Wake up and smell the wildflowers
PUBLISHED: 15:13 18 July 2012 | UPDATED: 22:03 21 February 2013
After a long, dark and dreary, many of us will not only get an instant energy boost but an overwhelming sense of urgency to escape the confines of our homes and get outside...
Wake up and smell the wildflowers
After a long, dark and dreary winter that first glimmer of spring sunshine finally arrives and brings with it one of natures biggest pick-me-ups.With warmth in the air, the sounds of birds singing and the smell of freshly-cut grass, many of us will not only get an instant energy boost but an overwhelming sense of urgency to escape the confines of our homes and get outside.
In Herefordshire, there is no shortage of glorious countryside in which to enjoy all that springtime has to offer. This most rural county in England, is famous for its rolling green countryside of hills and valleys, the orchards associated with cider apples and its rich hay meadows.And when you do finally step outdoors one of the biggest pleasures is seeing old friends such as meadow buttercups, bluebells and primrosespopping their heads out of the soil. This year why not get that well-deserved breath of fresh air and do something worthwhile at the same time, by joining the Plantlifes Wildflower count survey that helps the charity keep track of our wildflowers and monitor how healthy they are?
Sue Southway, who is leading Plantlifes Wildflowers Count survey says: Our survey is really simple and all our volunteers get a free colour guide of the wildflowers. If you enjoy being outside, whether walking the dog, exercising children, or just for the pure pleasure of seeing the seasonal changes, please get in touch.
The survey runs from the first day of spring through to September and helps us to find out more about the flowers on your doorstep. In the UK, we know lots about the really rare and threatened species but much less about how our more common wildflowers are doing. Last year our survey showed that creeping buttercup and cowslip were among the UKs most common wildflowers whereas stinking iris and alpine ladys mantle were the least recorded. Our wildflowers arent just gorgeous they are vital to the survival of our wildlife. By tracking them we can see if they are increasing or decreasing in numbers, which, in turn, shows us how healthyour countryside is. You may be surprised by how many you know.
Look out for:
The county flower of Herefordshire, mistletoe, can be found hanging in clouds from the old apple trees. In the past in the county mistletoe was cut on New Years Eve and taken indoors as the clock struck midnight, it stayed up all year only being removed and burnt when the flowing year came in, it was supposed to ward off evil. Plantlifes Joans Hill Farm nature reserve in Herefordshire is one of the best places in the UK to see this festive plant and the team there are looking to recruit volunteers so why not pop down there for a visit to find out more.
The creamy heads of meadowsweet would have been a common sight in the old hay meadows, producing a sweet smell that made it much prized for adding to rushes and herbs in houses to ward off nasty smells.
Unsurprisingly the woodlands of Herefordshire are at their best with a carpet of bluebells. Often associated with fairies it was considered that treading on them would bring bad luck, and some believed that wearing a wreath made of the bluebell flowers would make the wearer have no choice but to speak only truth. Others believed that if you could turn one of the flowers inside out without tearing it, you would eventually win the one you love.
Also known as columbine or woodbine, its powerful fragrance can be smelt long before the plant is in view, particularly in the evening. Shakespeare wrote: Sleep thou, and I will wind thee in my arms ... So doth the woodbine the sweet honeysuckle Gently entwist. (A Midsummer Nights Dream) Honeysuckle was used on May Day to ward off evil.
The delicate white stars of wood anemones can carpet the woodland floor in early spring. On warm days they often fill the air with a sharp, musky smell which in ancient times led locals to name the flower smell foxes. As well as woodlands you maybe able to spot wood anemone along the hedgerows, and where they are found indicate ancient undisturbed areas as the plants spread very slowly.
The pinky purple spires of our native foxglove are found on woodland edges, in hedgerows and waysides. The inside of the bells are freckled with darker purple and are often bobbing with bees looking for pollen. Despite its high toxicity, foxgloves became famous for the treatment of heart failure. Its leaves were used to slow the heartbeat and help it grow stronger which in turn stimulated the kidneys to clear the body and lungs of excess fluid. However the dosage was critical and if it was a fraction too high it could stop the heart all together.
You might think the favourite flower of William Wordsworth would have been the famous daffodil. In fact, it was the lesser celandine. He wrote no fewer than three poems about this bright and beautiful flower including,
To the Small Celandine:
Pansies, Lilies, Kingcups, Daisies,
Let them live upon their praises;
Long as theres a sun that sets
Primroses will have their glory;
Long as there are Violets,
They will have a place in story:
Theres a flower that shall be mine,
Tis the little Celandine.
The others are To the Same Flower and also mentioned in several famous stories including C. S. Lewiss The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
The name celandine itself is derived from the Greek chelidon meaning swallow (as in the bird, not the the bodily function). Although the two do not return to the UK countryside at the same time (the lesser celandine traditonally flowers earlier, on February 21) the name does reflect its reputation for being one of the first signs of spring.Lesser celandine is a member of the buttercup family and so isnt as closely related to the greater celandine (a member of the poppy family) as its name might suggest.
Wild carrot (aka Queen Annes lace)
The popular orange carrot we eat today was developed by the Dutch in the 17th century. It was first noted as being grown in the UK in Somerset in 1668. There are several stories as to why the wild version is named Queen Annes lace. Most revolve around King James Is consort, the Queen Anne in question, who is said to have pricked her finger and stained some lace with a drop of blood. Wild carrots single red flower surrounded by frothy white blossom is quite evocative of this tale.
The name primrose derives from the Latin prima rosa meaning first rose of the year (although it is not actually a member of the rose family). April 19 is dubbed primrose day. This is the anniversary of the death of the British Prime Minsister Benjamin Disraeli (April 19th 1891). The primrose was his favourite flower and Queen Victoria supposedly sent him bunches on a regular basis. According to tradition, primroses are laid at Disraelis statue by Westminster Abbey on this date every year.
Common birds foot trefoil
The Victorians used flowers as a code to express hidden emotions. Some symbols of this language of flowers are still with us. For example, red roses are an emblem of true love. Birds foot trefoil, however, was one of the few to denote darker thoughts: it symbolised revenge. Although disagreeable to humans, birds foot to humans, birds foot trefoil is an important source of food for other creatures. Pollinating insects find it a perfect source of nectar and it is used as a forage plant for livestock. The birds foot of its name refers to the shape of its seed pods.
There are three different ways to take part in Plantlifes Wildflower Count, all of which will take place just a short distance from you home, and this year there is a new list of 99 wildflowers to count. So take your pick on the survey you want to take part in:
Take a 1km walk through your square, taking note of any of the wildflowers in the Wildflowers Count ID guide (and the type of habitats) along the way.
The basis of the old Common Plants Survey. We provide you with a small square plot, and a small linear plot, square, within which we ask you to note any of the 99 wildflowers from the guide, along with how abundant they are.
BECOME A SUPER SURVEYOR
Some volunteers felt frustrated that theycould only record the few wildflowers in the ID Guide, so those who feel confident enough will be able to identify as many wildflowers as they can.
It doesnt matter if you dont know your cowslip from your cow parsley or your buttercup from your butterbur. Plantlife will help you every step of the way and when you register you will receive guidance notes, a beautiful, colour ID guide of wildflowers plus lots more.
Log on to http://www.plantlife.org.uk/thingstodo/wildflowers_count or register for the 2012 survey by clicking the link below, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or leaving a message on 01722 342755.