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April blossom and shrubs

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Picture: blackthorn blossom. Click here for more April blossom photos.

The blossom sequence which began back in February or March with cherry plum continues into April. A few small blackthorn bushes will have already flowered in the second half of March, but in the first or second week of April (or sometimes at the very end of March) the rest of them burst into flower, their twigs totally covered with tightly packed white flowers. They are common enough in the countryside to bring a dash of white to every hedgerow before they fade about ten days later, scattering the ground with white petals. Once the flowers are over, tiny green sloe buds appear where the flowers have been fertilised.

In 2013, after a very cold March, blackthorn flowering was not 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 the foliage only appears after flowering is over. In 2016 some blackthorns started to flower in the second week of April, others in the third week, and some lasted 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. In 2021 the second week definitely saw the best displays, but many came out in the last week of March, others in the first week of April, and some lasted until the end of April or even the first week of May.

About the same time as the blackthorn you see wild cherry (not to be confused with cherry plum) flowers, hanging down in bunches like the cherries to come. This happened in the first week in 2011, 2014, 2017, 2019, 2020 and 2022; in the second week in 2012; the third week in 2016 and 2018; and not till the last week in 2006 and 2013. In 2021 cherry blossom started from the very beginning of the month in places but was tentative until the last ten days: some then lasted till mid May. Once out, the flowers last about three weeks, and once they are over, small unripe green cherries appear quite quickly. Various hybrids of this tree – including the “plena” version with layered flowers - bloom in gardens and city streets at the same time as wild cherry, as does juneberry - really a garden tree but sometimes found in the wild.

Apple blossom is next – appearing on garden and 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 happened in the second week of April, in 2019, 2020 and 2022 in the third week, but in 2012 and 2018 not till the last week, and in 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2021 not till early May. Once out, it lasts about two weeks.

Garden escapees

Gardens also contribute to the blossoming feeling in April. At the start of the month forsythia is often still in glorious yellow flower, but it generally fades by mid month. (In 2008 and 2011 it was over at the start of April, having started to come out in mid February, and in 2020 it started in late February, with a few surviving into the first few days of April. 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, which puts out its enormous flowers in early April (in the second week of March in 2020, in the third week of March in 2019, in the last week of March in 2012, 2017, 2022 and - in a few places - 2014, in the third week of April in 2018 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. In 2021 they started in the last week of March, but rather tentatively, and while most were over in mid April, some lasted into the fourth week.)

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, 2018 and 2019, and not till the second week in May in 2016: in 2021 many lilacs were not fully out until the third week of May). Another garden plant that 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 2015, 2016 and 2018 it was very tentative till mid month, however, and at best in the second half of April, with some lasting into the first ten days of May: in 2017 and 2021 it came out at the start of April, but lasted in places till late in the month).

Flowering currant, a garden escapee that is now naturalised on verges can also bloom into April. It has serrated three-lobed leaves like a strawberry and lovely clusters of pink flowers which last until mid month. Another prominent garden shrub, this time with orange flowers, is Darwin's barberry, which is generally at its best in the first half of the month (the second and third weeks in 2021) but can survive in places for longer. Some viburnum flowers may also survive into the first half of April, while rosemary can flower throughout the month if it has not done so earlier in the spring. Bird cherry - more of a garden or park shrub in this part of the country, though it occasionally crops up in the wild - comes out in the second half of the month.

The month also sees the candle-like flowers on cherry laurel, which send out a sickly-sweet aroma. The timing here is very variable from plant to plant and they often seem to be not yet fully out or going over. (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 otherwise 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: it also produces some new leaves in April.

Wild shrubs and evergreen foliage

April is the peak month for gorse flowers, though in some years they are fading towards its end, and in the second half broom starts to flower on heathland or sandy soils, though it is not at its best until late in the month (this is the native broom: the showier Spanish broom does not flower until July).

On shrubby downland and also the sides of chalk railway cuttings towards the end of the month (from the mid month in 2011, 2014, 2017, 2020 and 2022, but not till the second week of May in 2013 and 2021) you can see wayfaring tree, a bush rather than a tree, with thick finely-toothed leaves and white umbellifer-like flowerheads. In the second half of the month you may also see redcurrant in woods or on shady verges, with tassels of green discs edged with pink which hardly look like flowers at all.

Expired male yew flowers fall to the ground sometime in middle of the month and can make bright orange-brown carpets under their trees. Later in the month you may see the tree putting out new leaf needles on the tips of its twigs. From mid month (earlier in some places) ivy also puts out new foliage, a light green against the darker tones of the mature leaves. Other evergreen shrubs producing fresh leaves in April include box (notably found on Box Hill) and bilberry (on heathland), the latter also adding bell-shaped pink flowers later in the month. Semi-wild garden shrub firethorn (aka pyracantha) shines bright green with the new foliage it has been adding since mid March, and you can see new leaf spikes on cotoneaster. From about the third week the creeper black bryony puts out new tendrils of its heart-shaped leaves, which snake across hedgerows.

In warmer years

Shrub and tree flowers that are more normally seen in May but which can appear in the second half of April in warmer years include holly, which has white flowers (both male ones with four stamens and female ones with a green proto-berry in the middle). Clematis montana, a garden escapee which drapes masses of pink flowers over fences and verges along railway lines and near houses, also flowered from mid April in 2014, 2020 and 2022, from the third week in 2017 and in the last week of the month in 2019, while the exotic climber wisteria (which is definitely confined to gardens, usually on the side of houses) came out from mid month in 2014 and 2020, and in the last week in 2017, 2019 and (in places) 2022. Laburnum, a tree with cascades of yellow flowers, was out in the fourth week in 2014, 2019, and (to a lesser extent) in 2017 and 2022, while in 2020 some were blooming as early as the third week.

In 2020 hawthorn blossom also came out widely (though not universally) from mid April, and in 2017 this happened in London mid month, but not elsewhere until the last week of the month. In 2019 and 2022 it was out in the last week. Rowan flowers appeared quite widely from mid month in 2020 too, and in the last week of April in 2011, 2014, 2019, and (to a limited extent) 2017.

More April pages:

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