you can also see redcurrant in woods or on shady verges, which has long tassels of green and pink discs which hardly look like flowers at all.

On shrubby downland and also the sides of chalk railway cuttings towards the end of the month (from the mid month in 2011, 2014 and 2017, the end of the month in 2015 and not till the second week of May in 2013) you can see wayfaring tree, a bush rather than a tree, with thick finely-toothed leaves and white umbellifer-like flower heads. Towards the end of April you may also see delicate white holly flowers, though May is a more normal time for them. They are in any case rather inconspicuous and often overlooked.

Male yew flowers fall in early April (second and third weeks in 2016 and 2017) and can sometimes make bright orange-brown carpets under their trees. Later in the month you can see them putting out new leaf needles on the tips of their twigs. From mid month (earlier in some places) ivy also puts out new foliage, a bright green against the darker tones of the mature leaves.

More April pages:

© Peter Conway 2006-2017 • All Rights Reserved

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