Wildflowers to watch for as spring approaches
As the weather warms up and we move away from winter we are beginning to see signs that spring is on the way. Buds appear as new leaves start to grow. If you look closely at a Hazel Tree you may find tiny little pink flowers on the end of these buds. Another sign spring is just around the corner is the late winter, early spring native wildflowers.
These start to appear as little shoots that push up through the earth. They grow into spectacular plants like Snowdrops and Daffodils, as well as many others. These are beautiful but they are very also interesting, with some amazing properties.
You can find out more about these wildflowers and a few interesting facts below.
The flowers of late winter and early spring occupy places in our hearts well out of proportion to their size.
— Gertrude S. Wister
Wood Anemone’s bloom between March and May. They love growing beside meadows or in woodland, especially old woodland. They are actually an ancient woodland indicator plant. This means they may be telling you that you are standing in a very old, rare and special habitat.
These beautiful early spring flowers blanket the woodland at Usk Castle Chase Natural Burial Meadow. It is an amazing sight to see and they can be found throughout the woodland.
They are also thought to be a favourite of the hoverfly which is an important late winter / early spring pollinator.
The Wood anemone was actually named after Anemos, the Greek god of wind. It means windflower and blooms before the canopy of the woodland becomes too dense so will catch the spring breeze.
Winter aconites, also known as Eranthis hyemalis, start to bloom in January and February. It’s this early-blooming that gives them their name as hyemalis is Latin for winter flowering. Sometimes confused with the Lesser celandine, it has small yellow flowers which carpet the ground.
These flowers come from the same family as the buttercup and have become naturalised in the UK so were not originally native. But are now a common winter wildflower.
They are good for insects that are coming out of hibernation and provide a valuable food source for early pollinators. However, to humans, they are toxic as are all members of the Ranunculaceae family.
You can find Sweet violets across the UK and often in woodland and hedgerow. They used to be more widespread but numbers have decreased over the years. This may be due to over foraging because they are a useful culinary flower.
They are edible and are a beautiful addition to a salad but a well-known recipe is for Candied Sweet Violets. Sweet violets were also used in herbal medicine to treat a number of ailments. While have been an important ingredient in Perfume dating back to the Classical Greek era.
They are therefore a very popular plant with humans but are also loved by wildlife. This includes the woodland butterfly that uses them for their nectar. It is really important that we do not pick sweet violets as we need to give them a chance to re-establish. However, there is no reason that they can’t be grown in the garden especially for culinary purposes.
As the days start to get warmer these are one of the wildflowers you may find popping up. We often find them at the edges of the meadow, by the hedgerow and in the woodland.
Snowdrops are one of the first flowers to appear in the new year. In recent years, with the rise in temperature, there have been sightings in December and November. You can actually record when you see your first flowering snowdrop with The Woodland Trust. This will help them to understand the effects of climate change on our native wildflowers.
Snowdrops are not native to the UK but have been naturalised and can be found across the UK. They are a favourite early spring wildflower and loved by many. They are also very useful plants. In the past, they were used for medicinal purposes. In modern medicine, we use them to help treat Alzheimer’s which is amazing.
Primrose’s are a very familiar springtime flower in the UK and grow in woodlands, by hedgerows and in grassland. The native species of Primrose are often pale yellow. However, you may come across some which are much paler and appear white or which have pink flowers.
The name Primrose comes from the Latin Prima Rosa. This means first rose and you can understand why as the flowers have a rose-like appearance. Especially when you consider native roses like the Dog rose.
Primroses have many uses. They provide a valuable source of pollen and nectar for our insects. They were once used for cooking and there was even a dish called ‘Primrose Pottage’. Over foraging led to their decline in the past so they are now a protected species. Luckily, they recovered and are now a common sight again. They are also known for having medicinal properties and herbal properties.
If you see Primroses while wandering a woodland it may also be a sign you are standing in an ancient woodland.
Snakes Head Fritillary
Snakes-head fritillary are very prominent late winter, early spring flowers due to their unique appearance.
They used to flower in abundance by the meadows of the River Thames. Due to over picking they are now a rare sight in the wild and classed as a vulnerable species. One place you can see this beautiful little spring flower is Aylesbury Vale Natural Burial Meadow. As you can see from the photo below gentle management of the meadow has allowed these wildflowers to flourish.
You can see how this plant got its name as the flowers have a snake head-like appearance. This does not put off our pollinators because these bell-shaped flowers are favoured by the bees. There was some debate as to the native status of the Snakes Head Fritillary as it was not recorded in the wild until 1736. However, its favourite habitat of ancient or traditional hay meadow means it’s more likely to have been overlooked. Especially as it could have bloomed in isolated patches. While the decline of these habitats may have affected its growth. Perhaps we will start to see more of these flowers with the restoration of traditional hay meadows and wildflower meadows.
Daffodils are a favourite sight in the spring when the weather starts to get warmer and are often found alongside snowdrops.
They tend to make an appearance in early spring and there is a wild species of daffodils that are native to the UK. However, many of the species we see across the UK have been naturalised.
Wild daffodils are the smaller variety of Daffodil with a pale petal. There is also a yellow version of these little daffodils called the ‘Tenby Daffodil’. This is the flower that is associated with St Davids Day in Wales. It almost became extinct in the wild in the 19th century due to a wild victorian craze to dig these up and sell or re-plant in gardens. Luckily they were not all dug up, but they now flower in much smaller numbers than they once used to.
The larger bright yellow daffodils are not native to the UK. The Romans introduced these as they thought their sap had healing qualities. What they were not aware of was that the opposite was true. Daffodils actually have a wonderful defence mechanism that acts as an irritant. The sap contains sharp crystals within the stem to stop animals from eating them.
The Common daisy is one of the wildflowers you may find all year round, especially in a mild winter. However, with the warmer weather, these start to spread and increase in numbers.
While this flower may be overlooked because of its abundance it is rather an amazing flower. Daisies are resistant to insects and pesticides and grow in the sun and shade. They are found all over the world and survive almost anywhere. They are also a favourite with bees because they provide a great food source which includes pollen and nectar.
The daisy has been used by us for its herbal purposes. It was a very handy flower to have around for aches, coughs and colds. You can also eat daisies too. They belong to the same family as the artichoke, lettuce and sunflower. They are full of vitamin C and have a mild lemony flavour which is said to be a great addition to salads.
Red Dead Nettle
One of the wildflowers appearing around this time of year is the red dead nettle. It is an interesting plant because unlike other species of nettle, it doesn’t have a sting. However, its leaves are very similar to that of the stinging nettle which may help to ward off predators. One thing that sets it apart from a stinging nettle is its little purple flowers. These provide a vital food source for pollinators like bees and long-tongued insects.
It’s a great plant for our pollinators because it makes an appearance earlier in the year. This helps the insects that are just coming out of hibernation after overwintering like the bumblebee and red mason bee. It is a favourite for moth caterpillars too which love to eat the leaves. This includes the garden tiger, white ermine and angle shades.
There are also other varieties of dead nettle like the white dead nettle so this may not be the only colour you encounter.
The Lesser celandine, not to be mistaken with the Winter aconite, is one of the flowers you may find around late winter / early spring. It often lives in damp woods or on shady banks and is one of the first flowers to appear after winter.
This flower is important to insects emerging from hibernation. It provides an important source of nectar including to queen bumblebees. It has also played an important part in our history as these little flowers are high in vitamin c and the leaves were used to prevent scurvy.
Share the flowers you find
We would love to see the wildflowers that you come across at our natural burial grounds. Please feel free to share them with us at our Facebook or Google listing.