2016 in Wildflowers

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!

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Tree flowers are some of the first to make their appearance each year and this set shows a few of these in silhouette against a white February sky. The photo on the left is the male catkins of alder whilst the right two images are the female flowers of two different willow species. Many of these early tree species have both male and female flowers. Some, such as the hazel and alder, have both male and female flowers on the same tree. Others, such as these willows, have male trees or female trees which produce just one type of flower.
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An early-morning walk in May treated me to these frosted flowers in Muston Meadows NNR. The sward was still low, with many of the larger, later meadow species such as salad burnet and meadowsweet still to appear, and these smaller early-summer flowering species were the stars of the show. Clockwise from top left are bulbous buttercup,  cuckooflower, green-winged orchid and cowslip.
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Spring sandwort is a member of the campion family and I came across these cushions of flowers at a disused leadworking site in Derbyshire. It is quite a scarce plant across the UK but frequents these old spoil heaps – such is its connection that  leadwort is another name for this flower. I like that this species has specific habitat preferences which are far from the pristine grasslands and woodlands which are associated with the conservation of many species.
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This is another example of where a closer look rewards the curious – this is a view down the spadix of an arum lily – also known as Lords and Ladies. This reminds me of one of the plasma balls I used to see in Science Museums when I was younger!
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It would be difficult to exclude bluebells from this selection as the sight of a good bluebell wood, with wood anemone, primrose, violets and yellow archangel mixed in, is one of those sights which is profoundly uplifting after a long winter. Many species begin to flower before these, but the bluebell season marks a threshold between the sparsity of spring and the abundance of summer which is just on the horizon. I like the lightness and delicacy of this shot – taken at the Notts Wildlife Trust site – Treswell Wood.
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Another photograph from Treswell Wood. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such an abundance of greater stitchwort than at this site this year – glades were filled with the snow-white flowers of this native woodland specialist.
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This is another photograph from Muston Meadows NNR – this time at sunset. I liked the moody, hazy feel of this photograph with buttercups and grass flowers against a darkening sky.
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This set was taken on my birthday this year – we were camping just below Old Sarum outside Salisbury and woke up early to climb the old hillside and watch the sun rise. The fields and landscape below were misty and I liked the contrast of these wildflowers against the sunrise haze.Clockwise from top left is dock, cow parsley, nettle and bulbous buttercup.
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Smooth tare is a member of the pea family with these tiny white flowers with delicate purple veining. Easily overlooked in a grassland sward, I like the way that they stand out against the soft greens of the surrounding vegetation when you get low enough to appreciate them!
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I took a treacherous walk up to the Hills and Hollows on the outskirts of Grantham one very stormy lunchtime in June – somehow these ominous heavens never opened but gave a nice opportunity to capture some common wildflowers against a dark sky. Clockwise from top left is white campion, poppy, white clover and hogweed.
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I have a real soft spot for arable weeds – modern farming works hard to eradicate competition from arable fields but many species still find a way to brighten a dull monoculture. This flax field was quite an amazing sight in itself with its array of ripe seeds, but flecked throughout where the glaucous green and delicate mauve of fumitory which scrambled up and through the crop.
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Harebells are common in more acidic conditions but can pop up in a variety of habitats. I found them for the first time in the grasslands above Grantham this year, nestled in amongst the Hills and Hollows, but this photo was taken on the Laurie Lee Wildlife Walk in Slad this autumn. You have to get down low to see inside these little flowers, and when i did, I was surprised to find two invertebrate residents settled in for the day. I guess a downwards-facing bell makes perfect cover for a snail to wait until nightfall!
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The Longshaw Estate in Derbyshire comes brightly to life with the purple wash of heather in August and this photograph was taken on one of my favourite walks which cuts across this land. The bell heather was frequented by the beautiful heather colletes bees which emerge to coincide with this floral abundance each year, feeding on the flowers and making their nest holes in the sandy soils beneath the roots.
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Another from the Peak District – this time the coconut-scented flowers of gorse against a backdrop of heather. The old saying goes, ‘when gorse is out of flower, kissing is out of fashion’ because you can find this species flowering pretty much anytime throughout the year. There are many fewer pollinators at work during the winter, but when a warm day awakens a hibernating bumblebee, it can be fairly sure of a nectar source amongst a stand of gorse.

