Skip to main content

Cock’s-foot Grass

Dactylis glomerata

Close-up photos of Cock's-foot grass
Cock's-foot pictured at Cannon Hill Park

How To Spot

It’s one of the bigger lawn grasses which can grow over 1m. Its most distinguishing feature is its flattened lower stems which you can feel with your fingers as easily as you can see. Forming dense tussocks, it also has distinctive heavy-looking flower heads.

Where to spot

It’s found across the UK in all kinds of places but it’s most commonly found in meadows and roadsides. On lawns, it often grows on the lesser mown edges.

Don’t mistake it with

False oat grass – another tall, bulky grass which flowers slightly later.

Cock's-foot pictured at Pebble Mill

Things you might not know

Cock’s-foot grass is a surprisingly good plant for wildlife.

  • Honey bees gorge on its pollen
  • Caterpillars eat its leaves
  • Finches feed on its seed
  • Its tussocks provide safe places for nesting mammals and bees

 

Other Species

Sweet Vernal Grass
A close up photograph of Sweet Vernal Grass

Sweet Vernal Grass

Rough Meadow Grass
Rough Meadow Grass in the field

Rough Meadow Grass

Perennial Rye Grass
Perennial Rye grass pictured at Cannon Hill Park

Perennial Rye Grass

Field Pansy is a delicate flower from the Violet family, and is the wild relative of the Garden Pansy. It’s a small low-growing perennial which can be easily confused with the Wild Pansy, however it has much smaller flowers. It is self-fertile and attracts butterflies such as the Queen of Spain Fritillary which will lay its eggs on the plant.

How to spot it

The flowers of Field Pansy are solitary and 15mm across. They have creamy yellow petals which are sometimes bluish-violet. Its sepals are pointed, and often longer than or the same length as the petals. Its stipules look like lobed leaves, and the leaves are oblong in shape. The plant grows up to 20cm tall.

Where to spot it

While Field Pansy can be found throughout the UK, it is more common in the East half of the UK and SE Ireland. It’s most commonly found in dry arable field margins and waste spaces.

Things you might not know

  • Pansies take their name from the French ‘pensee’ meaning thought.
  • Field Pansy’s flowers are edible and the leaves and flowers are rich in vitamins A and C.

Other Species

Sweet Vernal Grass
A close up photograph of Sweet Vernal Grass

Sweet Vernal Grass

Rough Meadow Grass
Rough Meadow Grass in the field

Rough Meadow Grass

Perennial Rye Grass
Perennial Rye grass pictured at Cannon Hill Park

Perennial Rye Grass

Bladder Campion

Silene vulgaris

This pretty flower is named after the inflated bladder-like sac behind the petals. Growing between 60cm and 1m tall this white wildflower is also known as ‘Maidens Tears’, ‘Cowbell’, and ‘Common Bladder Catchfly’ even though it doesn’t technically catch flies!

How to spot it

Bladder Campion is a perennial wildflower with a green bladder-like calyx with purple veins make it easily identifiable. The ragged looking white flowers, which grow at the end of the bladder, have five two-lobed petals and are roughly 2cm wide with long protruding stamens. It is said they have an aroma similar to that of cloves. Many flower heads can be found on one medium height plant. Its stalkless bluish-green leaves are long and thin on mature plants.

Where to spot it

It is fairly common in Britain, but is mostly found in the south of England in meadows and fields, and along roadside verges, dry banks, and hedgerows.

Things you might not know

  • The young leaves are sometimes added to salads in the Mediterranean where it grows much more abundantly.
  • During the summer months, Bladder Campion can often found covered in ‘Cuckoo Spit’ as this is a favourite food-plant of the Froghopper. The early English botanist John Gerard called it ‘Spatling Poppie’ for this very reason.
  • In Roman mythology the Goddess Minerva turned the young boy Campion into this plant after he fell asleep instead of catching flies for her owls. The bladder represents the bag he should have filled.

