Wildflower of the Week: Cow Parsley

First posted 22 May 2020

From April to June our hedgerows, road verges and meadows are filled with the frothy white flowers of cow parsley. It is the earliest to flower and one of the most common of a large plant family, the umbellifers, which all have similar shaped flower clusters or umbels, made up of tiny individual flowers on stems radiating from a single point in a sort of umbrella shape. The family includes several food plants and culinary herbs, including carrot, celery and and parsley, but also some extremely poisonous species such as hemlock and fools parsley and also hogweed which has a highly irritant sap that can cause quite severe burns.

The flowers are carried on metre high hollow stems. As they appear quite early in the year, they are are a great food source of both pollen and nectar for insects.

The leaves are arranged alternately along the stems and are fern-like: triangular and finally divided. When crushed they smell of aniseed.

Cow parsley spreads rapidly, producing large quantities of seed and also though spreading rhizomes. It is on the increase in the UK. Like the nettle, it enjoys fertile soil and increased agricultural fertiliser use has benefited it. This may be to the detriment of smaller plants that become smothered out by the taller cow parsley. It is considered an invasive species in parts of the US.

The plant has a variety of old names. including hedge parsley, wild chervil, keck, lady’s lace and Queen Anne’s lace. In some parts of the UK it has the rather gruesome name of mother die or mummy die. Children would be told they would lose their mothers if they brought it in the house – to deter them from picking it and the highly poisonous hemlock that it resembles.

Though cow parsley is edible, eating it or using it medicinally is not to be encouraged in case it is mistaken for its deadly relative. It has also been used as a mosquito repellent.

The lacy flowers certainly make very pretty addition to our hedgerows in late spring and early summer.

Wildflower of the Week: Primrose

The primrose (Primula vulgaris) is my favourite sign of Spring and the last of the flowers are now beginning to fade as Summer approaches.

This perennial plant is native throughout Europe and can be found in woodland, under hedges and on steep road verges. Though the flowers may appear as early as December in milder areas, in most places they flower from February/March to May.

The pale lemon yellow flowers are 2-3cm in diameter and each has five notched petals.and deeper yellow centres. The flowers are carried singly on hairy stems above a rosette of oval leaves, wrinkled and heavily veined, each leaf up to 30cm long. The flower gives way to a capsule containing many small brown seeds. These require a cold spell to stimulate germination.

The nectar of the primrose is a valuable food source for long-tongued insects like butterflies, including emerging hibernating small tortoiseshells. It is also the food plant for the caterpillars of the rare Duke of Burgundy Fritillary butterfly.

The name primrose is derived from the Latin prima rosa: first rose, as an early Spring flower. Other names include Lent rose, butter rose,Easter rose, though not a member of the rose family at all. In folklore the flower was associated with fairies. A patch of primroses marks a portal into the fairy realm. Placed on a doorstep the flowers bring a fairy blessing. Druids used primroses for protection from evil during rituals. A primrose garland would be placed on the body of a young woman who had died ‘in the springtime in her life” . Primroses would also be used to decorate the bed of newly weds, probably because of the association with, Spring, new life and fertility.

The name Butter Rose may come from an old practice of rubbing the flowers on cows’ udders to ensure good butter production from the milk. A poor show of primroses was said to be a sign that hens would lay fewer eggs.

Thomas Culpeper, the 17C herbalist, recommended primrose for its wound healing properties. It has also been used to treat gout, rheumatism, paralysis, toothache and skin problems.

Queen Victoria was said to have sent primroses to her Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli regularly. On Primrose Day, April 19th, the flowers are placed on his grave and on the statue of him in Westminster Abbey.

It remains one of my favourite wildflowers and a true harbinger of Spring

Wildflower of the Week: Gorse

Gorse (Ulex europaeus) is a member of the pea family that grows as a shrub up to 3m tall, and is found on rough ground, moor, heathland and coastal areas. The plant is native to Europe and North Africa, but has become an invasive weed in parts of the USA, Australia and elsewhere. It is also known as furze or whin.

The plant is covered in sharp spines up to 3cm long and can be seen in flower all the year round but is at its peak right now, covered in golden yellow blooms with a keeled structure typical of the pea family. They have a sweet coconut scent and are a valuable source of nectar for bees, butterflies and other insects.

The country saying  “When gorse is out of blossom, kissing’s out of fashion” comes from the year-round flowering habit. A sprig added to a bridal bouquet symbolises fertility.

The flowers are followed by dark brown hairy pods, each carrying about three seeds, which are ejected as the pod splits open.

The spines (which are modified leaves) make gorse an effective hedging plant, forming a dense impenetrable barrier to livestock, but also protective cover for wildlife including nesting birds.

In traditional medicine a tea made from gorse flowers has been used as an antidepressant. 17th Century herbalist, Thomas Culpepper described a decoction of the flowers as effective against jaundice and as a diuretic and cure for kidney stones. The flowers also yield a bright yellow dye. Being edible they can be used in salads and to make a tea or syrup.

The straight stems of gorse wood make good walking sticks. it has also been used to make brooms and chimney sweeping brushes.

The plant burns fiercely with a great heat and was popular for firing bakers ovens and kilns. Gorse fires spread quickly but even when burnt to the ground will regenerate quickly from the roots.

On warm spring days a walk past a gorse hedge certainly fills the senses, with those vivid yellow flowers alive with buzzing bees and the air suffused with that coconut fragrance.

ildflo

Past Post Reboot: Wildflower of the Week: Snowdrop

I’ve seen lots of snowdrops when I’ve been out and about this week. To celebrate this sign that Winter is almost over, here’s a reboot of a post that originally appeared last year.

Here in Northumberland the snowdrops are in full bloom. They are a common wildflower here in the woods and verges, though not a native of Britain. Previously believed to have been brought here by the Romans, it is now thought that they were introduced here in the 16th Century, The Common Snowdrop (Galantthus nivalis) is indigenous across Southern and Eastern Europe to the Middle East.

The plants grow from bulbs, which soon multiply to form large clumps, making them a popular plant for gardens or to be naturalised in parkland. They are one of the first flowers of the year to appear, flowering mostly from January to April, though occasionally as early as November.

The flowers are preceded by strap-like leaves and the flowers hang bell-like, singly or in pairs at the ends of the stalk – the plant grows 7-15 cm high.

The flowers have six white petal-like structures known as tepals. The three inner ones are notched and marked with green, surrounding yellow stamens. The three pure white outer tepals are longer.

The plant is not edible – the bulb is toxic. Extracts of the plant have been used in medicine and one chemical component, galanthamine is being used to help in the treatment of Alzheimers Disease.

The plant symbolises hope (for milder weather to come) and purity and is associated with Candlemas, the religious feast of the Purification of the Virgin. Wildflower of the weekThis gives rise to the alternative name, Candlemas Bells. In Victorian times a superstition grew up that it was unlucky to bring snowdrops into the house – earlier accounts said this would cause milk to sour and eggs to turn bad, or even cause death – such unpleasant connotations for such a pretty flower!

It’s always reassuring to see the drifts of nodding white bells at this time of year, both in our garden and growing wild. Spring is on its way.

Druridge Bay in May

We often meet Daughter for a walk at Druridge Bay Country Park. The weather was lovely the other day so off we went, accompanied by Buddy the Labrador of course!

Spring flowers are everywhere and I spotted one I haven’t seen in ages. This is doves-foot cranesbill.

The little pink flowers resemble those of Herb Robert, another member of the cranesbill family, but that has fern-like leaves. Doves-foot craneshill has clumps of round, lobed leaves.

On the lake the paddle boarders were out in force and and a lone windsurfer sailed by . We noticed a straw bale floating in the water. Our first thought was that it had been dumped there, but then we spotted another, then another across the other side. . They had been deliberately placed in the water all around the lake.

We suspect this is being done to control the growth of algae. Straw, especially barley straw, produces substances as it breaks down and these inhibit algal growth. This form of control is preferable to less environmentally friendly chemical herbicides. In the past we’ve seen warning notices posted in the park about toxic blue-green algae. During such an algal bloom people are advised to stay away from the water. Algal toxins can be fatal to dogs so pets should also be kept out of the water. These blooms usually occur in hot dry weather.

Although there were quite a lot of people about, they were spaced out in the park. The only exceptions to this were the children’s play area and the car park. Some people were having their picnic right by their vehicle, which seemed rather sad when there are so many other lovely spots across the park.

The beach had more people than I’d seen in a while, but was not exactly crowded!

In the visitor centre there was an exhibition of wildlife paintings by local artist Diane Patterson. She paints on wood and the grain inspires the picture, often forming the background landscape. I particularly liked her portraits of hares.

We stopped for a takeaway hot chocolate and then continued on around the lake.

The cowslips have been flowering for a while but we found a huge patch of them which looked quite spectacular.

Bluebells are in full bloom on the edge of the wooded areas.

I love our walks at Druridge Bay!Drurid

May Wildlife Walk

I haven’t scooted down my regular route in a while so, as the weather was pleasant, we did the local dog walk on Friday. It was cloudy and cool, but not unpleasantly cold.

Acid yellow fields of oilseed rape in full bloom really stand out from the rest of the landscape .

Newly emerged arable crops are still so small that the rows are clearly visible.

There are plenty of lambs about too.

On the verges, dandelions and lime green spikes of crosswort dominate.

The first red campion flowers have opened. They will flower all summer.

A few bluebells can be seen in the shade of the hedgerows.

Patches of primroses, my favourite spring flower, are flowering profusely.

Garlic hedge mustard grows under the hedges too. This is the food plant of the orange tip butterfly. I only saw one. On sunny days there are more.

Under the trees the blue of the forget-me-nots stands out

Hawthorn flower buds are just opening. The saying “Cast ne’er a clout till may is out” refers to hawthorn or may blossom rather than the month. It basically means that you shouldn’t shed any clothes (clouts) until the flowers are fully open. I’m keeping the layers on for now!

I could hear lots of birds but no lapwings or skylarks, which usually nest in the fields here. I must listen out for them. I could hear the yellowhammers though. I love their lilting song.

Emerging bumblebees were particularly enjoying the nectar of the white deadnettles

In the woods, by the stream the red stems of water avens flowers are emerging.

I hadn’t noticed this fallen branch before .It will soon be hidden by foliage, but for now you can see the mesh of honeysuckle stems that have grown around it.

wildlife walks

Most of the trees are covered in ivy. The stems at the foot of the trunks are quite old and gnarled, but honeysuckle is starting to grow through these too.

So many signs of spring, with lots of new growth and emerging spring flowers. This is such a hopeful time of year.

What are the spring highlights in your neighbourhood?

Wildflower of the Week: Snowdrop

It’s time for the first Wildflower of the Week post of 2021. I may not post one of these every week, especially early in the year when flowers are scarce, butI will post as many as I can.

Here in Northumberland the snowdrops are in full bloom. They are a common wildflower here in the woods and verges, though not a native of Britain. Though previously believed to have been brought here by the Romans, it is now thought that they were introduced here in the 16th Century, The Common Snowdrop (Galantthus invalid) is indigenous across Southern and Eastern Europe to the Middle East.

The plants grow from bulbs, which soon multiply to form large clumps, making them a popular plant for gardens or to be naturalised in parkland. They are one of the first flowers of the year to appear, flowering mostly from January to April, though occasionally as early as November.

The flowers are preceded by strap-like leaves and the flowers hang bell-like, singly or in pairs at the ends of the stalk – the plant grows 7-15 cm high.

The flowers have six white petal-like structures known as tepals. The three inner ones are notched and marked with green, surrounding yellow stamens. The three pure white outer tepals are longer.

The plant is not edible – the bulb is toxic. Extracts of the plant have been used in medicine and one chemical component, galanthamine is being used to help in the treatment of Alzheimers Disease.

The plant symbolises hope (for milder weather to come) and purity and is associated with Candlemas, the religious feast of the Purification of the Virgin. Wildflower of the weekThis gives rise to the alternative name, Candlemas Bells. In Victorian times a superstition grew up that it was unlucky to bring snowdrops into the house – earlier accounts said this would cause milk to sour and eggs to turn bad, or even cause death – such unpleasant connotations for such a pretty flower!

It’s always reassuring to see the drifts of nodding white bells at this time of year, both in our garden and growing wild. Spring is on its way.

Wildflower of the Week: Hedge Bindweed

I haven’t written a Wildflower of the Week post for a while as there are not too many wildflowers in bloom at this time of year. There is still Hedge Bindwood in flower however.

Hedge Bindweed grows rapidly, twining anti-clockwise as it grows upwards, smothering out other plants. On a warm day when it is growing rapidly, it can twine a complete revolution in an hour. It’s not popular with gardeners being a pernicious perennial weed. If you try to dig it out and leave the tiniest fragment of root behind it will grow back!

The plant is hairless with arrow or heart-shaped leaves.

The large white flowers are trumpet shaped, formed from five fused petals.

