Never cast a clout until the may is out

“Ne’er cast a clout…’til may is out”

It’s a well-known English saying and warns of the risk of ill weather and advises one to retain all winter clothing (clouts) until a certain point in the Spring. Not the month of May, as if often assume, but until the blooming of the may flower, the hawthorn, also known as¬†¬†quickthorn, whitethorn, motherdie, Rhamnus lycioides. Not to be confused with the earlier blooming blackthron. So, the advice is that you should keep your winter coat on until after the hawthorn has bloomed; a “clout” is an archaic word for rag, not sure how it translates elsewhere in England. Is it the same floral display as Shakespeare’s “darling buds of may” the flower buds not the month?

Well, there are certainly hawthorn-looking blooms out here, our having had the warmest, sunniest and driest March for years, if not “since records began”. Is it global warming or just a spurious spell of good weather, who knows? Global warming is about global climate change not about local weather patterns, after all. However, the climate models do suggest that more extreme local weather is a likely consequence of rising global average temperatures. The Phrases site in discussing “Ne’er cast a clout” talks of the may blooming in late April, which makes me suspicious that the blossom I snapped above are some other hedgerow species rather than hawthorn, also the petals are a little too pointy for hawthorn. I now think this is actually blackthorn blossom, Prunus spinosa, which definitely blooms earlier than haw.

Nevertheless, the hawthorn features prominently in David Hockney’s exhibition The Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy. Catch it now, exhibition ends 9th April.

Another topical point regarding these hedgerow trees (haw, by the way is an old English word for hedge) is that they are pollinated by midges, the insect causing anxiety among British livestock farmers as European strains carrying the Schmallenberg virus have crossed the English Channel to enter this sceptred isle.

Oh, and one more thing, one of the very first blog posts I wrote, although we used to just call it a science news item back in the mid-1990s, was about hawthorn berry extract having anti-hypertensive activity and supposedly improving blood circulation.