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Stinking Hellebore

Helleborus foetidus

Mostly green Stinking Hellebore flowers with pink-purple lining visible on the sepals

The green flowers of the Stinking Hellebore can be a pleasant surprise amidst a dusting of snow.

You might think Stinking Hellebore is a garden escapee, but this is not the case! Although populations may have become obscured by such varieties, the Stinking Hellebore is a native through and through.

Scientific illustration of the Stinking Hellebore with detail on flowers and leaves, as well as faint, illegible measurements

How to spot it

Stinking Hellebore is evergreen. It has dark green leaves sprouting from a thick stem. The flowers are green also but a lighter, yellowish shade, and they are a drooping cup-like shape. The five sepals have a distinctive purple fringe.

Given the popularity of this plant in gardens it is often hard to distinguish the native population from horticultural escapees.

Where to spot it

Stinking Hellebore can be found in woodland, walls and roadside verges. It is particularly fond of limestone-based soils.

Best time to see

Stinking Hellebore traditionally blooms between February and April.

Things you might not know

  • Be cautious: every part of this wild flower is poisonous and will induce vomiting and delirium if ingested, if not death.
  • In the past, Stinking Hellebore was used as a hazardous remedy for worms. The 18th century naturalist Gilbert White said this about this “cure”: “Where it killed not the patient, it would certainly kill the worms; but the worst of it is, it will sometimes kill both”.
  • The name “Stinking” Hellebore could be considered undeserved. Sniffing the flowers won’t make you want to hold your nose, although crushing the leaves can produce an odour often described as “beefy”.

Other Species

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Marsh-marigold
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Caltha palustris

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Lamium purpureum

Lesser Celandine

Ficaria verna

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

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Marsh-marigold
Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Snowdrop

Galanthus nivalis

Months

Season

Habitat

The bobbing white blooms of snowdrops fluttering on the road verge or carpeting the woodland floor put a spring in the step of us all during the bitter winter months.

Their early appearance after a dark winter make them a firm favourite with nature lovers and wildflower watchers across the country. A sign that spring is on its way!

How to spot it

Its slim green leaves and bobbing white petals are quite iconic at a time of year when little else flowers.

Snowdrops are able to survive the cold winter months and flower so early, because they grow from bulbs.

Where it grows

Areas with damp soil, such as moist woodland and riverbanks.

Best time to see snowdrops

Your best chance at seeing snowdrops is from January to March. However, you might spot it in flower as early as October!

The species has long been associated with our cold winter months – the Latin name, Galanthus nivalis, translates as ‘milk flower of the snow.’

Are snowdrops a native species?

Although considered a native species, snowdrops are recent arrivals. Its first known cultivation as a garden plant was in 1597, and was then first recorded in the wild in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire in 1778.

What do snowdrops symbolise?

In the Language of Flowers snowdrops symbolise chastity, consolation, death, friendship in adversity, hope and purity.

Discover the ingenious ways Snowdrops have adapted to deal with harsh winters as Adam Shaw speaks to Plantlife Senior Ecologist Sarah Shuttleworth.

Things you might not know

  • Did you know pollinators love snowdrops too? Snowdrops produce seeds which are spread by early emerging queen bumblebees on warm, dry days.
  • Christians dedicate this wildflower to the Virgin Mary. On Candlemas Day, 2 February, snowdrops were once scattered in place of her image on the altar.
  • Regional names include Candlemass Bells, Mary’s Taper, Snow Piercer, February Fairmaids and Dingle-dangle, which point to the snowdrops’ appearance in the depths of winter.
  • In traditional medicine, snowdrops were used to treat headaches and as a painkiller. In modern medicine, a naturally occurring substance within the plant, called galantamine, is used to help treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. However, the bulbs themselves are poisonous to humans and can cause nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting if eaten. This perhaps led to the superstition that a single Snowdrop bloom in a house can bring death.

Other Species

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Marsh-marigold
Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Mistletoe

Viscum album

From kissing traditions at Christmas to ancient fertility rites, mistletoe has long been regarded as a magical plant.

Mistletoe colonies are vital for six species of insect that live nowhere else. It is the County flower of Herefordshire and is often harvested as a winter crop from their cider and perry orchards.

Distribution

Found across the UK, however its heartland is in the English / Welsh border counties and Somerset. Despite this, all is not well. The loss of traditional apple orchards has hit mistletoe hard and the work of birds such as the Mistle Thrush in smearing seeds on new branches may not be enough to counteract this decline.

Habitat

It can be found hanging in broadleaf trees, orchard trees and others, especially lime and poplar.

Best time to see

February to April when it flowers or winter when its berries appear.

Did you know?

The scientific name of this white berry can translate as “white goo”. Local names include Churchman’s Greeting, Kiss-and-go, Masslin, Misle and Mislin-Bush.

It is said to overcome epilepsy and this is not altogether fanciful since it has an active principle which is antispasmodic and reduces blood pressure.

It is often associated with the ancient Druids, whose reverence of the plant during the winter solstice was described by Pliny and Caesar. Perhaps it was the sight of its pearly white berries growing apparently rootless, high above the ground, in the largely dead months of winter. Like holly and ivy – also revered – mistletoe appears to be in its prime when other wild flowers have gone.

Other Species

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Marsh-marigold
Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

String-of-sausages Lichen

Usnea articulata 

  • Grey-green tassels of up to 1 m hanging down or draped across the substrate but rarely anchored to it.  
  • Main stems have inflated sections which are pinched at intervals, and so resemble a string of sausages. This is a key feature to look for as there are other pendulous Usnea species but none have this characteristic.

Habitat

It is most common in the south west’s temperate rainforest zone. 

Favouring well-lit conditions and dry, open situations, it is most often found in tree canopies or on lower branches where trees are well-lit, in woodland or on scattered trees in open moorland. You can also find it on the ground after stormy weather. 

Similar species

Other large, bearded lichens include Usnea ceratina, Usnea dasopoga and Usnea hirta but these lack the sausage-like lobes. 

Did you know

  • It is a Section 41 species which means that it is considered of “principal importance for the conservation of biodiversity in England” under Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (2006).
  • A clean air indicator, rare outside of south-west England’s rainforest zone. Highly sensitive to sulphur dioxide pollution, it was once much more widespread in Britain but now appears to be making a comeback, perhaps due to improved air quality and a warming climate. 

Distribution 

Largely restricted to south-western parts of the UK with most records in south-west England. 

Other Species

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Marsh-marigold
Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum