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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

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Brooklime

Veronica beccabunga

How to spot it

Brooklime has delicate blue flowers held on fleshy stems, often forming lush clumps near water. The spikes of pretty blue flowers ascending in pairs from the leaf base are a clue that this plant is a member of the Speedwell family. Brooklime is a perennial sprawling herb with a dense mass of succulent leaves. Like many water plants, it has hollow stems which help to transfer oxygen to the roots.

Where to spot it

It grows at the waterline of riverbanks and in wet meadows, marshes, ponds, streams and ditches. It is found throughout the UK except in the Scottish Highlands.

How’s it doing?

Brooklime is doing well in its preferred habitats.

Things you might not know

  • Brooklime was used as a salad plant in much of northern Europe in the past.
  • It used to be eaten with watercress and oranges to help prevent scurvy.
  • Although edible, the leaves are bitter and the same precautions should be taken with them, as with watercress, in order to avoid liver fluke.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Branched Bur-reed

Sparganium erectum

How to spot it

Branched Bur-reed is a quirky looking waterside plant with spherical flowers. It might occasionally be mistaken for its unbranched relative (appropriately named ‘Unbranched Bur-reed’) but little else. Branched Bur-reed is a tall plant with linear leaves that lie broadside on to stem. The smaller male flowers sit above the female flowers on the stem.

Where to spot it

This wild plant is widespread around the UK, growing by waters edge, ponds, slow rivers, marshy ground and ditches. Branched Bur-reed is an easily uprooted plant and so prefers slower waters.

How’s it doing?

Branched Bur-reed is commonly found in its preferred habitats.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Alexanders

Smyrnium olusatrum

How to spot it

Alexanders is a large, early emerging hedgerow plant that grows up to 1.5 metres tall and has a thick main stem that can become hollow. This plant has many clusters of little yellow-green umbel flowers appearing towards the top suspended by offshoots from the main stem. The shiny green leaves smell of celery. Alexanders cbe confused with cow parsley but is generally larger and thicker stemmed.

Where to spot it

Alexanders is found mainly towards the coast, probably due to its sensitivity to frosts, which are less common in coastal areas. It is more common in the south and rare in most of Scotland. It can be found on cliffs, hedge banks, road sides and other waste land areas.

Things you might not know

  • Every part of Alexanders, also known as horse parsley, is edible. In the past almost every part of the plant was used from the young flower-buds which were pickled like miniature cauliflowers to the roots.
  • It was formerly grown as a potherb and may be worth cultivating again for its unusual pleasant taste, a bit like angelica.
  • In Latin the name means the parsley of Alexandria.
  • In England and in Ireland you find it often by ruins of abbeys and castles.
  • A soup called ‘Lenten potage’ was made of Alexanders, watercress and nettles by Irish matrons in the 18th Century.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Wood Anemone

Anemone nemorosa

One of the first flowers of spring, Wood Anemones bloom like a galaxy of stars across the forest floor.

As a species it’s surprisingly slow to spread (six feet in a hundred years!), relying on the growth of its root structure rather than the spread of its seed. As such, it is a good indicator of ancient woodland.

How to spot it

Wood Anemone has solitary star-like white flowers with 5-8 petals, often pinkish underneath. Long-stalked stem leaves divided into three lobes, with each lobe divided.

Colonies of Wood Anemones with purple or purple-streaked petals are frequent in Norfolk, but the sky-blue type (var. caerulea) is much rarer or possibly lost. It was a favourite of William Robinson, the 19th century pioneer of ‘wild gardening’ who carefully distinguished it from the occasionally naturalised European blue anemone.

Where to spot it

You can find Wood Anemone in deciduous woodlands, particularly ancient ones. It can also be found in hedges and shaded banks. In the Yorkshire dales it is frequently found in limestone pavements. In many places the colonies could be relics of previous woodland cover, but its liking for light (it only opens fully in sunshine and does not grow in deep shade) suggests that it may not have purely woodland origins.

Best time to spot it

Wood Anemone flowers from March to April

Did you know?

  • Wood Anemone has a sharp, musky smell. This is hinted at in some old local names like ‘smell foxes’.
  • Hoverflies are particularly fond of the Wood Anemone and help pollinate it. Other animals, however, will only eat it if nothing else is available, because of its acrid taste. It is poisonous to humans.
  • The Chinese call it “the Flower of Death” because of its pale, ghostly appearance.
  • Vernacular names include Windflower, Grandmother’s nightcap and Moggie nightgown. The latter is used in parts of Derbyshire where ‘moggie’ can mean mouse, not cat. Richard Mabey also reports on the delightful children’s mis-hearing, ‘wooden enemies’.
  • Anemone and windflower are names originating in the famous Anemone coronaria of Greek legend.
  • When the suburbs of London swept over the old county of Middlesex, some of its woods were bypassed and preserved. The Wood Anemone still blooms there to this day.
  • It is the County Flower of Middlesex.
  • In the Language of Flowers it symbolises brevity, expectation and forlornness.
  • Some local names are not very innocent with the plant being linked to girls and their smocks and chemises, and with the wanton habits of cuckoos and with snakes (cf. the Cuckooflower).

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

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

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Fingered Speedwell is a low-growing, hairy plant with deep blue flowers.