Other Species

Sweet Vernal Grass
A close up photograph of Sweet Vernal Grass

Sweet Vernal Grass

Rough Meadow Grass
Rough Meadow Grass in the field

Rough Meadow Grass

Perennial Rye Grass
Perennial Rye grass pictured at Cannon Hill Park

Perennial Rye Grass

Fritillary

Fritillaria meleagris

Months

Season

Colour

How to spot it

Serpentine and glamorous, Fritillary is a dark purple (and sometimes white) wildflower is also known as the “Snake’s-head”.

Where to spot it

Fritillary grows in wet meadows, particularly traditional hay meadows that often flood in winter months. Some of the best-known Fritillary fields are in Oxfordshire, along the flood-meadows of the Thames including Magdalen Meadow in the heart of the university city.

How’s it doing?

Once thousands of Fritillary filled flooded hay meadows across middle and southern England. However, modern agricultural practices – particularly draining land in order to grow crops – has led to a sharp decline.

Things you might not know

  • Fritillary is the County Flower of Oxfordshire.
  • In the Language of Flowers it symbolises persecution.
  • Fritillaries were only officially recorded growing in the wild in 1736, so there is some debate as to whether they are native or not. It may be that they spread from foreign plants in the Tudor or Jacobean garden. It is therefore worth scrutinizing the neighbourhood of Fritillary fields for evidence of large gardens at some time in the past.
  • The names show how the Frillary has suggested blood, death, snakes and sorrow. Besides Snake’s head Fritillary, other evocative names are Bloody warrior, Doleful bells of sorrow, Drooping tulip, Five-leaved grass, Guinea-hen flower, Toad’s head, Turkey’s eggs and Weeping widow.
  • Fritillaries are fertilised by bumble-bees.
  • These snaky beauties are in fact poisonous containing an alkaloid called Imperialine.

Other Species

Sweet Vernal Grass
A close up photograph of Sweet Vernal Grass

Sweet Vernal Grass

Rough Meadow Grass
Rough Meadow Grass in the field

Rough Meadow Grass

Perennial Rye Grass
Perennial Rye grass pictured at Cannon Hill Park

Perennial Rye Grass

Lizard Orchid

Himantoglossum hircinum

Lizard Orchid is usually rare in the UK but in the right location it can be found in great numbers. It grows up to a metre in height but can nonetheless be difficult to spot when growing in long grass on roadside verges.

How to spot it

The long, tail-like lip is usually spiralled and dotted with pink or purple in the centre. Lizard Orchid’s flowers have a rather foul smell, said to be similar to the smell of goats.

How is it distributed?

The largest British population of the Lizard Orchid is amongst the golf links and sand dunes at Sandwich Bay in Kent, where there are reportedly many hundred plants. A large population can be found in East Anglia, along the stretch of the Devil’s Dyke that runs through Newmarket Racecourse.

Where to spot it

Lizard Orchid grows on calcareous soils and likes sunny positions on the edges of open woodland and on roadside verges. This orchid also grows in dry meadows, rocky areas, and open woods.

Things you might not know

  • The scientific name (Himantoglossum) derives from the Greek for ‘strap-tongue’ Hircinum is Latin for ‘goat-like’, and refers to the strong, foul smell of the flowers.
  • In most European languages it is known as ‘(Billy or male) goat orchid’.
  • The Lizard Orchid is pollinated by insects particularly bees.

Other Species

Sweet Vernal Grass
A close up photograph of Sweet Vernal Grass

Sweet Vernal Grass

Rough Meadow Grass
Rough Meadow Grass in the field

Rough Meadow Grass

Perennial Rye Grass
Perennial Rye grass pictured at Cannon Hill Park

Perennial Rye Grass

Basil Thyme

Clinopodium acinos

Basil Thyme used to be picked as a substitute for thyme, but it is now too rare to pick. Its distribution closely follows that of underlying chalk and limestone rock.

