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Corn Cleavers

Galium tricornutum

Corn Cleavers is an annual wildflower rather like the common Cleavers but much rarer and not so clingy.

How to spot it

Corn Cleavers is a rough, straggly plant with whorls of narrow leaves. The stems are sometimes square in cross-section. It differs from its common relative as it has cream-coloured flowers, as opposed to the white ones of the common weed. The fruits are spherical nutlets hanging in pairs at the leaf axils. As they lack hooked barbs, they do not stick to your clothes.

Where to spot it

It used to be a common weed of cereal crops, but has declined dramatically over the last 60 years owing to changing agricultural methods. Corn Cleavers is now found in only two sites in central-southern England. It prefers disturbed ground, mainly in arable fields, but also on hedge-banks and sea cliffs.

How’s it doing?

Corn Cleavers is classified as Critically Endangered. The use of fertilisers and herbicides, the loss of field margins and the development of highly productive crop varieties have led to its decline.

Things you might not know

  • In the Chilterns, the seeds of this rare arable weed were made into tops for lace pins.
  • In addition to Corn Cleavers, its common names include, three-horned bedstraw, rough corn bedstraw and roughfruit corn bedstraw.
  • Corn Cleavers is occasionally a weed of grain fields.

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

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

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Gorse

Ulex sp.

A spiny evergreen shrub with yellow flowers.

Few plants make such an impact on the landscape as flowering gorse, through both its colour and scent. The latter is a distinctive coconut and vanilla smell, said to be quite pungent to some individuals, but weak to others.

The cracking of the seed-pods in hot sunshine is said to sound similar to the clacking calls of Stonechats which perch on its sprigs.

Habitat

Banks, heaths and sea-cliffs. Also a signature plant of rough open space and commonland.

Best time to see

Folklore says you should only kiss your beloved when gorse is in flower. The good news is that either common gorse or the closely related western gorse is pretty much in bloom whatever the time of year! In fact, a few yellow flowers can generally be seen even in harsh winter months.

Its peak time, however, is April and May when almost all the plant is covered in bright yellow blossom.

Did you know?

It was voted the County Flower of Belfast.

Before the Industrial Revolution, gorse was valued as a fuel for fires and kilns, as well as baker’s ovens. After crushing the spines (e.g. in cider mills), gorse also made valuable feeding for stock including cattle and horses in wintertime.

Straight stems of gorse make excellent walking-sticks and the flowers can be used to make a Gorse wine. It also makes a convenient anchor for washing, acts as a chimney brush and, when in flower, as a source of colour for Easter eggs. Gorse and heather have been bound together to make besom brooms. Gardeners have been known to lay chopped gorse over emerging peas to deter pigeons and mice.

In order to prevent over-exploitation, there have historically been a wide range of conditions on harvesting, such as in Oxfordshire where people were only allowed as much as they could carry on their backs. In Hertfordshire there were regulations prohibiting cutting outside a certain parish and digging-up entire bushes. In some places even the type and size of cutting implements have been specified.

Three species of Gorse that exist in the UK are Ulex europaeus, Ulex gallii and Ulex minor:

  • Ulex europaeus is also known as Western gorse, Furse, and Whin (originally thought to be a Scandinavian word). Other names for this type of Gorse are Fingers-and-thumbs, French-fuzz and Honey-bottle.
  • Ulex galii, commonly known as Dwarf furze, is also called Bed-furze, Cat-whin and Cornish fuzz. This species belong more to the west and to Ireland and will not tolerate lime in the soil.
  • Ulex minor belongs more to the south-eastern counties, East Anglia and the home counties.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Fen Orchid

Liparis loeselii

small yellow orchid flowers on a light green stalk

Description

One of our rarer plants, its pretty pale yellow flowers liven up our dunes.

This wild flower is difficult to spot as it is small (around 8cm tall) and inconspicuous. The leaves wrap around the bottom of the single stem which supports several flowers towards the top of the plant.

