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How to spot it

Bramble is a rambling plant with delicate white or pink flowers which are followed later in the year by juicy blackberries. The stems have prickles and the leaves are hairy. Come autumn, its fruit is a widely recognised sight, turning from red to the near-black that gives them their name. Going ‘blackberrying’ is still a common practice today and one of the few acts of foraging to survive into the modern age. Bramble usually flowers in July and August, although its blossom has been known to appear in June. If it’s blackberries you’re after, they are usually adorning the branches in early autumn.

Where to spot it

Throughout Britain, Bramble can be found in multiple habitats, including hedge banks, scrubland, woodland and waste ground.

How’s it doing?

As gardeners and walkers can testify, Bramble is doing well!

Things you might not know

  • People in the UK have been snacking on blackberries for generations – so long, in fact, that their seeds were found in the belly of a Neolithic man uncovered by archaeologists at Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex.
  • In Britain over 400 microspecies have been recognised, each one differing slightly in fruiting time, size, texture and taste. In some varieties you can detect subtle hints of plum, grape, apple or lemon.
  • Bramble bushes were once planted on graves to deter grazing sheep and cover less slightly weeds, but also probably for magical and ancient hopes of keeping the Devil out and the dead in.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

How to spot it

Red Campion is a splash of pink commonly found on roadside verges in late spring and summer as the bluebells begin to fade. It is closely related to the rarer White Campion. Its deep pink flowers are 20mm across with notched petals on a softly hairy plant up to 1m tall. Opposite, it has oval, softly hairy leaves with hairy stems.

Where to spot it

You can find Red Campion in lowland, shady sites, woods, hedge banks, scree and cliffs. It is a common sight along rural roadside verges.

Things you might not know

  • In the Language of Flowers Red Campion symbolises gentleness.
  • The first part of Red Campion’s scientific name – Silene – comes from the Greek woodland God Silenus. He is often depicted as drunk and was the tutor of the God of Wine, Dionysus. Why? Silenus was often covered in sticky foam (his name comes from sialon, the Greek word for “saliva”). Female Red Campion flowers also produce a froth that helps catch pollen from visiting insects.
  • Red Campion is also known as Bachelors’ buttons which suggests it was once worn as a buttonhole by young, unmarried men. Other local names include Johnny Woods, Ragged Jack and Scalded Apples.
  • The flowers of Red Campion open during daylight to attract the butterflies and bees.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

White Campion is a common wildflower of grassland and waste ground. Its cheerful white flowers can be seen from spring to autumn.

How to spot it

The clear white flowers of the White Campion have five petals, each deeply notched and almost divided into two and its opposite, oval leaves and stems are hairy. In places where it grows with Red Campion, the two may hybridise to produce pinky white blooms.

Where to spot it

White Campion grows on waste ground, disturbed roadside verges, hedgerows and well-drained arable field margins. It is in flower from May to October. It’s common throughout the British Isles, but has declined slightly at the western edge of its range.

Things you might not know

  • At night the blooms produce a clovey scent, attracting many feeding moths.
  • White campion was one of the ingredients in 16th Century Elizabethan pot pourri.
  • The root has been used as a soap substitute for washing clothes, hair etc.
  • It is thought to have been introduced to the country by neolithic farmers and remains of it have been found on neolithic and bronze age sites.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

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

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

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Strawberry (wild)

Fragaria vesca

Before the advent of the familiar garden strawberry Fragaria x ananassa (actually a hybrid created from two American species) our ancestors enjoyed our wild, native variety of Strawberry.

How to spot it

Strawberry (wild) is common across the UK but rarer in north Scotland. It thrives in a variety of environments from roadsides to hill slopes to forest clearings. White flowers appear in spring followed by the recognisable red fruit in the summer.

Things you might not know

  • The origin of the name “Strawberry” is a bit of a mystery. While it likely derives from the Old English streawberige – meaning, quite literally, “the berry associated with straw” – quite what this association is remains open to conjecture. The plant doesn’t particularly grow amongst straw nor does it bear much of a physical resemblance.
  • In Richard III, Shakespeare writes: “When I was last in Holborn, I saw good strawberries in your garden there; I do beseech you send for some of them”. It is thought that he is certainly talking about our native, wild strawberries.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Cow Parsley

Anthriscus sylvestris

How to spot it

Frothy and lacy, Cow Parsley is a wildflower which grows in abundance along country lanes in summer. It is the earliest flowering member of the carrot family. Its tripinnate leaves are fern-like with pointed leaflets and seeds are oblong, beaked and smooth. Its stems are hollow and without spots – a good way to distinguish this plant from the similar, but very poisonous Hemlock.

Where to spot it

Cow Parsley is widespread and common throughout the UK. It is often seen on roadsides and near hedgerows and can also be found in woodland edges.

How is it doing?

Cow Parsley is one of the few flowers that benefits from current road verge management since it likes high levels of nutrients (much like nettles). Sadly, this is at the expense of other more delicate species.

Things you might not know

  • Like the closely-related wild carrot, Cow Parsley is also called “Queen Anne’s lace”. Other names are lady’s lace, fairy lace, Spanish lace, kex, kecksie, queque, Mother die, step-mother, Grandpa’s pepper, hedge parsley, badman’s oatmeal and rabbit meat.
  • It is related to parsley as well as the carrot.
  • The rather dismissive English name, Cow Parsley, simply means an inferior version of real parsley. Perhaps this is an appropriate name for this truly vernacular blossom but is not as pretty as Queen Anne’s lace which has never really caught on.
  • Cow Parsley has a rising reputation for being a decorative flower and is widely used in church arrangements on account of its sprays working well in a vase and the shape and blossom lasting over a week.
  • It can be confused with hemlock (which is poisonous) and hogweed (sap burns in sunlight), so if handling, caution is advised. Kex and its derivatives are also used to describe hogweed and hemlock.
  • Properly identified, young Cow Parsley leaves can be a fresh and mildly aromatic addition to omelettes and salads. However, the name Mother Die, which implies that your mother will die if you pick the plant, is perhaps a useful reminder to discourage the picking of any umbellifers since edible and toxic species are so similar looking.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

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

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

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

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Colt’s-foot

Tussilago farfara

Colt's-foot flower with yellow petals, each with orange markings at the tip

Colt’s-foot is a bright, yellow daisy and is one of the first wild flowers to emerge in Spring.

The single flowers are held on scaly, crimson stems. As these start to die back, flat-fans of dark green leaves appear. These leaves are silver-white on their undersides.

Three orange-yellow Colt's-foot flowers

Where to spot it

Colt’s-foot grows in a range of habitats with open or disturbed ground, including arable land, waste land, shingle and scree, and even landslips. It grows particularly well in waste, rough and cultivated places where there is poor drainage.

Best time to spot it

Colt’s-foot is one of the early arrivals of spring. The best time to see it is throughout March and April.

Several Colt's-foot flowers, some fully in bloom and others closed or wilted

Things you might not know

  • Historically, Colt’s-foot has been used as a remedy for coughs and colds and Colt’s-foot preparations have long been used to soothe sore throats. In fact, it is sometimes called ‘Coughwort’.
  • Other vernacular names for Colt’s-foot include Disherlagie, Dishylaggie, Tushies and Cleats. The Scottish ‘Tushylucky’ and its variants come from the Latin tussilago, related to tussis, a cough.
  • Colt’s-foot also goes by another common name: Baccy plant. This is because it is considered a good substitute for tobacco!
  • The dry felt on the leaves of Colt’s-foot smoulder well and so it has also been used as tinder.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum