Finally we have spring! I did get out in the first week of May to walk round my Crowtrees loop but only now have had time to write about it and its nearly time for my June walk! We’ve had some really warm weather which has meant some things seem to have come and gone in a blink – I completely missed the blackthorn flowering by spending a week in Cyprus late April and now the hawthorn is in full bloom.
To get a picture of the dramatic increase in plants in flower and to show off my developing Identiplant skills, this time I thought I’d group the plants I found by family, as arranged in Francis Rose’s The Wild Flower Key.
April’s yellow dandelions, colts foot and celandine have largely given way to buttercups lining the road verges. Now I know that bulbous buttercups are easily distinguished from their creeping cousins by their downward bending sepals and meadow buttercups from the other two by their stems not being grooved.
Bulbous buttercup, Ranunculus bulbosus (left) and Creeping buttercup, Ranunculus repens (right)
Now I’m on to the Campion family in Identiplant and its always a pleasure to see plenty of stitchwort in the hedgerows, even if it is Greater Stitchwort rather than the Lesser one I’m supposed to be hunting out.
Greater stitchwort, Stellaria holostea, (left) and Common mouse-ear, Cerastium fontanum, (right)
I feel rather an idiot for not having realised before that the Latin name for Red campion, Silene dioica, is a clear indication that it is an unusual campion in having separate male and female plants to encourage out-crossing. The female plants have five curly, styles covered in sticky papillae and are outnumbered five or ten to one by pollen-producing male plants.
Female (left) and male (right) Silene dioica flowers
Another new family in flower this month were the violets – only one species this time, but one worth waiting for. Shady areas around the ponds and in the woods are full of dog violets, Viola riviniana.
And then we are back to the cabbage family, with their distinctive cross-shaped petal arrangement. The most obvious is the Garlic mustard (also known as Hedge garlic and Jack-by-the-hedge, amongst other things), flowering everywhere beneath the hedges. A favourite food of Orange-tip butterfly caterpillars, the young leaves also make a great pesto (see Jack-by-the-hedge). I have no need to pick the wild leaves, though, as it has taken up residence under one of my garden apple trees.
Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata
Honesty and Cuckooflower are also important spring flowers, both as nectar sources for pollinating insects and as caterpillar food plant. Honesty is probably a garden escape, where I saw it opposite Heugh Hall Row, but is widely naturalised in any case.
Honesty, Lunaria annua (left) and Cuckooflower, Cardamine pratensis (right)
Some yellow flowered species are now appearing, alongside the earlier white ones but my Identiplant module warns that these are difficult to identify until fruits are visible, so some of my identifications are tentative. By next month there should be some fruits to help me out.
Barbarea vulgaris (left), Sinapis arvensis (middle) and Sisymbrium officinale (right)
The Primula family, next in Rose, is represented by abundant cowslips around the mine ponds and in the woods and by one obvious garden escape!
It’s a pleasure to see the well laid hawthorn hedging with specimen native trees, including other members of the rose family (Apple and Rowan), alongside the path as I descend towards Coxhoe.
Smaller members of the rose family, Wild strawberry and Water avens, have amongst the most elegant of flowers to my mind.
Water avens, Geum rivale (left) and Wild strawberry, Fragaria vesca (right)
The gorse which flowered all winter has now been joined by other members of the pea family. At the opposite end of the size range is tiny Hairy tare in the grass by the roadside, with whitish flowers only four or five mm long. Common and bush vetch play a much more obvious role in the mix. Bird’s foot trefoil and Black medick were just in bud in early May, though I know they are flowering everywhere now.
Hairy tare, Vicia hirsuta (left), Common vetch, V. sativa (centre) and Bush vetch, V. sepium (right)
Milkwort is just starting to flower on the bare ground above the path but its surprisingly difficult to photograph well and I need to go back again with Rose in hand to assure myself which species it is. The only geranium of the day is Herb Robert – one of those plants which I can’t understand anyone regarding as a weed!
Herb Robert, Geranium robertianum
The carrot family, which I must now learn to call the Apiaceae rather than umbellifers, come next in The Wild Flower Key and are next on my Identiplant course so it’s a good chance to have a proper look at some of the key things needed to tell them apart. One useful indicator is when they flower; most of the frothy white flowers on the road verges at the moment are Cow parsley. Confirmation comes from the leaves divided into leaflets, which themselves are deeply divided, and the flat umbels with no leafy bracts at their base, whist each secondary umbel has downward pointing bracteoles. The tiny white flowers have five petals but are not symmetrical – those at the outside of the umbel are larger, to better attract pollinators.
