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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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. 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-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 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 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 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.
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 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.
There are two members of the primrose family which are really rather similar to the untrained eye – the cowslip (
Primula veris) and the oxlip ( Primula elatior) and both are flowering around now.
Wild relatives of the primroses which brighten up your garden, these two native species have typical primrose leaves and an umbel (cluster) of yellow flowers.
It’s easy to become accustomed to how easy ID can be with a digital camera, if you can catch a photo of a blue butterfly on a chalk grassland, you can work out later whether it’s a common small blue or the rarer adonis blue by comparing your specimen with the illustrations in the guide book at your leisure. But then there are some species which can be trickier to tell apart, even with a great photo.
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’. Now this is very subjective and assumes a certain amount of experience upon which to base your identification – if you’ve never come across an oxlip before, it’s a little meaningless to tell you that the cowslip has a more wrinkled leaf.
Luckily there is another way, but one you need to know in the field as it won’t come across in a photo. Simply get down on your hands and knees and have a good sniff of the flower – if you smell apriots, it’s a cowslip, otherwise oxlip! And don’t worry, if you’re umm-ing and arr-ing about whether you can smell apricots, you can’t – the scent really is quite strong and quite distinctive!
Cowslip flowering beside Grantham Canal (probably planted!)