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Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Sweet Violet is a low, creeping plant with fragrant flowers, usually blue-violet or white. It has a long and rather romantic history in European and Asian folklore: the ancient Greeks first used it to make perfume and the Romans to make wine. Ancient Britons used it for cosmetics. Medieval French troubadours used it to represent constancy in their tales of chivalrous love.

How to spot it

Sweet violet’s leaves are broad and glossy and like the stems are covered with fine hairs. Both flowers and leaves grow from a central tuft.

Where to spot it

Sweet Violet is widespread throughout most of England, although it’s less widespread in the north. In Scotland and Wales its distribution is even patchier: a wildflower of woodland margins and shady hedgerows, it tends to avoid the more mountainous regions.

When to spot it

The best time to see Sweet Violet is from March to May.

Things you might not know

  • One of the key threats to Sweet Violet is loss of the habitat, particularly destruction of hedgerows.
  • Josephine threw Napolean a posy of sweet violets when they first met. After he was defeated at Waterloo he was permitted to visit her grave one last time before he was sent to St Helena. He found sweet violets growing there and picked a few. Upon his death these were found in a locket around his neck.
  • There is a legend that you can only smell violet flowers once – this is untrue, but has its basis in a quirk of evolution. Ionine, one of the chemicals that makes up the Sweet Violet’s scent, has the power to deaden the smell receptors once its been sniffed.

Other Species

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Marsh-marigold
Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Red Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Red Dead-nettle is traditionally known as the ‘bumblebee flower’ in some British counties as bumblebees love it! Other names include ‘sweet archangel’ and ‘bad man’s posies’. Red Dead-nettle is related to the stinging nettle but has no sting – hence the ‘dead’ in ‘dead-nettle’.

How to spot it

Red Dead-nettle has whorls of pink-purple flowers clustered amongst leaves towards the top of the plant. The aromatic leaves are hairy, heart-shaped and have toothed edges. Some leaves near the top of the plant take on a purple tint. This plant can be mistaken for henbit dead-nettle which has similar flowers. They can be differentiated because Red Dead-nettle leaves have short petioles (leaf stalks).

Where to spot it

Found throughout the UK, Red Dead-nettle likes arable and waste land and can also be found in gardens, hedgerows and on roadsides.

Best time to spot it

Red dead-nettle has a long flowering season that can begin in February and last until November.

Things you might not know

  • The generic name is from the Greek lamia meaning ‘devouring monster’. This refers to the helmet shape (galeate) of the flower which has the appearance of open jaws.
  • The vernacular name ‘Archangel’ may refer to their virtue of being non-stinging.
  • It is likely that this plant was introduced to Britain with early agriculture and evidence for it has been found in Bronze Age deposits.
  • The whole plant is astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, purgative and styptic. In terms of traditional medicinal uses, dried leaves have been used as a poultice to stem hemorrhaging whilst fresh bruised leaves have been applied to external wounds and cuts. The leaves are also made into a tea and drunk to promote perspiration and discharge from the kidneys in treating chills.

Other Species

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Marsh-marigold
Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

A single white-purple lady orchid flower spike on a blurred background

The Lady Orchid is a tall, elegant herbaceous plant belonging to the Orchidaceae plant family.

How to spot it

Lady Orchid can reach 30–100 centimetres with the fleshy, bright green leaves being up to 15 cm long. The leaves are broad and oblong, forming a rosette about the base of the plant and surrounding the flower spike. These flower spikes can contain up to 200 individual flowers to which the stem upwardly points. Some of the flowers have the look of women in crinoline ball gowns. In terms of colour they are usually pale pink or rose, with a deeper purple ‘head’.

Close-up of bright pink-purple lady orchid flowers

Where to spot it

The Lady Orchid can be found in most parts of Europe (specifically Kent, England), Northern Africa, Turkey and the Caucasus.

Lady orchids usually grow in woodlands, oak forests, slopes and meadows, and can occasionally occur on savanna. They prefer to grow in limestone or chalk soil, in shady or sunny places. The Lady Orchid occurs in short grassland, on woodland edges and sometimes in open woodland. However, it is now very rarely found in the UK.

Best time to spot it

Lady Orchid’s flowering occurs in late April to June.

Did you know?

The sepals and upper petals are known to be purple, hence the Lady Orchid adopting the latin name purpurea.

Other Species

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Marsh-marigold
Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Scottish Primrose

Primula scotica

A Scottish Primrose with three bright pink flower heads amongst grass

The ultimate northerner in our flora, Scottish Primrose grows on coastal promontories on the north coast of Scotland, including Dunnet Head, the northernmost tip of mainland Britain.

