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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

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

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Also known as ‘kingcups’, Marsh-marigold could be one of our most ancient plants. It is thought that it was growing here before the last Ice Age!

Marsh-marigold is a member of the buttercup family, a large, almost luxuriant version of its smaller cousin with bright yellow flowers and dark, shiny leaves. The latter are kidney shaped and quite waxy to touch – although doing so too often is best avoided: like all buttercups the marsh-marigold is poisonous and can irritate the skin.

Where to spot it

Marsh-marigold is widespread throughout Britain. It can be found in wet meadows, marshes and wet woodlands and grows well in shade.

How’s it doing?

Marsh-marigold is a common native species, whose distribution remains relatively stable in Britain. It is, however, locally threatened by drainage and agricultural improvement of its wet grassland habitat. Loss of habitat through drainage and abandonment is therefore one of the key threats to Marsh-marigold.

Did you know?

Marsh-marigold is also known as Mayflower – the name of the ship that carried the Pilgrim fathers to America. In Lancashire it is known as ‘the publican’ – maybe a reflection of its sturdy nature!

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

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

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

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

A single white-purple lady orchid flower spike on a blurred background

The Lady Orchid is a tall, elegant herbaceous plant belonging to the Orchidaceae plant family.

How to spot it

Lady Orchid can reach 30–100 centimetres with the fleshy, bright green leaves being up to 15 cm long. The leaves are broad and oblong, forming a rosette about the base of the plant and surrounding the flower spike. These flower spikes can contain up to 200 individual flowers to which the stem upwardly points. Some of the flowers have the look of women in crinoline ball gowns. In terms of colour they are usually pale pink or rose, with a deeper purple ‘head’.

Close-up of bright pink-purple lady orchid flowers

Where to spot it

The Lady Orchid can be found in most parts of Europe (specifically Kent, England), Northern Africa, Turkey and the Caucasus.

Lady orchids usually grow in woodlands, oak forests, slopes and meadows, and can occasionally occur on savanna. They prefer to grow in limestone or chalk soil, in shady or sunny places. The Lady Orchid occurs in short grassland, on woodland edges and sometimes in open woodland. However, it is now very rarely found in the UK.

Best time to spot it

Lady Orchid’s flowering occurs in late April to June.

Did you know?

The sepals and upper petals are known to be purple, hence the Lady Orchid adopting the latin name purpurea.

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

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

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

Butterbur

Petasites hybridus

Butterbur on background of rocks and dirt

Fond of moist ground, Butterbur is a pink, tassled wildflower can often be found carpeting riversides and damp ditches.

With so many small flowers packed densely together, Butterbur is very popular with bees. It is a great source of nectar early in the year, when wildflowers are still rather sparse.

How to spot it

Flower spikes appear before the leaves and have tiny pale pink flowers arranged down stems which are 10-40cm tall. The leaves are very large, sometimes almost 1 meter wide and are downy-grey underneath.

Bright pink-purple Butterbur in focus on blurred background

Where to spot it

Butterbur is found throughout the UK, but is rarer in central and northern Scotland. It inhabits wet meadows, streamsides, roadside ditches and copses.

Best time to spot it

The best time to see Butterbur is in spring, throughout March, April and May.

Things you might not know

  • Butterbur’s common name derives from its large, heart-shaped leaves that were used to wrap butter in the past.
  • Its scientific name is derived from the Greek petasos, meaning a ‘broad-brimmed felt hat’ which also refers to the enormous leaves.
  • Butterbur spreads by rhizomes and large colonies of male or female plants are common.

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

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.

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

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

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