The orchid is dependent on the unique, open conditions of fenland, a naturally marshy area. Fen orchid needs wet areas with bare sand, short grasses and a lot of calcium in the soil.

The species has declined due to habitat loss as a result of wetland being reclaimed for agricultural use or fens being allowed to “scrub over” and slowly revert to woodland. Plantlife has worked with Suffolk Wildlife Trust to translocate Fen Orchid to restored habitats.

Threats to Fen Orchid

The majority of the Fen Orchid populations were lost through drainage and in the late 20th Century through peat digging and mowing.  Other threats include climate change, inappropriate water and habitat management.

Did you know?

  • Fen orchid is one of the most threatened wild plants in Europe and is listed on Annex II of the Habitats and Species Directive, one of only nine flowering plants in Britain afforded this level of protection.
  • Fen orchids are different from other plants because they don’t usually grow in soil. Instead, they grow on clumps of moss or on sedge tussocks in wet areas called fens. This way of growing is similar to how tropical orchids grow on trees.
  • Two forms of fen orchid are found in Britain. The dune form is now found only in the dunes at Kenfig, while the other occurs only in the fens of East Anglia.
  • The Norfolk Fen Orchid are different to Wales Fen Orchid, because they have more flowers and pointy, oval-shaped leaves instead of round ones like the Welsh plants.

What is Plantlife doing?

After a decade of research and partnership work, the orchid has been re-discovered at former sites and the total population has risen through proper management.

Read more

a field of grass field with a variety of flowers in pink, purple, yellow and white

How can you help?

Become a grassland guardian and help restore 10,000 hectares of species-rich grassland by 2030. Donate today.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Ragged Robin

Ragged Robin

Silene flos-cuculi

Red Campion

Red Campion

Silene dioica

Juniper

Juniperis communis

Juniper berries.

Description

A prickly, sprawling evergreen shrub in the Cypress family with short spiky leaves.

Juniper blooms with small yellow flowers, followed by ‘berries’ – actually fleshy cones, that start green but ripen to blue-black.

These are famously used to flavour gin and certain meat dishes particularly game and venison. Used whole they impart a bitter, crunchy bite to savoury dishes. In fact, the word “Gin” derives from either genièvre or jenever – the French and Dutch words for “juniper”

Juniper is dioecious, which means that it is either male or female, unlike most tree species. The form of individual bushes varies from being low and prostrate at the one extreme to cylindrical and conical at the other.

Close up photo of a Juniper berry on a bush

Did you know?

  • Juniper dates back 10,000 years and was one of the first tree species to colonise the UK after the last Ice Age.
  • Juniper berries are used to flavour gin and have other uses like firewood or as a substitute for barbed wire.
  • Juniper plants take at least seven years to grow and are vulnerable to being eaten by animals.
  • In the 19th century, large tracts of Juniper were harvested for fuel for illicit trade of unlicensed whisky stills
  • It has also been called Bastard killer as the berries were swallowed to procure abortions. Its reputation as an abortifacient has echoes in the Victorian belief that gin (aptly called ‘Mother’s ruin’) was effective for the same purpose.
gloved hand holding juniper berries with the reverse the red blog

What is Plantlife doing?

In the Saving England’s Lowland Juniper project, Plantlife joined forces with landowners, supported by Natural England, to revitalise Juniper across southern England. 48 patches of land at nine sites in Wiltshire and Oxfordshire were scraped back to create a grassland habitat suitable for Juniper to regenerate.

 
Read more

a field of grass field with a variety of flowers in pink, purple, yellow and white

How can I help?

Become a grassland guardian and help restore 10,000 hectares of species-rich grassland by 2030. Donate today.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Ragged Robin

Ragged Robin

Silene flos-cuculi

Red Campion

Red Campion

Silene dioica

South Stack Fleawort

Tephroseris integrifolia subsp. maritima

South Stack Fleawort by the coast

The South Stack Fleawort is found along a small section of the North Wales Coastal Path on Ynys Gybi (Holy Island).

