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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

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

Early Dog-violet

Viola reichenbachiana

Daffodil (wild)
One Daffodil flower with pale petals and a bright yellow tube

Daffodil (wild)

Narcissus pseudonarcissus ssp pseudonarcissus

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

Colt's-foot

Tussilago farfara

Groundsel

Senecio vulgaris

Large Groundsel growing amongst rocks and waste ground

Groundsel is a common annual weed of rough and cultivated ground. You can find its clusters of small yellow flowers appearing on road verges, in gardens and on waste ground all throughout the year.

How to spot it

The leaves of Groundsel are bright shiny green, long and raggedly lobed. The small yellow flower heads are in cluster at the ends of the stems appearing to emerge from little tubes.

Bright yellow Groundsel flowers growing on a roadside

Best time to see

You can find Groundsel in flower throughout the year.

Where it grows

Groundsel is an annual weed of cultivated or disturbed ground, cropping up along field edges, roadside verges and on waste grounds.

Are Groundsel threatened?

Groundsel continues to be widespread throughout the British Isles, although there appears to have been a decline in the Scottish Highlands, possibly due to abandoning of marginal cultivations.

Things you might not know

  • Both birds and rabbits enjoy the leaves and seeds of Groundsel, and it is widely used as food for caged birds.
  • Its name comes from an Old English word grundeswilige meaning ‘ground swallower’, reflecting its tendency to grow profusely wherever it gets a chance.
  • Groundsel is a good food source for caterpillars of butterflies and moths and is one of only two plant species that provide food for cinnabar moth caterpillars.

Other Species

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

Early Dog-violet

Viola reichenbachiana

Daffodil (wild)
One Daffodil flower with pale petals and a bright yellow tube

Daffodil (wild)

Narcissus pseudonarcissus ssp pseudonarcissus

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

Colt's-foot

Tussilago farfara

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.

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.

Shepherd’s Purse

Capsella bursa-pastoris

The seedpods of this common wildflower resemble little drawstring pouches worn by medieval peasants, spilling out tiny copper-coloured seeds when broken apart

A member of the Cabbage family, this annual plant produces flowers throughout the year, and is able to yield hundreds of seeds.

How to identify Shepherd’s Purse

With a leafy rosette at the base, it grows to about 40cm. The leaves are larger and pinnately lobed at the bottom, and then arrow-shaped with wavy edges along the stem. It has tiny white scentless flowers arranged in a loose raceme, which are replaced by its highly recognisable seedpods.

Where to find Shepherd’s Purse

It is widespread throughout Britain, particularly in waste grounds and cultivated fields.

Did you know?

  • Also known as ‘Mother’s Heart’, this refers to an ancient game played in both England and Germany in which one child asks another to pick one of the seedpods. Upon breaking it, the child is then told they have broken their mother’s heart.
  • Local names include Bad Man’s Oatmeal (Durham); Blindweed (Yorkshire), Lady’s Purses (East Anglia), Poor Man’s Purse (Somerset).
  • It has been used in homeopathy to treat gall bladder and kidney problems.
  • It is considered an antiscorbutic, meaning it prevents scurvy.
  • In China, the leaves are eaten, taste similar to cabbage but with a spicy, peppery flavour.
  • It can be used as a herbal tea and is known for its anti-bleeding properties.

Other Species

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

Early Dog-violet

Viola reichenbachiana

Daffodil (wild)
One Daffodil flower with pale petals and a bright yellow tube

Daffodil (wild)

Narcissus pseudonarcissus ssp pseudonarcissus

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

Colt's-foot

Tussilago farfara