There’s something about the subtler flowers which has a strange draw for me – after seeing these beautiful emerald green flowers pop up at the beginning of the year on the #wildflowerhour feed, I knew I had to track them down.
Green hellebore – latin name Helleborus viridis – is a native species of hellebore found in the UK and widely across central and western Europe. It is a relative of the garden varieties which might be more familiar as late winter/early spring flowers in an ornamental setting. Hellebores are actually a member of the buttercup family – the arrangement of petals and sepals as well as the shape and structure of the leaves gives this away on more careful scrutiny.
It is generally found in shady habitats such as woodland glades or hedgerow banks, often preferring limestone or chalk. Populations are said to be relatively stable, often maintaining their size and distribution over many years with little apparent change. The distribution of this species in the UK is generally confined to the south, although individual populations do occur in the north.
I was down in the Mendips in late February and in leiu of a known site, I had a google around and found reference to green hellebore in the Woodland Trust site – Dolebury Warren. It was listed as part of the management plan for one of the compartments but without a map, this could be anywhere in the woodland! Not to be deterred, I headed off on an 8-mile round trip which took me across the exposed limestone grasslands and down into the woods through evergreen plantations, gnarled horse chestnuts and ruins reclaimed by the forest. Finally I found what I was hoping for – gathered at the base of the woods where the trees meet the fields.
Flowering time is early in the year – generally February and into March – making it one of the earliest flowering spring species. Plants grow to around 60cm high and often form stands thanks to their rhizomatous roots.
Historically, this species was used to treat worms, but such are its toxic properties that inappropriate administration posed a significant risk of harming the patient as much as the parasite! All parts of the plant are poisonous leading to severe vomiting and seizures.
A third 2016 Review Post – this time some of the orchids I’ve seen over the last year. Few of these are particularly rare species, but there is something undoubtedly ‘other’ about the orchids. A number of these photos are from reserves which are designated partly for the populations of these orchids, but also included are a specimens which I’ve discovered in my local area including my favourite find of a roadside colony of bee orchids just on the edge of Grantham.
Each year, the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) run a New Year’s Plant Hunt where they invite people to record as many species in flower as they can in the New Year – between 1st and 4th January.
I started in the dark so the first few photographs are interesting examples of headtorch botany, but the sun steadily rose and the images soon lit themselves. I walked from Harlaxton village to the A1 along a stretch of the Grantham Canal, and then into the centre of town. Having stopped the clock for a morning at work, I headed back out at lunchtime to close out the three hours allowed for a search by heading up to the Hills and Hollows at the back of the town. The whole route was around 5.5 miles and took a little under 3 hours to complete.
I counted up a total of 44 species on this hunt – the most of any of the individual five hunts undertaken which perhaps shows the benifit of walking on familiar ground! The full list and a montage of all the species is provided at the end of this post but I’ll focus now on a few examples of the kinds of flowers which I encountered and the trends which seemed to appear across four days of hunting for flowers in different habitats and counties.
One of the most fruitful locations seems to be cracks, crevices, edges and other overlooked places in built-up areas. Think of those splashes of green at the side of pavements, at the bottoms of walls and fences, or the edges of front gardens. Survival in locations such as these often means a quick turnaround from seed germination, to flowering, to setting seed before the opportunity vanishes. In this way, the species is maintained wherever niches arise, and persist with a constantly shifting distribution map. Such species encountered in this hunt include petty spurge, shepherd’s purse and annual meadow grass.
Groundsel – Senecio vulgaris
Shephard’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
Petty spurge – Euphorbia peplus
Canadian fleabane – Conyza canadensis
Then there are those species which are flowering precisely when they intended to. Gorse typically begins flowering on the Hills and Hollows to the east of Grantham in December and continues through into the summer although flowers can really be found at any time of the year. This gives rise to the saying ‘when gorse is out of flower, kissing is out of fashion’. Winter heliotrope is another species which is often found flowering over Christmas and into the new year – there is a colony of this growing beside the River Witham, right in the centre of town. Naturalised species can also be counted in the New Year Plant Hunt – these are non-native species which are growing wild without intervention Periwinkle is a brightly-coloured example of a winter-flowering naturalised species which was growing towards the Hills and Hollows.
Winter Heliotrope – Petasites fragrans
Gorse – Ulex europaeus
Next are a bunch of slightly early spring species. These are those which are preparing to flower soon but have apparently been tricked into doing so a little earlier than usual by the clement conditions. Examples include shrubs – such as hazel, blackthorn, holly and dogwood – as well as some spring flowers such as primrose and lesser celandine. Another naturalised species on the list was wood spurge, a healthy self-set colony of which was flowering away at the base of a hedge towards the east of the town. These species typically flower between February and May so a January flowering is not excessively early.
Holly – Ilex aquifolium
Lesser celandine – Ranunculus ficaria
Blackthorn – Prunus spinosa
Hazel – Corylus avellana – male catkin
Hazel – Corylus avellana – female flower
Primrose – Primula veris
Another common theme I have spotted is the propensity for species to flower where the vegetation has been cut recently. This can be easily visualised where the daisies and dandelions still brighten up most lawns. Along the Grantham Canal, it was noticable that hogweed and cow parsley both flower just to the sides of the towpath where there was a late-summer/early-autumn cut but are absent further out where the sward escaped the blades. Perhaps this works a little like the Chelsea Chop technique which delays and extends the flowering period, but cutting is also a form of stress to the plants, and this can encourage them to flower and set seed as a survival response.
Daisy – Bellis perennis
Hogweed – Heracleum sphondylium
Cow parsley – Anthriscus sylvatica
Finally there are the long-season species – these are flowers which naturally flower late into the year. Examples include wood avens, red and white campion, white deadnettle, field speedwell and yarrow all of which were recorded flowering along the Grantham Canal towpath. The ever-delightful ivy-leaved toadflax also falls into this category flowering from May right through into the early winter – this delicate little flower grows in cracks and crevices in many of the walls throughout Grantham. The persistence of these species, especially considering there has been little frost to speak of so far this year, is broadly in-keeping with their general phenology.
Ivy-leaved Toadflax – Cymbalaria muralis
White deadnettle – Lamium album
Red campion – Silene dioica
White campion – Silene latifolia
Yarrow – Achillia millefolium
It’s been a good few days and a great excuse to get out and find some wildlife in the depths (although clearly not the dead) of winter. I found a total of 64 different species across five hunts in four counties! Many thanks to BSBI for organising this – the deadline for the results is the 8th January and I’m looking forward to seeing the results and analysis which will follow their collation of records from around the country. From the conversations on twitter, it appears that many people have got involved this year. If you want to get involved next year, check out the BSBI webpage and get recording when New Year’s Day comes around again!
A montage of the photographs of all the species recorded on the Grantham New Year Plant Hunt is provided below, along with the complete species list.
Tortoiseshell Wood is a wood with an associated wildlower meadow, just off the A1 around 10 miles to the south of Grantham. It is owned and managed by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust – I spotted it on the Wildlife Trust’s Nature Finder App which I can’t recommend strongly enough as the best way to find great spots for wildlife wherever in the country you find yourself. How I have lived so close to this site for so long and not visited, I do not know!
The woodland boasts an impressive array of native woodland flora – you can find out more about the site including a list of species highlights, locations and access on the Wildlife Trust website here.
We parked on the verge of the road which runs to the south and walked up through the meadow – this was low mown and well before it’s peak although there were still impressive numbers of cowslip and early purple orchid to be seen. The hedgerows on the approach hint at what is to come; greater stitchwort flowers fleck the green backdrop of arum lily and dog’s mercury.
Once into the woodland, we followed the long loop path around the woodland. Our native bluebells – Hyacinthoides non-scripta – are coming into their peak at the beginning of May, just as the earlier species such as wood anemone are starting to go over.
Lesser celendine with its bright, glossy yellow flowers attracted a range of pollinators whilst the early purple orchids flourished unobtrusively against the bluebells.
We found patches of water avens, with their gently nodding heads like an apricot-orange snakeshead fritillary.
Yellow archangel – another ancient woodland specialist – was just coming into flower, as was the deep purple spikes of bugle.
Sweet woodruff formed banks along the southern boundary with little white pebbles of expectant flower buds, whilst dog’s mercury held its green seeds aloft, the unobtrusive flowers of March and April already gone over. Soft yellow primroses, mauve violets and white greater stitchwort nestled in amongst sedges, rushes and grasses to create a truly special experience. If your only experience of woodlands is the recreational conifer plantations of monoculture pines with brambles and bracken below, you’re in for a treat!
The dappled rides of the woodland were buzzing with insects including hoverflies, bumblebees and solitary bees, as well as the first damselfly I have spotted this year. The woodland canopy is as alive with birdsong as the woodland floor is with our native flora and just to cap off the visit, we heard a cuckoo calling from the hedgerow on the way back to the car.
Take a look at the Lincs Wildlife Trust website and make the time for a visit in the springtime – this is what our native woodlands should be like!