A deciduous, suckering shrub 10 or 15 ft high, or in gardens a small tree; bark of young shoots downy, many short branches terminated by a spine. Leaves varying from obovate to oval and ovate, 3⁄4 to 13⁄4 in. long, 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. wide; sharp-toothed, downy beneath on the midrib and veins, becoming sometimes quite glabrous with age. Flowers produced in March or early April usually on the naked wood, singly, sometimes in pairs, from the previous year’s buds, each 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. across, pure white, and borne on a glabrous stalk 1⁄5 in. long. Fruits round, 1⁄2 in. in diameter, at first blue, then shining black, very harsh to the taste.
The sloe is found wild in Britain and other parts of Europe as well as in N. Asia. It occurs in hedgerows and in woods, where it is occasionally a tree over 20 ft high. It is oftenest seen in wild places on poor soils as a scrubby bush. If introduced to the garden or park for ornament, it should be trained up into tree form. The wood of this species is very hard, and prized in rural districts for making hay-rake teeth.
cv. ‘Plena’. – Flowers not so wide as the single-flowered type, but pure white and very double, crowded on short, spiny branches whose blackness enhances their purity. Its slow growth makes it suitable for small gardens. It seems first to have appeared spontaneously at Tarascon. It is propagated by budding on the wild plum, whose suckers, if produced, are more easily detected than those of the wild sloe. A.M. 1950.
cv. ‘Purpurea’. – leaves a beautiful red when young, becoming purple; flowers pink. sent out by barbier & co., of orleans, in 1903.
In the Manual of Messrs Hillier it is pointed out that the plant sometimes listed as P. spinosa ‘Rosea’ is probably a hybrid between P. spinosa and P. cerasifera ‘Nigra’.
P. curdica Fenzl & Fritsch – This is intermediate between P. spinosa and P. domestica subsp. institia. It is of spreading habit, less thorny; leaves downy on both sides when young; flowers white, 3⁄4 in. across; flower-stalks downy; fruits blue-black. A very rare native of eastern Anatolia.