A walk along a hedgerow can be a particulalry rewarding experience just now. The trees are all in leaf and horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) trees are in bloom and hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is puntuating the hedgerows with gorgeous stretches of white flowers,
Willow warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) beautifully fremed by hawthorn blossom on a sunny day in April
Wildflowers are also in bloom, and lining my walk routes this month are cowslips (Primula veris):
…and white deadnettle (Lamium album)
The cowslip, a member of the Primula family which includes primrose and oxlip, are not as common as they used to be but occasionally a roadside verge or a bank or edge of a ditch will be swathed in yellow from their flowers. The cowslip could be confused with the similar oxlip but the flowers of the oxlip are more pale and more open, like those of a primrose. Until recent times it was used to make wine and the garlands on Maypoles, and has been used medicinally to treat headaches, whooping cough and as a diuretic and expectorant.
Conversely, white deadnettle is much more common and can be found lining field edges, road verges and hedgerows. It flowers from March to December and the nectar is at the back of the flower so can only be fed on by larger insects such as bumble bees which can open up the flower to get to the nectar. It is known as a ‘deadnettle’ because its leaves resemble the stinging nettle but it can’t sting because it doesn’t have the stinging hairs. It is easily distinguished from the stinger by its flowers which are white or pink compared to the stinging nettle flowers which are small and green. It has historically been used in herbal remedies for catarrh and the young leaves and flowers can be eaten as a vegetable.
Many other flowers are blooming now such as the common-or-garden buttercup (Ranunclus acris), daisy (Bellis perennis) and dandelion (Taraxacum offficinale):
Dandelion flower, named from the French for ‘lions tooth’ – Dent de lion
Dandelion flowers heads are made up of many smaller florets and are open in the daytime but close up at night. The leaves have been used in salads in many countries either raw or blanched in boiling water to remove any bitter flavour, and the roots can be roasted and ground into a coffee-type drink. It has been used as a traditional remedy for urinary tract infections and as a diuretic.
A dandelion seedhead – a masterpice of natural architecture!
Cow parsley mallow and other wild flowers will all b e in full bloom on the near future and the flies and butterflies that depend on them will also be out and about.
Posted in Birds, Flora and fungi, Trees, Wild flowers
Tagged Aesculus hippocastanum, Bellis perennis, buttercup, Crataegus monogyna, cwslip, daisy, dandelion, hawthorn, herbal remedy, horse chestnut, Lamium album, oxlip, Phylloscopus trochilus, primrose, Primula, Primula veris, Ranunculus acris, Taraxacum officinale, trees, UK flora, white deadnettle, wild flowers, willow warbler
Last weekend my wanderings took me to Norsey Wood on the eastern edge of Billericay in Essex. The weather was sunny and warm so a stroll through this chunk of ancient woodland was compulsory. The wood is a lovely place and has a history dating back 4000 years. It is now a mixed coppice bluebell wood and in a month or so the floor will be completely blue. At the moment, the bluebell leaves are sprouting but no flowers are out but there are wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa):
Wood anemone flowers pointing at the sun
And lesser celandines (Ranunculus ficaria):
Wood anemones are interesting plants. They’re toxic and contain chemicals which have been used medicinally but which can cause some pretty unpleasant effects if ingested such as vomiting, diarrhoea and gastric bleeding. Best avoided. Despite that, a wood floor covered in them is a wonderful sight to behold. Lesser celandine are rather lovely too, with similarly interesting properties. According to its Wikipedia entry it has warty nodules which resemble haemarrhoids, so ancient law dictated it must therefore possess anti-haemorrhoidal properties. Bizarre logic, but you never know, maybe there was a grain of truth in it. It doesn’t mention how the active ingredient was applied though!
I saw a group of four jays squabbling in a tree but the woods were generally fairly quiet for birds on that day. The animal which was present in enormous abundance was the woodant, Formica rufa,
Wood ant worker – these are around 1cm long
The workers are all female and if attacked they have a ferocious bite and can spray formic acid from the rear of the abdomen. A loner wouldn’t trouble a human but disturbing a nest which may contain several hundred thousand would be ill advised.
Thousands of woodants all busy around the entrance to the nest
They’re amazing creatures and build nests from plant material such as leaves and pine needles which can be a metre deep. As they act as an incubator and creche the temperature has to be very carefully controlled which is achieved by opening and closing vents to regulate airflow through the nest. So they’re fearsome warriors, highly competent parents and civil engineers too.
The organisation and division of labour amongst woodants is also remarkable. They have territories covering large areas and I’ve tracked them from a nest to a foraging site and the distance is many tens if not hundreds of meters which they negotiate in straight lines where possible and will clear away any debris which blocks the way. Amazing creatures.
I’m hoping to make a trip to Norsey Wood in May when the bluebells are in bloom so I’ll hopefully post from there again later in the year.
Posted in Countryside walks, Insects, Wild flowers
Tagged Anemone nemorosa, Billericay, bluebell, Essex, Formica rufa, lesser celandine, Norsey Wood, Ranunculus ficaria, wild flowers, wood anemone, wood ant, woodland walks