Every week this year, with just one or two exceptions, I’ve taken part in the excellent #wildflowerhour on twitter where people across the UK share their sightings for the week between 8-9pm each Sunday – an excellent way to draw a weekend to a close.
Many of these photos made an appearance at some point but this is a run-through a few of my favourite wildflower finds or photos from 2016. The absence of orchids can be explained by a whole post all of their own from earlier this week – take a look here!
Tortoiseshell Wood is a wood with an associated wildlower meadow, just off the A1 around 10 miles to the south of Grantham. It is owned and managed by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust – I spotted it on the Wildlife Trust’s Nature Finder App which I can’t recommend strongly enough as the best way to find great spots for wildlife wherever in the country you find yourself. How I have lived so close to this site for so long and not visited, I do not know!
The woodland boasts an impressive array of native woodland flora – you can find out more about the site including a list of species highlights, locations and access on the Wildlife Trust website here.
We parked on the verge of the road which runs to the south and walked up through the meadow – this was low mown and well before it’s peak although there were still impressive numbers of cowslip and early purple orchid to be seen. The hedgerows on the approach hint at what is to come; greater stitchwort flowers fleck the green backdrop of arum lily and dog’s mercury.
Once into the woodland, we followed the long loop path around the woodland. Our native bluebells – Hyacinthoides non-scripta – are coming into their peak at the beginning of May, just as the earlier species such as wood anemone are starting to go over.
Lesser celendine with its bright, glossy yellow flowers attracted a range of pollinators whilst the early purple orchids flourished unobtrusively against the bluebells.
We found patches of water avens, with their gently nodding heads like an apricot-orange snakeshead fritillary.
Yellow archangel – another ancient woodland specialist – was just coming into flower, as was the deep purple spikes of bugle.
Sweet woodruff formed banks along the southern boundary with little white pebbles of expectant flower buds, whilst dog’s mercury held its green seeds aloft, the unobtrusive flowers of March and April already gone over. Soft yellow primroses, mauve violets and white greater stitchwort nestled in amongst sedges, rushes and grasses to create a truly special experience. If your only experience of woodlands is the recreational conifer plantations of monoculture pines with brambles and bracken below, you’re in for a treat!
The dappled rides of the woodland were buzzing with insects including hoverflies, bumblebees and solitary bees, as well as the first damselfly I have spotted this year. The woodland canopy is as alive with birdsong as the woodland floor is with our native flora and just to cap off the visit, we heard a cuckoo calling from the hedgerow on the way back to the car.
Take a look at the Lincs Wildlife Trust website and make the time for a visit in the springtime – this is what our native woodlands should be like!
There are a few woods around Grantham where you can go and see wild bluebells. I saw a few plants flowering as early as the end of March when we had the week or two of glorious weather, but the majority are looking beautiful now in May.
Belvoir Woods, accessed by footpath from Stathern, a village several miles to the west of Grantham, is a good location to see carpets of bluebells within the woods – this is where the photographs on this page were taken. The map below shows where within the woods the largest abundances can be found.
Belton House, the National Trust property to the north-east of Grantham also has them in their woodland beside the river. You need to pay entry to get into the house and gardens unless you are a National Trust member (but, it goes without saying, it’s well worth it!)
This Sunday, the 20th of May, Harlaxton College will open its woods to the public to see the bluebells there. The college is based at the large manor just outside Harlaxton, visible on the left of the A607 as you leave Grantham heading west. The college is an outpost of the American University of Evansville. Access is through the village and the woods are open between 1pm and 3pm.
For other locations of bluebell woods, why not check out the National Trust’s Bluebell Map here.
For more info on the difference between native and Spanish bluebells, have a look at my recent post here.
Native bluebells are almost synonymous with English springtime, there is little more distinctive and evocative than the haze of blue they spread across a woodland floor. However the native English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), is not the only bluebell we have. The Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) was introduced as a garden flower and can produce fertile hybrids with the natives – indeed the true Spanish bluebell is relatively rarely encountered but many hybrid Spanish bluebells occur especially in and close to gardens. Below is a brief illustrative guide to help you tell the difference.
1. Look at the leaves
Native bluebells have relatively thin leaves, around 1-1.5cm wide. Spanish and hybrid-Spanish bluebells tend to have much thicker leaves, around 3cm wide. The leaves of the Spanish and hybrid-Spanish bluebell often have a fleshier feel to them.
2. Look at the flowers
Native bluebells are a distinctive deep-blue in colour, whereas Spanish and hybrid-Spanish bluebells are often lighter, more pale blue or pink. Look also at the shape of the flowers, the native bluebell flowers curl back at the petal tips whilst those of the Spanish and hybrid-Spanish bluebells are splayed. If you get down close, look at the colour of the anthers; these are cream in natives and tend to be a pale-blue colour in the Spanish and hybrid-Spanish, although they can be cream coloured in white or pink flowers.
3. Look at the architecture
Native bluebells have the flowers concentrated on just one side of the stem, giving them the distinctive nodding, drooping look. Spanish and hybrid-Spanish bluebell flowers are on all sides of the flower spike, giving the flower a much more upright appearance.
4. Sniff the flowers!
You should be able to pick up a sweet aroma from the flowers of the native bluebell whilst those of the Spanish and hybrid-Spanish bluebell are generally scentless.
5. Still unsure?
The two species hybridise, and can back-hybridise to create plants more like one of the two true species at either end than the ‘standard’ hybrid. This means there can be a wide variation in characteristics making a confident ID difficult at times – however distinguishing the native from non-native is usually fairly straightforward using the characteristics above. Hybridisation with native bluebells is one of the most significant threats that the Spanish bluebells pose to the natives.
I put together a crib which shows the key characteristics of the typical English bluebells below – hopefully this will provide an useful visual aid! However the detail provided in this blog by Cumbria Botany is perhaps the most comprehensive illustrations of the two species and the hybrids in between. The BSBI crib is also valuable, but the text and terminology doesn”t make it very accessible to a beginner!