As Spring moves far too quickly into Summer I thought I had better find time to write about Spring flowers before Autumn and Winter are upon us once more and they have become a distant memory.
The first signs that Winter is ending and that Spring will soon emerge are Snowdrops flowering during the middle of January, although in certain parts of the country there were sightings of Snowdrops before Christmas this year. The Latin name is Galanthus nivalus which translates as ‘milk flower of the snow’. They are not a native species but now thrive in Britain. Look out for them in woodland and on river banks where the damp conditions favour them. Their white flowers have six petals arranged in two circles on a single stem. If we are fortunate enough to have mild weather in the early couple of months of the year pollinators will collect nectar and pollen from the flowers. Because they cannot rely on pollinators Snowdrops spread mainly by bulb division.
A walk along the river bank, pond or marshland during late March will see the first flowers of the Marsh Marigold begin to appear. These bright yellow flowers have five petals on stems with contrasting shiny green roundish to heart-shaped leaves. This is one of Britain’s oldest native plants and was must probably much more widespread before the drainage of land for agriculture use begun. The Marsh Marigold’s common name is Kingcup and the Latin name Caltha translates into goblet. The photo on the left was taken from the tow path along the bank of the Chichester Canal near to the village of Hunston.
A welcome sight in Spring are the flowers of the primrose and the native plants have a pale cream flower. It is not uncommon for primroses to form hybrids with their relatives the Oxslip and the Cowslip. Along with snowdrops they are one of the first plants to flower at the beginning of the year. The name derives from the Latin prima rosa meaning first rose. Like many of the Spring flowering plants they prefer damp places such as woodland, hedgebanks and roadside verges. Nectar is located right at the base of the flower tube which means that only long tongued insects such as Brimstone and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies can reach it.
The Cowslip (pictured to the left) is a close relative of the primrose and flowers a little later in Spring during April and May. The Cowslip has been in serious decline due to loss of habitat and meadows coloured with its yellow flowers are now a rarity.
By the beginning of April the verges of the country lanes start to come alive with wild flowers. The photo on the right shows Cuckoo Flower and Lesser Celandine growing together. Cuckoo Flower also known as Lady’s Smock have lilac flowers and are found on wet meadows. They flower from April to late May. The plant gets its name as it generally tends to come into bloom when the first sounds of the cuckoo are heard. Lesser Celandine is also found in damp areas along the banks of rivers, woodland and wet meadows. The reflective yellow flowers have eight petals and is a member of the buttercup family. They begin to flower in early Spring when few insects are about and so spread mainly by root tubers which break away from the parent plant rather than seed.
A Spring flowering plant that has become increasingly popular especially amongst culinary enthusiasts is Wild Garlic, also known as Ramsons. This member of the Allium family, Allium ursinum, forms white flowers consisting of six petals which form into clusters. The leaves which grow from the base of the stem give a garlic odour. There are various recipes using Wild Garlic which can be found with a quick search online. If you are picking the leaves to eat do not confuse them with the similar Lily Of The Valley which is very poisonous.
The deciduous woodlands in Spring are home to many wild Spring flowers before the light is shaded by the emerging tree leaves. One of the first to flower are the wood anemones. These form a carpet of low laying delicate white flowers. They spread rapidly by underground rhizomes just below the surface. Soon after that the small flowers of Dog Violets and the upright Early Purple Orchids with their spotted leaves come into flower. These flowers then appear to pave the way for the woods to be blanketed in swathes of blue with the emergence of the iconic Spring flower Bluebells. They flower between April and May before the leaves on the trees have fully emerged. This year they flowered a little later than normal probably due to the cold spell we experienced at the beginning of March. The photo of the Bluebells at the top of the page was taken in Angmering Park which is just east of Arundel. The photo below was taken whilst walking on Leigh Hill, Surrey.