Monday, 16 February 2015

Nature on your Doorstep - An easy one to start with - Wildflowers

When I first started venturing out to get better at identifying all things wild, I decided to begin with wildflowers. For a start they are fairly plentiful in the hedgerows, you don't have you go too far to find at least some flowers and they stay still and don't run or fly away! So here are some of the more common wildflowers that I found while just out on an evening or afternoon walk without having to venture too far from home.

The buttercup and the red campion are pretty common wildlfowers that many of you will know. As with anything there can be different varieties of species and there can always be exceptions to the rule! I think the buttercup is Ranunculus repens, which is the creeping buttercup but there is also the meadow buttercup and the bulbous buttercup. Any easy way to spot the creeping buttercup is the way the plant does branch out and 'creep'. The red campion, Silene dioica is a common hedgerow plant but an easy one to get confused with herb robert. Unfortunately I do not have a photo of herb robert, but there will be plenty around soon that I can update my blog with!

Buttercup, Ranunculus repens - Local Neighbourhood
Red Campion, Silene dioica - Local Neighbourhood
The other common pinky purple flower is the foxglove, Digitalis purpurea. I have always been fond of foxgloves since a child. I was totally enchanted by the bell shaped flowers and believed that fairy's lived in them! I have an old book on herbal remedies, which I love flicking through and referring to. The book is 'A Modern Herbal" and it tells me in there that the foxglove was used by Italians as an ointment for both fresh green wounds and old sores! 
Common Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea - Local Neigbourhood
If you are out and about in your local neighbourhood or near any green fields there are two common and easy to identify flowers and that is the white clover, Trifolium repens and the red clover, Trifolium pratense. Clover is a widespread crop used for grazing animals, so can be found almost anywhere in rural England, so a great one to spot with kids. The other good thing is to look out for the leaves which are normally in a trefoil pattern but if you manage to find the four leafed clover as most of you will know, it is said to bring good luck to the person who finds it, so keep your eyes peeled!

White Clover, Trifolium repens - Local Neighbourhood
Red Clover, Trifolium pratense - Local Neighbourhood

And now for a bit of blue! Two wildflowers that I used to get mixed up all the time was Germander Speedwell and Wood-Forget-Me-Not. After starting to have a closer look I discovered that they are actually quite different. The speedwell has a much deeper blue colour and the forget-me-not has a typical cute flower look to it and being much lighter and sky blue in colour. They are both delicate beautiful flowers and both have a yellow centre but if you look at the forget-me-not they also have the little white spiky wheel of white behind the yellow.
Germander Speedwell, Veronica chamaedrys - Local Neighbourhood
Wood Forget-me-not, Myosotis slyvatica - Local Neighbourhood
Two more flowers that are easy to confuse are Sheep's Bit, Jasione montana and Devil's Bit Scabious, Succisa pratensis. The way I remember how to distinguish these two is that I think of the Devil's Bit as like a blackberry and the Sheep's Bit as one more like a ruffled sheep's fleece! However, unfortunately there is always a catch! and the Devil's Bit does not stay like a blackberry forever, it is only like this in bud. Once the flower head opens it is very similar to Sheep's Bit. Unfortunately I do not have a picture for comparison but the petals are longer and thinner on Sheep's Bit.

Sheep's Bit, Jasione montana - Local coastal path
Devil's Bit Scabious, Succisa pratensis - Mockerkin Tarn
And to finish this little piece, one of my favourites, the cowslip, Primula veris which can also be found in hedgerows. It can be confused with the oxlip but again that's another one I need a photo of! The cowslip  has lovely tubular flowers that are bright yellow with red dots on the inside. It's another good one to look out for. The oxslip is more similar to the primrose.

Cowslip, Primula veris - Local Neighbourhood

This really is just a brief introduction to flowers. There are millions of flowers to go out and find. I discovered that when I spent more time out and about, I also began to learn which habitats certain flowers are found in. I also looked in more detail with my hand lens at the flower parts - always good fun, especially with little ones! And then I started to look at leaf shape and characteristic such as hairiness. As with anything the more time you spend out there in the field the better you get.....and the more addictive it becomes! 

When I first started looking at wildflowers I used a small DK Pocket Nature Guide to Wildflowers and I also have a little old penguin book on plant communities, which is great for finding what plant lives where, for example it lists the common bog plants, such as Bog Asphodel and Sundew. I also looked at flower families and used the similarities to help with identification.

Then as I got better moved on to The Wildflower Key by Frances Rose - this is the wildflower bible and a book full of knowledge, but it is a tricky book to get started with. As soon as spring arrives I will be doing more wildflower posts with a bit more detail and hopefully with some more ID tips. In the meantime there are plenty of snowdrops around...roll on spring!

Fetcher, K. (2004) " Pocket Nature Wild Flowers" Dorling Kindersley
Bulow-Olsen, A. (1978) "Plant Communities" Penguin Books Ltd
Rose, F. (1981, 2006) "The Wild Flower Key" Penguin Books Ltd
Grieve, M. (1980) "A Modern Herbal" Penguin Books Ltd

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