Close up of pink Scottish Primrose with three flowers

Where to spot it

Scottish Primrose is low-growing and easily overlooked. It typically grows in heaths and coastal grasslands. As well as growing in the north coast of Scotland, this attractive flower also grows in Orkney, across the Pentland Firth, but nowhere else in the world. It is easily distinguished from the common primrose by its blueish-purple petals.

Best time to spot it

Scottish Primrose flowers from May to June.

Did you know?

Scottish Primrose is the county flower of Caithness.

Other Species

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Marsh-marigold
Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Early Dog-violet

Viola reichenbachiana

Months

Season

Colour

Five-petalled Early Dog-violet flower on a background of blurred leaves, with a second budding flower out of focus

Early by name, early by nature: the Early Dog-violet is the first of the violets to bloom.

While its cousin, the Common Dog-violet, traditionally flowers in April, the Early Dog-violet pops up in March, or earlier if the local climate has been unseasonably mild. The unscented flowers of both violets are similar but the Early Dog-violet has a darker purple spur behind the petals.

Single Early Dog-violet flower amongst grass

Where to spot it

The Early Dog-violet is found across central, eastern and southern England growing on hedge banks and in chalk woodlands. It is an indicator species for ancient woodland.

How’s it doing?

Early Dog-violet is categorised as least concern, so there is a good chance that you will be able to spot it if you look for it in the right places!

Early Dog-violet flower with five petalled, some of which have a slightly white mottled pattern on the purple petals

Things you might not know

  • Both Early Dog-violets and Common Dog-violets respond rampantly when light is allowed into the wood. A forty-fold increase in the number of violet flowers was once recorded in Cambridgeshire after coppicing.
  • Another name you might hear for the Early Dog-violet is the Woodland Violet.
  • The Early Dog-violet used to be called the Pale Wood Violet as its flowers do tend to be lighter than the Common variety.
  • It is a key food source for five of Britain’s most threatened butterflies: pearl-bordered fritillary, small pearl-bordered fritillary, high brown fritillary, silver-washed fritillary and dark green fritillary.

Other Species

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Marsh-marigold
Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Ground Ivy is an aromatic creeping herb with funnel-shaped violet flowers.

This small, common evergreen perennial belongs to the mint family and spreads rapidly in a carpet-like form due to its creeping stems. Despite its name, it is not closely related to common ivy.

How to spot it

Ground Ivy has upright flowering stems bearing between two and four violet two-lipped flowers in a whorl. The lower lip has purple spots. Its leaves are scalloped in shape, which may explain why catsfoot is one of its many nicknames.

Where to spot it

It is commonly found in woodlands, meadows, hedgerows, and wasteland throughout the British Isles, although it is rarer in Scotland. It also thrives in lawns as it survives mowing.

Things you might not know

  • Known as a lung-cleansing herb, Ground Ivy has been used to treat coughs and other respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis.
  • It has been used a substitute for animal rennet to make cheese.
  • Ground Ivy is a rich source of vitamin C and can be used as a herbal tea.
  • Common names for Ground Ivy include Gill-over-the-ground, Creeping Charlie, Alehoof, Tunhoof, Field balm and Run-away Robin.
  • It was known as “Our Lady’s Vine” in Medieval times.
  • The Saxons used Ground Ivy to flavour and clarify their ale.

Violet Coral

Clavaria zollingeri

Violet coloured fungus with branches looking like coral on a green grassy area.

How to identify

Fruiting BodyCoral shaped and of a distinctive purple-violet colour
Fruiting body size3-10cm tall and up to 8cm across.
Individual stems are typically 4-7mm in diameter at the base,
branching upwards and outwards
SporesWhite

Where to find them?

Violet Coral (Clavaria zollingeri) is a rare species in Britain found in unimproved grassland. It is usually solitary, but can occur in small groups.

Did you know?

It is listed as vulnerable across Europe on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

Other Species

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Tree Lungwort
Tree Lungwort spanning entire branch of ancient tree

Tree Lungwort

Lobaria pulmonaria

Reindeer Moss
Small patch of jagged, white Reindeer Moss amongst bright green plants

Reindeer Moss

Cladonia rangiferina

Hemlock

Conium maculatum

Hemlock flowerhead

Identifying Hemlock

Hemlock has umbrella-like white flowers, which appear in dome shaped rounded clumps in summer, which are usually 2-5 cm across.

One of the easiest ways to identify Hemlock is by its stems – which are mostly large, hairless and have purple spots or blotches along their length.

The leaves are fine and look similar to ferns – lacy and similar to that of others in the carrot family.

Hemlock is one of the UK’s tallest native umbellifer species, growing up to 2 metres and can smell quite unpleasant. The unpleasant smell is caused by the poisonous chemicals and acts as a deterrent to animals.

