Spotting Wildflowers

With their heads nodding gently in the breeze and leaves upturned in praise of the sunshine, wildflowers are one of Nature’s great delights. Wendy Carter of Worcestershire Wildlife Trust offers a guide.

From verges and hedges to woodlands and meadows, late spring is the ideal time of year to start following the colourful trail of our wildflowers; watch the golden hues of spring turn into the cooler pinks and lilacs of summer.

 

Fields of gold

Cowslips are one of the earliest spring flowers so are closely associated with much English folklore and tradition, including adorning garlands for May Day and being strewn on church paths for weddings. Formerly a common plant, it was picked in profusion across the country for many celebrations. The species went through a hard time between the 1940s and 1980s when meadows were ploughed up and herbicides drifted onto verges.

 

It is a little known fact that Worcestershire was (and still is) the lowland county in England with the highest proportion of its land under wildflower-rich meadows, so numbers locally were particularly badly hit. All was not lost though – these delicate, egg-yolk yellow flowers have clung on along verges, in hedgerows, in old churchyards, on and around Bredon Hill and in the meadows that weren’t ploughed.

 

For such a pretty flower, their name doesn’t have the most pleasant of derivations – ‘cowslop’ (cow-pat) hints at the close relationship between the plants and where they grow.

 

Where Cowslips occur in good numbers alongside their cousin, the Primrose, the two can hybridise, giving rise to the False Oxslip. Rather than having dangling flowers, this crossbreed holds its Primrose-like flowers upright, pointing to the heavens. It’s this plant that is the long-ago ancestor of today’s garden polyanthus cultivars.

 

The first time I ever saw a False Oxslip was in our Tiddesley Wood nature reserve just outside Pershore. But, of course, this beautiful old woodland is famous for another reason; its stunning bluebells...

 

Carpets of blue

From mid-April onwards, swathes of ancient lilac-blue flowers carpet woodland floors like Tiddesley where the trees aren’t too dense to shade them out. Bluebells spend most of the year as bulbs underground; millions of them may exist in one wood.

 

Sympathetic woodland management means opening up woodland floors to help them thrive. Locally, teams of our volunteers are involved in scrub-cutting to create sunny glades, coppicing (cutting down trees to ground level) and regular ride maintenance on a cycle to enable our bluebells to bloom.

 

There are three types of Bluebell in the UK - our native species, the introduced Spanish Bluebell and a hybrid of the two. Our native Bluebell is threatened by garden escapes of the Spanish Bluebell and the hybridisation that occurs. As with the Cowslip, the ‘original’ flower is much more delicate than the hybrid with dangling bells bending the stem to one side; the hybridised versions are much more upright and robust. Our native flower is also sweetly fragranced with pollen that is creamy white.

 

Stems of purple

Search in local Bluebell woods or up on Bredon Hill during May and you may be lucky enough to spot Early Purple Orchids - a multitude of wonderfully vivid flowers with spotty stiff leaves.

 

Visit some of our woodland nature reserves or, better still, meadows or orchards throughout the Vale of Evesham, a little later in the year, and you may come across the UK’s most common orchid, the Common Spotted.

 

The name ‘Orchid’ (Orchis) means testicle and refers to the pair of root-tubers growing beneath the plant – one is new and expanding, filling up with nutrients for the following year, and the other is withering away as it supplies the plant that you can see this year.

 

Now, please forgive my former ignorance here but it may help you out... Many years ago I watched an episode of Midsomer Murders in which a local community were guarding an orchid. It led me to believe that orchids were the rarest plants and only ever grew in ones and twos. If you are under the same misapprehension, trust me, it’s simply not the case! Although orchids are now relatively rare, largely because of the ploughing of meadows, they can still be found in good numbers where they survive.

 

They are also present in unexpected places. One of our volunteers based in Redditch noticed a Common Spotted Orchid growing at the bottom of her garden. She left it to grow and the following year she had a couple more. Now, several years on, she has dozens of them scattered throughout her lawn – she doesn’t mow it until they’ve all set seed for the following year. Why not take a closer look at your grass before you mow it or head to a local churchyard to see what’s coming up there?

 

Whirls of pink

One of the most common wayside flowers that can be seen, as spring turns to summer, is the thistle-like Knapweed. There are two types; Greater and Common.

 

Take a closer look at Knapweed and you’ll see that it’s actually a composite flower, made up of florets. Greater Knapweed is bigger all round, with longer outer petals and more deeply divided leaves. Around the edges of the 'flowers' are large, ragged star-like ray florets, with smaller dense florets in the middle. It’s Common cousin has flower heads with tiny bright pink florets surrounded by a crown of long, pink bracts (leaf-like structures).

