Tuesday 1 August 2017

May Day and Hawthorn Blossom

The hawthorn flowered early and abundantly this year.  The hedge shown in the photograph below was covered with blossom in the first week of May, at least a fortnight earlier than the previous two years.   Furthermore, a spell of settled weather meant that the flowers remained undamaged for an extended period of time

180 Degree panoramic of hawthorn hedge
Hedge in South of Park - 4 May 2017

Hawthorn flowering at the beginning of May is unusual in modern times, but this was not always so. Traditionally, the blossom would be out on May 1 and be used as decoration for the May Day celebrations. But that tradition must have come to a shuddering halt in 1753.  In 1752, the English calendar had been reformed to bring it into line with that of its continental neighbours, with a one off removal of 11 days from the year (the day after 2 September 1752 was the 14 September 1752).  This meant, that in an average year,  the hawthorn would not now flower until the middle of the month. 

Close up of a knot of white hawthorn blossom
White Hawthorn Blossom - 14 May 2017

It must have been a strange May Day, and for many, a very disappointing one, in 1753.  One of the big events in the calendar with a key component missing.  It must have been a bit like Christmas without the lights would be to  us.  

Close up of a clump of pink hawthorn flowers
Pink Hawthorn Blossom - 14 May 2017

At that time, England was not an industrialised nation, and most people earned their living working on the land.  Live would not have been ruled by the clock and the calendar as it is today, but would have been tied to the natural world, its seasons and its weather.  The lack of hawthorn blossom on May Day must have been one of the most obvious effects of the new calendar.

This year the hawthorn has again blossomed on May 1.  Maybe, with climate change bringing milder winters, the old custom of 'gathering nuts in May' can be revived.   

Arch of hawthorn over path
Hawthorn Arch - 7 May 2017

I have already photographed may blossom twice before, in 2015 and 2016, but that hasn't dampened my enthusiasm for taking pictures of these beautiful bushes.  

Low flower laden branch of hawthorn besides small muddy path
West Bank of Dickerson's Pit - 7 May 2017

One of things I wanted to achieve this year was better close-ups of the flowers, particularly the pink blossom.  On some of the bushes, as the flowers age, they turn a delicate shade of pink.  Inevitably, by the time the blooms are at their most pink, they are looking decidedly tired and weather worn.  

Hawthorn bush flowering among different trees and bushes all of different shades of green
Shades of Green - 4 May 2017

Besides the drama of the hawthorn, May is the time of year when the trees are at their most verdant, and their green foliage is at its most varied.   It ranges from the bright yellow green of some of the very newest shoots, to the darker, and more blue, of the ivy that envelops many of the trees in the park.

Field of cow parsley with flowering bushes of hawthorn in the background
Cow Parsley and Hawthorn - 7 May 2017

Another plant which adds very significantly to the whitening of the park at this time of year is the cow parsley.  One area of grass beside the path that leads to the Fen Road exit is completely covered with this flower.

Further Reading

 Mental Floss: Why Our Calendars Skipped 11 Days in 1752

Next: From Candles to Conkers

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