Colour in Clover

Clover may be the only wildflower more famous for its leaves than its blooms. 

The three lobed shamrock leaves are symbolic of all things Irish but this widespread family of plants grows here too; and right now it’s “Pom-Pom” flowers are at our feet. 

Clover grows wild today but before commercial fertilisers were common, farmers would plant it because of its ability to capture nitrogen, the main component of many fertilisers; and fix it in the soil. 

Two clovers are most common in England. Red and White Clover. White clover is more often associated with species poor, cultivated and fertilised land, whereas its red cousin is often an indicator of species rich grassland where other wild flowers thrive. 

It is possible from time to time, to find both growing together 


Red Campion, Pink Star of the Woods and Hedges

As spring progresses, many wildflowers are overtaken by vigorous plants such as nettle, bramble and grasses. 

Where the soil is rich more colourful wild flowers may be fewer now but a few stars shine out against the verdant background. 

AS a boy, after learning the names of bluebell, daisy and dandelion, the next wildflower I came to know was Red Campion (Silene dioca)

Growing up to three feet tall it can keep up with all but the most vigorous competitors in the race for sunlight that plants engage in. It’s a common and welcome sight in hedges and woods. 

Look closely and there are two types of flower. Male with twisted yellow anthers and female, with delicate, greener stamen.


Hogweed (and cow parsley)

Hogweed is taking over the verges and woodland edges. 

The good news is, there’s nothing wrong. At around the same time Cow Parsley goes to seed and its delicate white flowers fade, it is succeeded by its cousin, hogweed. 

Both are members of the carrot and parsley family; and by far their most common members in the British countryside. 

I was at the Bushcraft Show this weekend and found the two growing together in a hedgerow. The Cow Parsley is at the end of its flowering period, the Hogweed at the start. 

The easiest way to tell the difference between the two is that Cow Parsley has more delicate, feather-like leaves, Hogweed’s are more robust, thicker and larger. 

There are nearly forty members of the carrot family growing wild in Britain. Thirty of them look very similar. Some have irritants in their sap and some are poisonous; some are delicious wild food. This makes them a very useful group to know; but to know well. 

I’ll be adding posts about the different members of this family as I encounter them over summer. 

The Fields Turn Yellow

Since my childhood, every spring there are a few glorious weeks when vast fields turn bright yellow.

What is surprising is that the cause of this is a member of the cabbage family, Brassica napus, or its more unfortunate English names “Oilseed rape,” or “Rapeseed.”

Rapeseed is produced as the source of vegetable oil. It’s small black seeds are crushed to yield surprising quantities of the oil, which is used not only in food for human consumption but also for animal feed, medicines, chainsaw lubricant and bio-diesel.

It’s flowers are nectar rich and a good food source for insects.

However, rape is quick to grow and when it is harvested a smell of rotten cabbages can be left behind.

It’s Cow Parsley time of year

One of my favourite wild flowers is beginning its annual display.

Cow parsley turns road verges, field margins and path edges into gardens. This is one of the first of the umbellifer flowers (the plants with umbrella-shaped flower-heads) to emerge and as well as providing a beautiful, lace-like cluster of flowers, is an early nectar source for bees, butterflies and other insects.

It can be eaten when young but beware of confusing it with other similar looking flowers. It has a passing resemblance to deadly hemlock (the poison used to kill Socrates in Ancient Greece) as well as Fools Parsley (which is smaller.) Both these and other poisonous lookalikes flower later in the year.


Is it worth ploughing every inch ?

This afternoon I took a walk on the paths around my village. One of the most popular paths follows a field edge where winter wheat was sown last autumn. 

The corner nearest the gate is a waste of space for the farmer. So much of the corner is bare ground, the corn having not survived the muddiness and trampling of feet over winter. Along the edge of the field three paths have formed through the young crop.

Was it worth cultivating this corner and spending money on seed that will never grow?Was there any point in ploughing right to the edge of the field and not sparing the path, leaving walkers to beat it hard with the action of their winter boots ?(and not all taking the same line )

The crop looks very sad along this field edge and I think the farmer could have saved himself some money and given a little more room for wildlife if he hadn’t decided to plough every available inch.