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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. Cherry plum itself is usual over by now: if not, it fades early in the month. Blackthorn looks superficially very similar, but has short side thorns horizontal to the main stem on which flowers also appear, and the sepals of its flowers are not folded back as they are on cherry plum. Its flowers are packed almost impossibly tightly on their twigs and you wonder how they can ever all be pollinated.

Some or many blackthorn bushes may have already flowered in the last week of March, and the rest follow in the first or second week of April. (In colder years, such as 2016, 2021 and 2023, flowering can spread across the whole month, with some bushes at best in the first half and some not fully out till its end. In very cold 2013 flowering did not start until the fourth week of April.)

Whatever, once out, blackthorn blossom lasts about ten days, scattering the ground with white petals when it goes over - a sight rather reminiscent of snow. Tiny green sloe buds then appear where the flowers have been fertilised.

Also at this time you see wild cherry flowers, hanging down in bunches like the cherries to come. These appeared in the first week in 2011, 2014, 2017, 2019, 2020, 2022 and 2023; in the second week in 2012 and 2023; 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, with some then lasting till mid May. Once out, the flowers last about three weeks, and when 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 (the Hurtwood south of Gomshall is apparently a good place to see them).

Apple blossom is next – appearing on garden and orchard trees. as well as wild crab apples, a little while after the leaves. Timing here is very variable from year to year. In 2011, 2014, 2017 and 2024 it happened in the second week of April, in 2019, 2020 and 2022 in the third week, but in 2012, 2018 and 2023 not till the last week, and in 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2021 not till early May. Once out, it lasts two or three 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. (Again, there can be quite big variations in timings. In 2008, 2011 and 2024 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 did not come out till 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 it 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, strictly a garden tree, whose enormous pink flowers emerge from their sheaths but usually remain closed in the second half March, and then towards the end of that month or at the start of April open up for their brief moment of glory. They fall about ten days later.

(In several recent years, magnolias have been quite a bit earlier, flowering in the second week of March in 2020 and 2024, and in the third week of March in 2019. But in 2018 flowering did not happen till the third week of April and in 2013 not till the fourth week. In 2016 some magnolia flowers appeared in late December due to a very mild winter up to that point, but most came out in late March or early April.)

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 and the third week in 2021). It can be a little hard to distinguish between buds and full flowers on this plant, as both look quite showy.

Flowering currant, a garden escapee that is now naturalised on verges, is in full bloom at the start of the month and usually lasts till the end of the second week. It has serrated three-lobed leaves like a strawberry and hanging clusters of pink flowers.

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 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 - starts to flower in the last ten days or so of the month, but is usually not at its best till May.

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 starting to fade in places in the second half. Also 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 sometimes in hedgerows or on the sides of chalk railway cuttings) you can see wayfaring tree, a bush rather than a tree. Its white umbellifer-like flowerhead can burst into bloom as early as mid April (2011, 2014, 2017, 2019, 2020, 2022 and 2024), not till later in the month (2018 and 2021), or not till the first week of May (2023). Before they do so there is usually a period when they look like they are in flower but are in fact just white buds.

Rather hard to spot in woods and on shady verges is redcurrant, which has distinctive-shaped leaves. It flowers in the second half (occasionally a bit earlier), but you might struggle to recognise this, as all it produces are tassels of green discs edged with pink.

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. This starts in suburban areas first, and then spreads to rural shrubs. 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 (the male ones with four stamens and the 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, 2022 and 2024, from the third week in 2017, and in the last week of the month in 2019 and 2023.

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, while in 2024 it started partly in the second week and was then put off by cold weather until the last few days of the month. In 2017, 2019 and 2022 (in places) it came out in the last week.

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 2024 some were out as early as mid April, but then a cold second half meant others held off until the last few days of the month.

Hawthorn blossom, more normally associated with the start of May, can also come out in April. In 2024 it was full out in some places from as early as the second week and in 2020 this happened from the third week. In both years quite a few bushes still did not flower until May, however. In 2017 it flowered widely in London from mid month, and elsewhere in the last week, while in 2019 and 2022 it was out quite widely in the last few days of April. In 2023 there were a few flowers at this time.

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 and 2024. Horse chestnut also flowered in places from the third week in 2020 and 2024, while a few flowers appeared at the month's end in 2022.

More April pages:

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