 

For bees, butterflies and many other insects, this composite form is great news because each of the florets provides sweet nectar to give them energy – spy a bee on a Knapweed bloom and it will probably be there for a little while (at least long enough for you to take a photo if you’re able to sneak up on it).

 

Knapweed’s Worcestershire stronghold is around Bredon Hill and the Cotswold fringe so keep your eyes out for it on your walks in the area. It’s a huge favourite of all kinds of butterflies including Common Blues, Marbled Whites and Meadow Browns and you may sometimes spot it because it is smothered in these species.

 

Rainbows of light

Of course, there are many more wildflowers that brighten up our lives throughout spring and summer. From mid-April (depending on the weather) Lady’s Smock or Cuckoo Flower is widespread across South Worcestershire especially in dampish places and along roadsides. This plant, favoured by Orange Tip butterflies, has delicate pale lilac flowers of only one to two centimetres across and blue-green coloured upright stems with very narrow leaves in a rosette at its base. Its name, as you would imagine, signals the arrival of the first cuckoo.

 

Lady’s Bedstraw is a plant that brings a flash of yellow to meadows as June arrives; it’s name probably originates from the old practice of using the dried plant in straw mattresses. It’s a relatively low growing plant but the spikes are filled with tiny yellow flowers that help it to stand out in the meadows and along waysides wherever it grows.

 

Head a little further west of the county and you’ll find Great Burnet on the floodplain meadows of the River Severn and the Longdon and Eldersfield Brooks. Great Burnet has oval, crimson flower heads that appear on long green stalks from June to September, giving them the look of lollipops.

 

The presence of its bulbous, blood-red heads is an indication of a rare group of plants and flowers flourishing together in floodplain meadows. These special grasslands have thrived for centuries because of the way they are managed which results in a flower-rich hay crop. A member of the Rose family, Great Burnet can survive for decades due to its extensive root system.

 

Visit our website or follow us on social media and you’ll see that in the next couple of months we’ll be launching a fundraising appeal to save some of these internationally important wildflower sites.

 

Planting a wildflower meadow

Wildflowers can be grown at home even if you haven’t got a garden - they can be sown in hanging baskets or window boxes. Not only are wildflowers pretty to look at, they are extremely important for our native wildlife, providing hunting and feeding grounds for many insects, mammals and birds. Indeed they have evolved together and many species are inter-dependent for their survival.

 

To download a fact sheet that shows you how to help conserve our rich flora and fauna at home please visit:

www.worcswildlifetrust.co.uk/ sites/default/files/ wildflower_meadow.pdf

 

 

Find Out More

For more details about wildflowers please visit our website and browse our Habitat Explorer and Species Explorer under the Wildlife tab. Our Wildflower A-Z will help you identify a wide range of species.

www.worcswildlifetrust.co.uk/wildlife/species-explorer/plants-and-fungi/wildflowers

 

 

WWT spring events include:

 

Sun 30th April, Tiddesley Wood Open Day, Pershore, WR10 2AD, 10am-5pm.

Join us for our popular annual event. Take a closer look at the wood on a wildlife discovery walk in this beautiful woodland setting, peruse the craft stalls, find out more at information stalls, enjoy a light lunch and relax to the live music. Much more besides! £3 adults, £1 children.

 

Saturday 6th May, Tiddesley Wood Guided Walk, Pershore.

Donations.To book a tour of this lovely ancient woodland reserve please call 01527 272074.

 

Wednesday 17th May, Upton Warren Wetland Reserve Guided Walk.

£3.50. To book call 01886 812854.

 

Wednesday 31st May, Pied Flycatchers on the Malvern Hills Guided Walk, 10am- 12.30pm

Donations. A morning's guided walk with Simon Roberts from the Malvern Hills Conservators to hear about, and hopefully see, this species.

 

Wednesday 21st June, 6.30- 9pm, Slow-Worm Walk, Cherry Orchard local nature reserve, Worcester, WR5 3DH.

£3.50. Did you know Worcester is slow-worm city? It lays claim to having the largest single urban slow-worm population in Britain and the first ever City Council designated slow-worm sanctuary. For bookings please call 01886 821854.

 

 

Full details of all events are at:

www.worcswildlifetrust.co.uk/whats-on

 

 

www.worcswildlifetrust.co.uk

Tel: 01905 754919

 

 

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