The Arum Lily is a fascinating plant which stands out from the crowd throughout its life. The latin name is Arum maculatum but it has many old English names, the two most common being Lords and Ladies and Cuckoo Pint.
In the spring, the leaves unfurl, growing and turning out of the bare ground before most other plants are beginning to burst their buds.
From the cluster of lush dark-green heart-shaped leaves arises the flower, a creamy white wrap-around cone with a peaked tip. Within this white cowl – actually a bract rather than a flower – dwells the spadix which is a purple tower of tiny inflorescences.
Looking down into the centre of the flower from above gives a unique view reminiscent of a plasma ball, the looping tendrils creeping like electricity made visible.
The flowers die back and the leaves soon follow and you could all but forget about the lily through mid-summer. Then in late summer and early autumn, it asserts itself once more as the berries become apparent, growing from the spadix which is all that remains of the flower. These fruiting spikes are reminiscent more of a mushroom than a flower, appearing alone on a solitary leafless stalk where the berries soon shade from bright green to brighter red.
This is a fairly common species can be seen throughout the UK in hedgerow bases and woodlands. They are a plant of shady habits and often represent the only species where the darkness is densest under the closer canopies.
Native bluebells are almost synonymous with English springtime, there is little more distinctive and evocative than the haze of blue they spread across a woodland floor. However the native English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), is not the only bluebell we have. The Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) was introduced as a garden flower and can produce fertile hybrids with the natives – indeed the true Spanish bluebell is relatively rarely encountered but many hybrid Spanish bluebells occur especially in and close to gardens. Below is a brief illustrative guide to help you tell the difference.
1. Look at the leaves
Native bluebells have relatively thin leaves, around 1-1.5cm wide. Spanish and hybrid-Spanish bluebells tend to have much thicker leaves, around 3cm wide. The leaves of the Spanish and hybrid-Spanish bluebell often have a fleshier feel to them.
2. Look at the flowers
Native bluebells are a distinctive deep-blue in colour, whereas Spanish and hybrid-Spanish bluebells are often lighter, more pale blue or pink. Look also at the shape of the flowers, the native bluebell flowers curl back at the petal tips whilst those of the Spanish and hybrid-Spanish bluebells are splayed. If you get down close, look at the colour of the anthers; these are cream in natives and tend to be a pale-blue colour in the Spanish and hybrid-Spanish, although they can be cream coloured in white or pink flowers.
3. Look at the architecture
Native bluebells have the flowers concentrated on just one side of the stem, giving them the distinctive nodding, drooping look. Spanish and hybrid-Spanish bluebell flowers are on all sides of the flower spike, giving the flower a much more upright appearance.
4. Sniff the flowers!
You should be able to pick up a sweet aroma from the flowers of the native bluebell whilst those of the Spanish and hybrid-Spanish bluebell are generally scentless.
5. Still unsure?
The two species hybridise, and can back-hybridise to create plants more like one of the two true species at either end than the ‘standard’ hybrid. This means there can be a wide variation in characteristics making a confident ID difficult at times – however distinguishing the native from non-native is usually fairly straightforward using the characteristics above. Hybridisation with native bluebells is one of the most significant threats that the Spanish bluebells pose to the natives.
I put together a crib which shows the key characteristics of the typical English bluebells below – hopefully this will provide an useful visual aid! However the detail provided in this blog by Cumbria Botany is perhaps the most comprehensive illustrations of the two species and the hybrids in between. The BSBI crib is also valuable, but the text and terminology doesn”t make it very accessible to a beginner!
Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) is a species which you can find almost everywhere – it thrives beside ditches, in hedgerow bottoms, in rough grassland, road verges, woodland. It is found, in fact, in many of the same habitats as nettle and, like common nettle, you can eat it! I will make it clear at this point that this refers to common hogweed rather than giant hogweed!
“Robust, roughly hairy biannual to 200cm; stems hollow, ridged, with downward pointing hairs. Leaves 15-60cm, once pinnate, rough, grey-green, with clasping bases and with ovel- to oblong-lobed, pointed, coarse-toothed leaflets to 15cm long, lower ones stalked. Umbels (flower heads) 5-15cm, stalked, many rayed; bracts usually none, bristle-like, down-turned. Flowers white or pinkish, 5-10mm across; petals notched, unequal. Fruits long, oval, whiteish green, very flattened, smooth with club shaped dark marks on sides.”