 

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Whilst I doubt this will be my last wildflower photo of 2016, it seems a nice place to end – a common mallow flower with ice crystals taken on my walk to work in December. A bitterly cold morning, the white edging brought a nice contrast to the deep purple of this flower. Many wildflowers of late-summer will continue flowering until the first hard frosts of winter finish them off so this might perhaps signal the end for this individual!

Spring flowers on roadsides and arable margins

I was out surveying a site for badgers earlier this week and tried to catch a photo of all of the flowering plants I could see as I went along. These are all iPhone photographs so do excuse any deficiencies in quality! These were all recorded along arable margins or roadside verges which demonstrates the importance of these less-managed areas within the landscape to allow these species to continue to flourish. Judging by the number of butterflies and bumblebees which were soaring or buzzing as I walked around, there were plenty of pollinators grateful for these early flowering species.

Cowslip, Primula veris, is a native member of the primrose family which is familiar to many as garden plants. Notice the little orange streaks within the yellow flowers. If you get your nose close to the ground and sniff the flowers, you can pick up the scent of apricots from the flowers.
CowslipPrimula veris, is a native member of the primrose family which is familiar to many as garden plants. Notice the little orange streaks within the yellow flowers. If you get your nose close to the ground and sniff the flowers, you can pick up the scent of apricots from the flowers.
Dandelion - Taraxacum officinalis is a member of the daisy family and is one of the few species which are probably known by the majority of the population, even if only as a weed to be decimated upon sight. It is in fact a beautiful species if you look a little closer, and a very important species as an abundant and early source of nectar for early spring species such as queen bumblebees who emerge and must feed before eastablishing their new nests. The dandelion is actually a clonal species and the correct latin name should finish with the suffix agg. because they are an aggregate of clones which do not reproduce sexually. Experts can allegedly distinguish between these clones to identify the particular variety of a dandelion.
DandelionTaraxacum officinalis is a member of the daisy family and is one of the few species which are probably known by the majority of the population, even if only as a weed to be decimated upon sight. It is in fact a beautiful species if you look a little closer, and a very important as an abundant and early source of nectar for early spring species such as queen bumblebees which emerge and must feed before establishing their new nests. The dandelion is actually a clonal species and the correct latin name should finish with the suffix agg. because they are an aggregate of clones which do not reproduce sexually. Experts can allegedly distinguish between these clones to identify the particular variety of a dandelion.
Colt's-foot - Tussilago farfara is another member of the daisy family but is quite distinct from the dandelion. The flowers emerge long before the leaves, with scaly flower stems rising from the bare earth with bright yellow flowers above them. The leaves, large broad kidney-shaped leaves emerging later into the year.
Colt’s-footTussilago farfara is another member of the daisy family but is quite distinct from the dandelion. The flowers emerge long before the leaves, with scaly flower stems rising from the bare earth with bright yellow flowers above them. The leaves, large broad kidney-shaped leaves emerging later into the year.
Groundsel - Senecio vulgaris is yet another yellow member of the daisy family. It is an annual species which is frequently identified as a weed in gardens and arable fields. The flowers look as though they are not yet fully opened but they are in fact mature in this image - the flower lacks florets which usually fan out and form a feathered effect around a flower. Imagine taking the colt's-foot flower in the image above and strip away the feathery florets around the edge and you would end up with a very similar looking flower.
Groundsel Senecio vulgaris is yet another yellow member of the daisy family. It is an annual species which is frequently identified as a weed in gardens and arable fields. The flowers look as though they are not yet fully opened but they are in fact mature in this image – the flower lacks florets which usually fan out and form a feathered effect around a flower. Imagine taking the colt’s-foot flower in the image above and strip away the feathery florets around the edge and you would end up with a very similar looking flower.
Lesser celandine - Ranunculus ficaria is a member of the buttercup family and has the distinctive shiny yellow flowers of the buttercups. It should be correctly named as the lesser celandine as there is also a greater celandine although the two are not related with the latter a member of the poppy family and quite different in appearance. The celandine is a distinctive spring species whose flowers upon in response to the sunlight and close up at night.