How to spot it

Like other members of the dead-nettle family, Basil Thyme is popular with bees and insects. At only 15 cm high, it produces whorls of violet flowers with white markings on the lower lip. Common Calamint and Wild Basil are closely related but are larger and with taller more dense flower spikes.

Where to spot it

Basil Thyme grows mainly in southern and eastern England and is very rare in Wales, Scotland and northeast England. It is also present in eastern Ireland where is it considered an alien species. It grows in open habitats in dry grassland, especially around rock outcrops and also in arable fields, where it is now rare. It can be found in quarries and waste ground where calcareous rocks and lime-rich soil has been exposed and roads and railways where lime has been applied. In Ireland, Basil Thyme grows on sandy and gravelly soils.

How’s it doing?

Basil Thyme is unfortunately in decline because of more efficient methods of weed control almost causing its complete extinction in arable habitat. Basil Thyme is only present on less intensively used arable land and in chalk and limestone grassland. Threats to grassland populations include the lack of bare ground which is required by this species to aid seed germination. In Ireland, sand and gravel extraction are the main causes of decline.

It is classified as ‘Vulnerable’ and is included as a species “of principal importance for the purpose of conserving biodiversity” under Sections 41 (England) and 42 (Wales) of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. Basil Thyme is also noted on the Scottish biodiversity list of species of principal importance for biodiversity conservation in The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.

Other Species

Sweet Vernal Grass
A close up photograph of Sweet Vernal Grass

Sweet Vernal Grass

Rough Meadow Grass
Rough Meadow Grass in the field

Rough Meadow Grass

Perennial Rye Grass
Perennial Rye grass pictured at Cannon Hill Park

Perennial Rye Grass

Burnt-tip Orchid

Orchis ustulata

Burnt-tip Orchid is a white orchid with a deep crimson peak – the “burnt tip” in question.

How to spot it

This small orchid can be difficult to spot. Plants grow from a tuber which is replaced each year and tend to grow in small clumps. Pale green leaves form a rosette from which a flower spike holding between 15-50 flowers emerges.

Where to spot it

Burnt-tip Orchid is confined to a scattering of sites in southern England, especially the Wiltshire Downs. It is found in short, chalk downland turf, and occasionally strays into meadows.

How’s it doing?

Burnt-tip Orchid was once more common and its scarce population continues to decline. This decline is due to changes in agricultural practices.

Things you might not know

  • Burnt-tip Orchid is the County Flower of Wiltshire, where the largest colonies can be found.
  • The flowers smell of honey but produce no nectar.
  • Ustulata comes from the Latin word ustulus which means ‘slightly burnt.’

Other Species

Sweet Vernal Grass
A close up photograph of Sweet Vernal Grass

Sweet Vernal Grass

Rough Meadow Grass
Rough Meadow Grass in the field

Rough Meadow Grass

Perennial Rye Grass
Perennial Rye grass pictured at Cannon Hill Park

Perennial Rye Grass

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 Vernal Grass
A close up photograph of Sweet Vernal Grass

Sweet Vernal Grass

Rough Meadow Grass
Rough Meadow Grass in the field

Rough Meadow Grass

Perennial Rye Grass
Perennial Rye grass pictured at Cannon Hill Park

Perennial Rye Grass

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 Vernal Grass
A close up photograph of Sweet Vernal Grass

Sweet Vernal Grass

Rough Meadow Grass
Rough Meadow Grass in the field

Rough Meadow Grass

Perennial Rye Grass
Perennial Rye grass pictured at Cannon Hill Park

Perennial Rye Grass

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 Vernal Grass
A close up photograph of Sweet Vernal Grass

Sweet Vernal Grass

Rough Meadow Grass
Rough Meadow Grass in the field

Rough Meadow Grass

Perennial Rye Grass
Perennial Rye grass pictured at Cannon Hill Park

Perennial Rye Grass