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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.

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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

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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.

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Sweet Violet

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Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Twinflower

Linnaea borealis

Single twinflower on blurred background of foliage

The beautiful Twinflower has two pink bell-like flowers on a slender stem, and a thicker stem below which creeps along the ground, forming small mats of the plant. It is one of our smallest and most delicate native flowers.

Did you know?

Twinflower is the County Flower of Inverness-shire.

Several twinflowers amongst leaves

Where to spot it

Twinflower is confined to Scotland. It grows mainly in the native, open, pine woods, particularly in the Cairngorms, and is an Arctic-Alpine plant that is a relic of the Ice Age.

How did it get there?

The clearance of native woodlands before the 1930s resulted in severe losses of this little flower. Continued habitat destruction and changes in woodland management have now reduced this plant to a handful of about 50 unrelated sites.

One of the two heads of a twinflower in bloom and in focus, with the other remaining closed

What are Twinflower’s key threats?

The isolation of the remaining sites of Twinflower leads to poor seed production and thus contributes to its continued decline. Other threats are overgrazing by deer or sheep, mechanical harvesting of timber, and the deliberate thickening of forests leading to excess shade.

What we’re doing about it

One of Plantlife’s most exciting projects has been research into how the historical management of ancient pine plantation may have benefited Twinflower. A study of how timber was grown and extracted in the 18th and 19th centuries has led to a proposal to test whether these methods could boost Twinflower populations today.

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Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Tree Lungwort

Lobaria pulmonaria

Tree Lungwort spanning entire branch of ancient tree

Tree Lungwort is a beautiful, vibrantly green, leafy lichen. It is one of the largest lichens and is an indicator of ancient woodland.

Where to spot it

Tree lungwort is found mainly in Scotland, particularly the west coast, where the wetter climate provides the moisture it requires to thrive. Because of air pollution, it is much sparser in the rest of Britain, confined to a few sites in wilder areas, such as the Lake District and parts of Wales.

It can be found growing on trees and old wood in areas of low air pollution.

Tree Lungwort growing on tree trunk, protected by artificial green mesh

Best time to spot it

Tree Lungwort can be spotted all throughout the year.

Things you might not know

  • Its lobes look a bit like the billowing shape of human lungs, which is where its name comes from.
  • In medieval times, medics would use Tree Lungwort to treat lung disorders because of its resemblance to human lungs.
  • Though Tree Lungwort can be found at multiple sites across the UK, in some of these sites its reproduction is limited.

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Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Reindeer Moss

Cladonia rangiferina

Small patch of jagged, white Reindeer Moss amongst bright green plants

Despite its name, reindeer moss is actually a lichen (in fact it is also known as ‘reindeer lichen’).

Composed of many light and dainty branches, it grows in cushion-like tufts. When dry it can be quite brittle but once wet it becomes somewhat sponge-like.

Where it grows

Reindeer moss is usually found on moors and heathland, often growing in pockets of soil attached to rocky outcrops.

Bright white Reindeer Moss surrounding green plants

Best time to see Reindeer Moss

Reindeer Moss can be spotted all throughout the year.

Something you might not know

The only naturalised reindeer in the UK are found in the Scottish Highlands where they live for much of the year on reindeer moss.

Other Species

Sweet Violet

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Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

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

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

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Marsh-marigold
Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

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.

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

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

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

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