How to spot it

Fingered Speedwell has leaves that rarely grow longer than a centimetre and are deeply divided into parallel-fingered lobes. Its upper leaves are stalkless, whereas the lower leaves have short stalks. Its flowers are borne at the tip of the stem amongst leaf-like structures called bracts.

Where to spot it

Fingered Speedwell is restricted to just a few sites in East Anglia (Breckland) and Yorkshire. Generally an arable species, it is typically found in the margins of fields sown with winter cereals and also on fallow land or waste places. It has also been recorded in tracks, gravel pits, sand banks and disturbed parched grassland. It favours sandy calcareous or slightly acidic soils.

Single Fingered Speedwell flower among its bracts, surrounded by parallel-fingered lobes.

How’s it doing?

Fingered Speedwell is classified as ‘Endangered’ and is therefore considered to be facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild. It is protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This makes it an offence to intentionally pick, uproot or destroy any plants. The species is also listed as a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

What is the cause of its decline?

The main causes of the decline of Fingered Speedwell are a direct result of the intensification of arable farming. Key factors include the introduction of broad-spectrum herbicides and the high increase in nitrogen fertiliser used on modern crop systems. Several sites have also been lost to development.

A favourite of Wordsworth, Lesser Celandine is one of the first wildflowers to bloom.

In fact, the 21 February has been known as Celandine Day since 1795, when the renowned naturalist Gilbert White noted that the first celandines usually appeared in his Hampshire village of Selborne.

How to spot it

Its bright, yellow star-shaped flowers often blanket the ground. Each is about 3cm across with eight to twelve petals. It has rosettes of glossy dark green heart-shaped mottled long-stalked leaves.

Where it grows

Woodland and hedge banks, particularly damp places. Also meadows and stream-sides.

Best time to see

You can spot Lesser Celandine from late February to May.

Has Lesser Celandine been used in herbal medicine?

One of it’s local names is “Pilewort” since the herb was traditionally given for haemorrhoids. This was based on the doctrine of signatures since the knobbly tubers were thought to resemble piles!

Things you might not know

  • Its the floral equivalent of the swallow: both reappear around the same time and herald the coming of spring. In fact the word ‘celandine’ comes from the Greek word chelidon meaning ‘swallow’. Its early flowering time also gave the Lesser Celandine the nickname ‘spring messenger’.
  • Despite sharing the name, it isn’t actually related to the greater celandine. Lesser celandine is a member of the buttercup family. Greater celandine is related to the poppy.
  • Wordsworth’s favourite wild flower wasn’t the daffodil – it was lesser celandine. He wrote no less than three poems about it: The Small Celandine, To the Same Flower and To the Small Celandine.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

A sign that spring is on the way! Primrose’s sunny yellow flowers are a common sight across the UK.

The name derives from the Latin prima rosa meaning ‘first rose’ of the year, despite not being a member of the rose family. In different counties of England it is also referred to as Butter Rose, Early Rose, Easter Rose, Golden Rose and Lent Rose.

How to spot it

Pale yellow, green-veined, flowers, 3cm across, borne singly on stalks. Rosette of wrinkled leaves tapering gradually to stalk, each up to 15cm long.

In large populations there is a variation in the colour, texture and size of primrose flowers. Native species can produce flowers in shades ranging from pale cream to deep yellow.

Bizarre forms include an umbellate form in which flowers form a spray on top of a longer stalk similar to a Cowslip, and doubles.

Where it grows

Woodland clearings, hedgebanks, waysides, railway banks and open grassland preferring damp, clayey soils.

A group of Primrose flowers in a woodland verge

Best time to see Primrose

You can find Primrose appearing throughout Spring.

Are Primrose threatened?

Primrose is a native plant in Britain, and its distribution remains stable. Its decline in areas of East Anglia – following a series of hot, dry summers from 1970 onwards – hints at a possible threat posed by climate change.

The main threat is the loss of habitat. Inappropriate management of woodland and waysides can all contribute to a local decline.

A close up of 3 yellow Primrose flower heads

Things you might not know

  • April 19th is ‘Primrose day’. This date is the anniversary of the death of the former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and the primrose was his favourite flower. Queen Victoria supposedly sent him bunches regularly and to this day primroses are laid at his statue by Westminster Abbey on this date every year.
  • A Primrose flower will be red if you plant it upside-down according to one old superstition (we wouldn’t recommend it…).
  • It is the County Flower of Devon.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Blackening Waxcap

Hygrocybe conica 

A dark pointed mushroom with long stem growing in the grass

How to identify:

CapConical in shape. Typical waxcap texture. Dark to pale orange/yellow, blackening at the tip first or where bruised. 
Cap Diameter1.5 – 3.5 cm 
GillsPale lemon, also blackening with age. 
Stems Pale yellow, blackening with age.
FleshYellow
SporesWhite

 

Where to find them?

Blackening Waxcaps (Hygrocybe conica) sometimes appears in lines along roadside verges, particularly on hillsides or where the grass is well shaded, moist and mossy. 

Other common names

Witches Hat

Did you know?

Blackening Waxcaps can appear remarkably quickly after rain in late summer and autumn, but once mature they remain standing sometimes for more than two weeks. 

They are one of the most common waxcaps in Northern Europe.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

White Campion

White Campion

Silene latifolia