Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Shenley Church End’s Holy Thorn – 3

Visited the Shenley Church End thorn tree for a third time on 13 January 2020.

Although the tree had four flowers, most flower buds were in the same state as they were when the tree was last visited on 6 January.

The dimensions of the ‘tree’ were measured:  it has an internal diameter of c. 2.15 m, and an external circumference of c. 8.00 m, suggesting that it is ancient,  but no way is known to estimate how ancient.

However, these observations indicate how the tree probably originated.  Holy thorns are usually said to be propagated by grafting  a scion of holy thorn on to a rootstock of common hawthorn.  This means that when the tree gets elderly and falls apart as the Shenley one has done, the resultant trees would grow from the rootstock and thus be common hawthorns, rather than holy thorns.  This is not the case when it comes to the Shenley tree, the existing trunks produce flowers (or at least flower buds) in winter and can thus be considered to be holy thorns.  Thus the tree has two possible origins:  it could  have originated as a cutting, but it seems that holy thorns are rarely propagated in this way, or it could be a natural ‘sport’ which was noticed and claimed to be a holy thorn.  Such trees are occasionally found well away from gardens, and it seems likely that the Shenley tree, and other ‘holy thorns’ found in hedgerows and similar habitats, are in fact sports, rather than descendents of Glastonbury trees.

Images:  upper, one of the few flowers produced by the Shenley thorn on 13 January 2020; lower, hawthorn tree showing the way in which old boles split, fall apart, and form new trees, Redland Drive, Milton Keynes, also 13 January 2020.

Updated 2 February 2020.

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