Lesser celandine Ranunculus ficaria is a member of the buttercup family and has the distinctive shiny yellow flowers. It should be correctly named as the lesser celandine as there is also a greater celandine, although the two are not related with the latter a member of the poppy family and quite different in appearance. The celandine is a distinctive spring species whose flowers upon in response to the sunlight and close up at night.
Shepherd's purse - Capsella bursa-pastoris is a fairly inconspicuous member of the cabbage family with rather small white flowers. It becomes much more recognisable when the seed pods emerge which are heart shaped and give the flower it's common and latin name. The species name is bursa-pastoris which translates as purse-shephard.
Shepherd’s purseCapsella bursa-pastoris is a fairly inconspicuous member of the cabbage family with rather small white flowers. It becomes much more recognisable when the seed pods emerge which are heart shaped and give the flower it’s common and latin name. The species name is bursa-pastoris which translates as purse-shepherd.
Danish scurvey-grass - Cochlearia danica is one of the fastest spreading species in the UK. The salting and gritting of roads through the winter leads to the burning off of the existing vegetation which cannot tolerate the conditions. This favours this coastal species which is adapted to higher salt conditions and exploits the new niche which as become available. You might have spotted the drifts of white flowers which can be seen lining many roads, including the central reservation of the A1 where it passes past Grantham.
Danish scurvey-grassCochlearia danica is one of the fastest spreading species in the UK. The salting and gritting of roads through the winter leads to the burning off of the existing vegetation at the road edges as they cannot tolerate the conditions. This favours this native coastal species which is adapted to higher salt conditions and exploits the new niche which has become available. You might have spotted the drifts of white flowers which can be seen lining many roads, including the central reservation of the A1 where it passes past Grantham.
Sweet violet - Viola odorata comes in white or purple and a range of tints in between. These beautiful flowers are robust but small - you need to get quite low to the ground to appreciate this small plant. If you get even closer, you can pick up the fragrance from the flowers - this is the only British violet species which is fragrant.
Sweet violetViola odorata comes in white or purple and a range of tints in between. These beautiful flowers are robust but small – you need to get quite low to the ground to appreciate them plant. If you get even closer, you can pick up the scent from the flowers – this is the only British violet species which is fragrant.
Germander speedwell - Veronica chamaedrys is one of a number of speedwell species which you can find. It is quite characteristic of the genus with its bright blue flowers and low, creeping habit. These speedwell were abundant along the edges of the arable fields where we were surveying but strayed little into the field itself, perhaps a result of chemical herbicide spraying.
Germander speedwellVeronica chamaedrys is one of a number of speedwell species which you can find in the UK. It is quite characteristic of the genus with its bright blue flowers and low, creeping habit. These speedwell were abundant along the edges of the arable fields where we were surveying but strayed little into the field itself, perhaps a result of chemical herbicide spraying.
Red deadnettle - Lamium purpureum is one of the early flowering deadnettle species. They are named for their visual similarity to nettles but, as the 'dead' suggests, they are not able to sting like the true nettle. The flowers are two-lipped with a distinct upper and lower element. Look out too for the more robust white dead-nettle which is also flowering early in the year.
Red deadnettleLamium purpureum is one of the early flowering deadnettle species. They are named for their visual similarity to nettles but, as the ‘dead’ suggests, they are not able to sting like the true nettle. The flowers are two-lipped with a distinct upper and lower element. Look out too for the more robust white dead-nettle which is also flowering early in the year.
Common dog-violet - Viola riviniana is the commonest violet and can become quite a weed in gardens and on arable land - I know that it is certainly well represented in our garden although it can be spotted around Grantham in a number of places, such as the sunny bank along the road frontage to Grantham College. Like the sweet violet described earlier, it's necessary to get close to this low, compacy but beautiful species to really appreciate it.
Common dog-violetViola riviniana is the commonest violet and can become quite a weed in gardens and on arable land – I know that it is certainly well represented in our garden and it can be spotted around Grantham in a number of places, such as the sunny bank along the road frontage to Grantham College. Like the sweet violet described earlier, it’s necessary to get close to this low, compacy but beautiful species to really appreciate it.

