24 February 2017 by Phil Pickin
With the hours of daylight lengthening and the weather turning just that little bit warmer, it can only mean one thing – spring is on its way. And there’s nothing quite like spring flowers to underline that fact. A mysterious biological alarm clock has gone off, waking the natural world from its winter sleep, and the following three flowers, in particular, are synonymous with answering the wake-up call.
Snowdrops are sometimes the first to appear in gardens and in deciduous woodland, but you can occasionally find them in coniferous woods. Although they are seen just about everywhere, they look at their best when carpeting a woodland walk, and with many snowdrop walks on offer across the country, there should be one near you. The snowdrop isn’t a plant native to the UK, and despite their delicate appearance, snowdrops are poisonous to humans. Having said that, they do have some medicinal properties including, traditionally, the treatment of pain and, more recently, dementia. These, as with many plants, are derived from compounds found in the bulb.
© Richard Croft
Another plant that signals that spring is on its way is the primrose, and I can vouch for that fact myself as a clump of these bright yellow flowers has appeared in my garden. Despite many people thinking that the snowdrop flowers first, it’s sometimes the primrose that flowers as early as late December. This is in keeping with its name, which comes from prima rosa or ‘first rose’. In the wild they can be found in woodland clearings and in hedgerows, as well as open grassland. Although a native plant to the UK, it is in decline in some areas. It’s thought that this could be a result of habitat loss due to the maintenance of woodland etc, and with primroses liking damp conditions, they may not tolerate global warming. The result could be having an impact on their numbers.
© Dave Hitchborne
Later in the season, we see what has to be one of the most striking displays, that of carpets of bluebells – once again, a woodland, grassland and hedgerow plant that provides us with spectacular vistas in April and May. Sadly, this plant, too, is threatened due to habitat loss and cross-breeding with the Spanish bluebell. Collecting also impacts on numbers, with people picking the flowers to take home, or even digging up the bulbs. Despite this, the UK is home to around half of the world’s bluebells and, since 1998, in an effort to halt the decline, it has been illegal to do this and sell on the bulbs to the likes of garden centres. It seems that our ancestors found bluebells particularly useful (or at least their sap) as a glue. However, the sap from this plant is poisonous and can cause dermatitis when in contact with the skin.
The flowers of the bluebell are a great source of nectar early in the season, but to get to it bees bite a hole in the bottom of the bell. Although the bees benefit, the plant does not as the pollen isn’t deposited onto the bees – meaning the flower isn’t pollinated.
With the weather slowly improving, and with it an increased opportunity to get out and about, keep an eye open for these plants, and others, whose flowers help to brighten our countryside and feed early insects. Regardless of whether you see them growing wild or in more structured woodland walks, be sure to enjoy them.
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