The flowers are popular as a source of nectar for bees, butterflies and moths, including night-flying moths as the flowers do not shut at night. Hedge bindweed is the food plant of the Convolvulus Hawkmoth.

The plant is toxic, containing alkaloid chemicals that have a purgative effect. It is also considered harmful to livestock and thought to cause colic in horses. The stems are tough so can be used as string in an emergency.

The plant has many country names including Windweed, Devil’s guts and Granny-Jump-Out-of-Bed. Children played a game, squeezing the calyx and making the flower “jump” off the end, giving rise to that name.

As one of the few wildflowers still about in October (and quite an exotic looking one) Hedge Bindweed is quite a welcome sight….unless you are a gardener!

A Woodland Ride in Autumn

Yesterday Buddy the Labrador and I joined Daughter when she went riding in Swarland Woods. There are some lovely trails through this mixed woodland, which skirts a golf course.

There is an avenue of horse chestnut trees, which are currently dropping their fruit (conkers). There were plenty of shells but none of the smooth brown conkers they protect. Maybe people had collected them. Apparently if you put piles of conkers around your home they deter spiders. When I was a child we played the game of conkers. This involved drilling a hole in the conker and threading it onto a knotted string. Players would take turns flicking their conker at that of their opponent until theirs shattered. There were all sorts of tricks like pickling your conkers in vinegar to harden them.

c

The beautiful fan-shaped leaves of the horse chestnut are just beginning to turn gold for autumn.

T

There were plenty of ripe blackberries, but I didn’t stop to pick any or I’d have been left behind by dog and horse! My scooter keeps up ok, but not if Misty breaks into a trot!

There were other berries on show like these glowing red ones on the guelder rose….

…and the startling white fruits of the snowberry, an introduced non-native species. Neither plant’s berries are edible by humans, though are a good food source for birds.

I also saw this beautiful devil’s bit scabious. There are fewer wildflowers about as autumn sets in so this is a welcome splash of colour.

Misty is quite happy with Buddy walking by her side.

As we were almost back at the stables Misty neighed loudly at her two friends and they answered her. They seemed really glad to see us when we got back and posed for pictures.

Of course Misty had to pose too!

What a lovely afternoon we had!

Wildflower of the Week: Honeysuckle

The Common Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)is a vigorous perennial climber, that twines itself around hedgerow plants, shrubs and trees to a height of up to 7m.

Clusters of finger-like pink-red buds open into exotic creamy yellow blooms, tinged with pink and red. These appear from June to September and have a strong sweet fragrance, especially at night when the flowers open. The dark red-brown stems carry oval, pointed leaves in pairs and the flowers form at the shoot tips. They are tubular with upper and lower lips. These are followed by clusters of berries.

It is one of many species and cultivated garden varieties, including the very invasive Japanese Honeysuckle. The Common Honeysuckle is however a useful plant to both man and wildlife.The flowers provide a rich source of nectar for insects, especially bees, butterflies. Night-flying moths, attracted by the scent, in turn attract bats to prey on them. The tangle of growth provides valuable nesting cover and the bark strips away from the mature stems providing nesting material for several bird species and also for dormice. The berries provide food for many bird species, though are toxic to humans.

The honeysuckle is named for the custom of picking the blooms and sucking the honey-like nectar, but it has a number of other names, including woodbine, eglantine, fairy trumpets, sweet suckle, goats leaf and trumpet flowers. Shakespeare mentions it in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

So doth the woodbine the sweet honeysuckle gently entwist…

Honeysuckle was said to protect against evil and, when grown around the door of a house, would prevent a witch from entering. The plant is said to symbolise loving affection and faithfulness and wearing it would make someone dream of their true love and bring luck in courtship. The Victorians were less approving, and forbade young girls from bringing the flowers into the home, believing that it would give them unsuitably erotic dreams!

The plant has many uses. Tree branches will take on a twisted form when honeysuckle entwines around it, making an interesting shape for carved walking sticks. The flowers are used in pot pour and perfumes and also to add a sweet honey flavour to jams and jellies, teas, country wines and flavoured liqueurs and gin.

in folk medicine it has been used to make a soothing remedy for coughs and sore throats, and to heal woulds and infections.. It is said to have anti-imflammatory properties, though these are as yet unproven.

At this time of year, honeysuckle provides a colourful and fragrant addition to our hedgerows and woodlands.