All parts of this plant are poisonous and all members of this family should be treated with caution, notably because Hemlock can be easily mistaken for Cow Parsley and other harmless members of it’s family.

A close up of the blotched stem of the Hemlock

Similar Species

The hairless purple blotched stems are key to identifying this plant (pictured), as well as the extremely unpleasant smell.

It can also be distinguished through it’s flowering time, as it flowers after Cow Parsley, and around the same time as Hogweed, in June and July.

Hemlock could be confused with Hogweed, Upright Hedge-parsley and Hemlock Water-dropwort (also poisonous).

Habitat

Likes damp places such as along streams, but can also be found growing in dry habitats such as scrubland and waste land.

Distribution

Widespread in most of England and the lowland areas of Wales, also found in some southern or coastal areas of Scotland.

Did you know?

  • Pollinators love it! Hemlock is a larval food-plant for several moth species, and a host to a hidden world of specific fungi species. These have all evolved alongside it to be able to tolerate the toxins.
  • Common names include Mother dies, Kexies and Woomlicks.
  • In 399 BC, Greek philosopher Socrates was found guilty of corrupting the young minds and for not believing in the gods of the state. He was sentenced to death and forced to drink an infusion of Hemlock.

 

We must remember that almost all wild plants & fungi are no danger to us as we go about our days. Plants are the foundation of life, and we need a world rich in plants to tackle the twin climate and biodiversity crises.

Other Species

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Marsh-marigold
Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Common Knapweed

Centaurea nigra

Also known as “Hardheads” or “Black knapweed”, this wild flower is one of our toughest meadow plants.

Knapweed is a firm favourite of our pollinating insects, being a source of good quality nectar. And as well as supporting our bee, butterflies and beetles its seeds provide food for many birds.

Identification

Somewhat thistle-like, common knapweed can be identified by its slightly spherical black/brown flower head, growing alone, topped with purple, pink or (more rarely) white. The bracts are triangular in shape. Its leaves are linear to lance-like in shape with incomplete lobes.

Greater knapweed – a close relation – is similar but its flowers are more garish and opulent and its leaves are fully lobed.

Distribution

Found throughout Britain.

Habitat

Knapweed is a wild flower of meadows and other grassland habitats from lawns to cliff-tops. It can often be seen on road verges where wildlife is allowed to thrive and also in hedges.

Best time to see

In flower, June to September.

Did you know…

  • In days gone by eligible young women would play a love-divination game by pulling out the rays and putting the plucked knapweed flower in their blouse. When as-yet unopened florets began to bloom it would tell her the man of her dreams was near. This game to foretell the future of love is also played with Plantago major.
  • Most of the local names including Bachelor’s buttons, Blue bottle and Iron knobs are explained by the hard, knobby heads, the bottle-shaped involucre and the toughness of the plant.
  • Knapweed was used for ruptures and wounds, bruises, sores, scabs and sore throat, etc.

Other Species

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Marsh-marigold
Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Wild Leek

Allium ampeloprasum

A native wild relative of the familiar garden vegetable.

Wild Leek has globe-like heads on stems that can grow to a metre tall. Its leaves are just like the common garden leek, although the stem is not quite so fat. All parts have a strong onion scent.

County flower of Cardiff/Caerdydd.

Found wild on Flat Holm island just off the Cardiff coast, what better than the wild leek for representing the nation’s capital?

Distribution

Just one locality on Ynys Mon (Anglesey) in North Wales and on a couple of islands in the Severn Estuary, two other forms of wild leek (var. bulbifera and var. babingtonii) are distributed around the coast of the British Isles.

Habitat

Sandy and rocky places near the sea, especially in old fields and hedge banks, on sheltered cliff-slopes, by paths and tracks and in drainage ditches and other disturbed places.

Best time to see

Flowers from late June to August

A wild leek flower head

Status

Wild Leek is believed to have be en introduced to Britain. It is a scarce species, naturalised in only a few areas.

Did you know…

  • The Wild Leek is the Wild crop relative of our cultivated leek but looks more like Elephant Garlic than the green and white leek you would recognise.
  • The leek is one of the two national plants of Wales – the story goes that King Cadwaladr of Gwynedd ordered his soldiers (the Cymry) to identify themselves in an ancient battle against the Saxons by wearing a leek on their helmet.
  • Wild leeks were probably introduced to Wales from the Eastern Mediterranean as early as the bronze age but are unfortunately now Classed as Vulnerable to extinction on the Welsh Red List of Plants. Plantlife supports a project to ensure that the Wild Leek is protected at its only site in Wales.

Other Species

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Marsh-marigold
Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum