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 Many-Named Wild Arum

Wild Arum (Arum maculatum) is known by many names.

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“Cuckoo Pint,” “Lords and Ladies,” “Friars Cowl,” Wake Robin;” and “Jack-in-the-Pulpit,” are but a few of the traditional English names for the species.

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Many of the names refer to the distinctive shape of the plant, with its phallus-like “spadex” at the centre. This organ is the flower of the plant and as well as becoming the fruiting body later in the year, growing a distinctive column of red berries, attracts insects with it’s odour, which smells of faeces.

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It’s not a flower to put in the living room.

The plant and its berries are also poisonous. A dramatic feature to look out for on a spring walk in the woods.

 

The Annual Attack of the Sycamore Seedlings

Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatynus) is a member of the Maple family of trees. 

  • Sycamore leaves and catkins in spring 

Although not a native to Britain it is a common species, naturalized in our woodlands. 


Every autumn, it produces thousands of seeds which fall to the ground on “helicopter” sails that catch the breeze and transport them away from the parent tree. 

Come spring, anywhere near a stand of sycamores, hundreds and hundreds of seedlings shoot from the ground on the woodland floor, in gardens, hedges and fallow land. 

  • The first leaves of a sycamore seedling

  • As seedlings grow, new leaves take the shape of the adult tree leaves

  • It is common for hundreds or thousands of seedlings to sprout in spring

It’s no wonder this tree has been so successful at colonising much of Britain. 

The Spanish Invasion 

Have you been to a bluebell wood recently?
The stunning sight of the floor of a greenwood, turned blue is a wonder enjoyed by many. 


However, all may not be as tranquil as it looks in the forest.  The native bluebell in Britain (Hyacynthoids non-scripta) is giving ground to its larger cousin, the Spanish Bluebell (Hyacythoids hispanica)


Spanish bluebells are larger and lighter coloured than the native bluebell. The two species cross-breed, threatening to change the shape and colour of bluebells across the country. 

(Both native and Spanish species can have occasional white flowers but only the Spanish bluebell can have pink flowers. )

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.