Hogweed is a species which is fairly distinctive although a little care is required if you are not all that familiar with it. There are a number of other species in the carrot family which is could possibly be confused with but I have outlined below the key differences you need to look for.
1) Firstly, many other members of the carrot family have feathery or frilly leaves – think of cow parsley or even the tops of domestic carrots. Hogweed will never be thin and fine like these.
2) Never touch any member of the carrot family with red or purple spots on the stems – this will keep you clear of giant hogweed and hemlock which can be very toxic. It will also distinguish rough chervil whose leaves are much finer than the hogweed anyway.
3) Never eat any umbellifer which is hairless – again this should keep you away from hemlock!
4) Look in hedgerow bases and areas of rough grassland – these are favourite habitats. Species with similar leaves can be found on the coast amongst rocks and shingle such as Scot’s Lovage.
5) Wild celery isn’t a million miles away from hogweed, but is perfectly paletable so no worries there!
6) The leaves are pinnate – that is, leaflets are arranged on either side of the main stem. Each of these leaves is spikey and serrated. Avoid species whose leaves are twice pinnate – that is, they split again. This will keep you away from Wild Angelica which is also paletable so no worries! Sanicle and Astrantia are not pinnate – that is, there are not three separate leaves coming off the stem.
7) The plant should not be huge! Giant hogweed is very poisonous but, like its name suggests, it really is enormous. The only potential risk would be when the giant hogweed was just establishing and sending up the first shoots but a) you should still be able to tell that it will grow into something very large and b) always check for the red/purple spots on the stem, as described in point 4!
8) If in doubt, don’t bother. This is always a good rule to live by but, once you have your eye in, hogweed is a very characteristic species which you can easily identify. There are plenty of photos littered around the internet so use these to cross reference if you need to.
So, once you’re sure of your ID, you’re ready to harvest although do be careful, the stems can cause blisters (like nettles, not a problem once they are cooked!) so do wear gloves.
The best time to eat the leaves and stems is now, when the plant is young and fresh. Take the younger leaves and strip the leaves; the stalks can be cooked and eaten like asparagus and are particuarly nice if fried lightly with soy sauce and sesame seeds for addition to an oriental-style meal.
You can also eat the fresh leaves raw or cooked in a similar way to any other green leaf vegetable – there are recipe’s which substitute it for cabbage such as in Toad in the Hole.
A little later in the year, the buds can be picked and cooked – again, fried as part of an oriental-style meal can be delicious. When picking the buds though, always give due care to making sure that the leaves are indeed hogweed – and that the bud does come from the leaves you think they do! Cow parsley for example grows in the same habitats and you must make sure that the flowers aren’t crossing over.
Wild garlic or Ramsons (Allium ursinum) is a wild member of the lily family which you can generally detect from about 20 paces as the scent of garlic fills the air, especially in parts of the country where it can cover the woodland floor. The damper river valleys and hillsides in Yorkshire and Lancashire can have huge swathes and you can even find it growing along footpaths beside arable fields.
It is less frequent around Grantham and tends to be more restricted to typical woodland floor habitat – it can be found in Belvoir Woods to the west and there are some good colonies beneath the trees at Belton House.
At the moment, the leaves are full and fresh and the buds are just beginning to form – in a few weeks the white star-like flowers will appear too.
The garlic is not just restricted to the scent either – it can be used in cooking where it adds a mild garlicey flavour, more subtle than your average cloves. The leaves can be wilted down and used, or the bulbs can be chopped and cooked in a similar way as you might use normal garlic or spring onion bulbs. But although it is legal to take the leaves of wild garlic, it is illegal to uproot the plant (as you would have to do to get to the bulbs) without the landowners permission.
If you do find a good source of wild garlic, a delicious recipe which I found on another blog is a recipe for pesto. This uses nettle leaves as a base but I have made it using wild garlic leaves instead.
I have also cooked the leaves as part of a risotto – if you chop them down and stir them in, they make a wonderful accompaniment with asparagus tips. This recipe on the Guardian website would make a good base!
It should be fairly easy to grow in your own garden too, if you have a good shady corner. The seeds can be bought from a range of places; the Naturescape wildflower farm at Langar is a good local option if you would like to establish your own colony.