Cow parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris; umbels without bracts and secondary umbels with bracteoles
The only other member of the family in flower at the moment is Hogweed, easy to distinguish without such detailed observation, but I know that will change so I’m getting into practice whilst there are not too many species to choose from! A much more robust looking plant with pinkish flowers in rounded umbels, Hogweed is distinguished by its thick, hollow, hairy stem and leaves subdivided just once and clasping the stem at their base. The bracteoles are longer than the rays on the secondary umbels and, like Cow parsley, the petals are unequal but notched more deeply.
Hogweed, Heracleum spondylium
Much as I love Forget-me-nots, the borage family are another tricky group to identify, dependent on things like the shape of the teeth on the ring of tiny sepals (the calyx). I’m pretty sure this one is Myosotis arvensis, because of the cup-shaped flowers but think I also spotted M. secunda, Creeping forget-me-not.
Next in my book come the dead nettle family, the Lamiaceae. The only member in flower in May is still my old friend Lamium album, another plant which seems to flower all year. I know it will soon be joined by plenty of cousins. Ribwort plantain is also the only member of the plantain family for now. The tiny flowers open in rings, starting at the bottom of the inflorescence and shedding clouds of pollen from anthers on top of long white stamens when you touch them.
There are Speedwells in abundance, though. Last month’s Common field speedwell has been joined by azure-flowered Germander speedwell and tiny Thyme-leaved speedwell.
Germander speedwell, Veronica chamaedrys (left) and Thyme-leaved speedwell, V. serpyllifolia (right)
One of the first members of the bedstraw family to flower is Crosswort, named for the cruciate arrangement of its leaves and petals and a delight for its honey scent.
With the notable exception of some hybrid bluebells which may have been a garden escape, everything else I found in flower belonged to the daisy family or Compositae, which I talked about in April. The dandelions and coltsfoot are mostly busy producing seeds now but some new kids are appearing on the block, including Hawkweeds and Oxeye daisies. Rose regards Hawkweeds, as too difficult to tackle in detail (there are 260 ‘microspecies’ in the UK) so I think I too can pass on that one!
So, there we have it – a list of some 50 species of plants in flower in early May without attempting to identify grasses or sedges or to list most of the trees. Looking around now it’s the beginning of June there is still plenty to look forward too – orchids, for one thing. In early May there was little sign even of orchid rosettes, possibly because the Exmoor ponies were still on site, but I’m hoping that will have changed by the time I go back next week.
|Bulbous buttercup||Ranunculus bulbosus|
|Lesser celandine||Ranunculus ficaria|
|Creeping buttercup||Ranunculus repens|
|Common mouse-ear||Cerastium fontanum|
|Red campion||Silene dioica|
|Greater stitchwort||Stellaria holostea|
|Common chickweed||Stellaria media|
|Dog violet||Viola riviniana|
|Garlic mustard||Alliaria petiolata|
|Winter cress||Barbarea vulgaris|
|Wall whitlowgrass||Draba muralis|
|Hedge mustard||Sisymbrium officinale|
|Field penny-cress||Thlaspi arvensis|
|Wild strawberry||Fragaria vesca|
|Water avens||Geum rivale|
|Bird’s foot-trefoil||Lotus corniculatus|
|Black medick||Medicago lupulina|
|Common vetch||Vicia sativa|
|Bush vetch||Vicia sepium|
|Hairy tare||Vicia hirsute|
|Herb Robert||Geranium robertianum|
|Cow parsley||Anthriscus sylvestris|
|Creeping forget-me-not||Myosotis secunda|
|Field forget-me-not||Myosotis arvensis|
|White dead-nettle||Lamium album|
|Ribwort plantain||Plantago lanceolata|
|Germander speedwell||Veronica chamaedrys|
|Common field speedwell||Veronica persica|
|Thyme-leaved speedwell||Veronica serpyllifolia|
|Hawkweed sp.||Hieracium agg|
|Oxeye daisy||Leucanthemum vulgare|
|Bluebell (hybrid)||Hyacinthoides. X massartiana|