Cowslip or Oxlip?

Cowslips are a common sight in April and May – brightening up grasslands and motorway verges with their swathes of nodding yellow flower heads. When I first started out in botany, I spent a good while convincing myself that the cowslips were indeed cowslips and not oxlips – Rose’s wildflower key tells you that cowslip is like oxlip but the ‘leaves are more wrinkled and the stem is more gradually tapered to the base’ which requires a certain amount of experience to compare! Luckily the sniff test (cowslip flowers smell like apricots) saw me right!

One simple rule of thumb is location  – true oxlips are a rare ancient woodland species restricted to the part of the country where the counties of Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Essex meet. Unless you are in a location like this, you are unlikely to be encountering oxlip. But to be on the safe side, here’s a few more pointers!

Cowslip – Primula veris

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Cowslip flowers at Cribbs Meadow – the bright yellow bell-shaped flowers at the top of the stems all nod in a single direction

The flowers of cowslip, like those of oxlip, form a nodding head facing in a single direction. They can be long-stemmed – up to 25cm tall, but are often shorter where the nutrient levels are lower. The flowers are deep yellow with orange flecks in the centre.

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Cowslip flower at Muston Meadow showing the orange flecks within the flowers – these smell of apricot if you get in close!

You can find up to 30 flowers in a flower head, or sometimes just a few. Remember to take a sniff – the apricot aroma is quite distinctive in a fresh flower!

Oxlip – Primula elatior

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Oxlip flowering at Hayley Wood – the flowers nod in a single direction and there can be 10-30 in an umbel

Oxlip, as mentioned above, is a rare native found in ancient woodland in a restricted area of the country. If you are encountering the species on a roadside verge or in a meadow in Nottinghamshire, it’s probably not an oxlip. However the species can be bought as a plant, or grown from seed, so it is quite possible it can spring up in unexpected places if it escaped the confines of its sowing!

The oxlip is similar in structure and stature to the cowslip, in growing to ~25cm high and having 10-30 flowers on a head. As with the cowslip, all of the flowers will be nodding on the same side of the stem.

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The oxlip flowers are more open and spreading, lacking the bell-shape of the cowslip. They are generally a paler yellow, and lack the orange flecks inside.

The oxlip flower is less bell-shaped than the cowslip, with more open spreading petals and a lighter, paler yellow. The centres of the flowers lack the orange spots usually found with cowslip.

False oxlip – Primula vulgaris x veris 

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False oxlip along the Grantham Canal – the flowers have the orange flecks of the cowslip but spread wider, reflecting the primrose part-parantage of this hybrid. The flowers face in all directions, rather than nodding in a single aspect.

Just to add to the confusion, there is another species which can be confused with both cowslip and oxlip and this is the false oxlip. The latin name is Primula vulgaris x veris reflecting the fact that a false oxlip is in fact a cross between a primrose and a cowslip, occuring where these two species are found in close proximity. If you find something which you suspect to be an oxlip outside of the correct habitat and geographical area, a false oxlip is your most likely suspect!

The flowers are more open and spreading, a little like an oxlip, but you can see the telltale orange flecks which indicate the cowslip parantage. Rather than nodding in a single direction, as a pure oxlip or cowslip would do, these flowers face in all directions. There is significant variability in the character or these hybrids, with some being closer to the primrose parent and some more strongly representing cowslip.