Distribution

Found only between Parth Dafarch and RSPB South Stack Nature Reserve

Habitat

Grassy cliff tops and vegetated gullies

Best time to see

May and early June

yellow bud of flower shooting on a hairy leaves South Stack Fleawort

Did you know…

  • South Stack or Spathulate Fleawort smells sweetly of honey and is pollinated by bumblebees.
  • It is found on just a small region of coastline in North Wales and nowhere else in the world.
  • Recent genetic studies showed that its closest relatives are a small population of Field Fleawort in Bedfordshire but that it is distinct enough from those plants to maintain its status as a separate subspecies.

Plantlife supports a project to understand why this subspecies of Fleawort is only found in this small area of Ynys Gybi and the ecological requirements of the plants.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

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

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Thrift

Armeria maritima

Months

Colour

Habitat

Close up shot of Thrift

This perky pink wildflower has been a favourite of gardeners since the 16th century.

However, there is nothing to match seeing it in its natural habitat: atop dramatic coastal cliffs or astride craggy islands.

How to spot it

Globular heads of pink flowers have stalks 5-30cm long. Flattened, linear, dark green leaves.

Where it grows

Across wild, coastal areas throughout the UK – especially Scotland. As well as rocky cliffs, Thrift can also be commonly found brightening up saltmarshes and other sandy areas.

Best time to see

April to July when it flowers.

Cultural info

  • County Flower of Bute, the Isles of Scilly and Pembrokeshire/Sir Benfro.
  • In the Language of Flowers thrift stands for sympathy.

How’s it doing?

Has started to appear inland on roadsides as salting creates favourable conditions.

3 things you might not know

  • In Gaelic thrift is known as tonna chladaich, meaning ‘beach wave’. In Welsh it is called clustog fair, Mary’s pillow.
  • It is also known as Sea Pink, Rock Rose and Our Ladies Cushion.
  • Thrift was used as an emblem on the threepenny-bit between 1937 and 1953 – the Mint no doubt aware of the double meaning in its name.

Other Species

Adder’s Tongue Spearwort

Adder's Tongue Spearwort

Ranunculus ophioglossifolius

Alexanders

Alexanders

Smyrnium olusatrum

Basil Thyme

Basil Thyme

Clinopodium acinos

Harebell

Campanula rotundifolia

Purple Harebell flowers in a grass field

With its papery petals and delicate appearance, you might think the Harebell a rather fragile wild flower.

In fact, it’s incredibly tough and resilient. It needs to be given the environment it grows in: the harebell is a wild flower of dry, open places from the bare slopes of hills to the windswept coast.

How to spot it

Hanging blue bells on slender stalks. Grows 15-40cm tall. Roundish leaves at base, very narrow linear leaves up thin stem. (Source: the National Plant Monitoring Scheme Species Identification Guide).

Where it grows

Dry, grassy places. From mountain tops to sand dunes. Quite catholic in its choice of habitats: as happy on chalk grasslands as on acid heaths, and under tall bracken as on exposed cliff tops. However, damp is one condition that harebells cannot tolerate.

Best time to see

July to September.

Cultural info

  • It is the County Flower of Dumfriesshire, Yorkshire and County Antrim.
  • In the Language of Flowers it stands for childhood, grief, humility, and submission.

How’s it doing?

Generally stable although there have been some local declines at the edges of its range.

Purple Harebell flowers in a blue sky

3 things you may not know

  • The harebell is called the bluebell of Scotland (although a different species to the bluebell more famous south of the border). It is also known as the “cuckoo’s shoe”, “witch bells” or “old man’s bell” – the ‘old man’ being the devil himself.
  • Dreaming about harebells is said to symbolise true love.
  • In County Antrim it is a fairy plant, mearacan puca, the goblin’s (or Puck’s) thimble. Pick it at your peril.
Bluebell
Bluebell close-up.

Bluebell

Hyacinthoides non-scripta

Bugle
A close up of a blue bugle plant.

Bugle

Ajuga reptans

Cowslip
Cowslip Close Up.

Cowslip

Primula Veris