Spring? Where?

Signs of spring have a been a bit few and far between so far this year, although I have managed to find some in the last week.

There has been a dearth of insects about – so far, apart from a probably very short lived peacock butterfly on 2nd January, I’ve seen a solitary brimstone, and five bees – all apart from one were Bombus terrestris (the buff-tailed bee).   This is a good time of year (well, if it gets a bit warmer it will be) for learning to ID our bumblebees as for the next month or so there will only be queens of true bumblebees about.  None of those pesky cuckoo bees or males to confuse matters.  For more info on bumblebee ID, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust has loads of help.  Even the views I did get of the bees were from a distance:


I found one lurking on some broom and a couple of others sunning themselves on trees.

However, it is probably a good thing that there aren’t many invertebrates braving the cold at the moment (although I was told today that 2015 temperatures have been normal for this time of year) as I’m not sure if it is just that I’m looking in the wrong place, but I’ve not seen many flowers in bloom yet.  I have some snowdrops and hellebores in the garden, but by the roadsides I’m not even seeing many dandelions which flower for most of the year.

willowThe willows are only just breaking out and it took me until the beginning of this week to find any celandines in flower – a bloom I usually associate with February.  However, find them I did, and, what’s more I also heard my first chiffchaff of the year (about a week earlier than I expected) – trying to drown out the sound of traffic on the Bedford Road.  So maybe spring is on its way after all.


Early Spring Flowers

One of the earliest flowering native plants is the Lesser Celandine, member of the buttercup family. Although these are often seen in February, they are most commonly in flower from March through to June. In fact their name, Celandine, is derived from the Greek name for the swallow, Chelidon, as they are both seen as early indicators of spring.

Celandines (actually Lesser Celandines) are noticeable by the mass of bright yellow star-like flowers that are seen on a carpet of dark green leaves. If you look closely you will see that there are between eight and twelve glossy petals on each of the flowers. You may also notice that the leaves are heart shaped near the ground, often with white markings, and become smaller and more ivy-leaf shaped closer to the flowers.

Celandines love the sun and are found all over the county, particularly in clay soil, at the roadside, or on sunny banks – the old railway track in Daventry often has some close to town. When the sun goes in the petals close up, reopening as soon as the sun comes out again. Such is the effect of the bright shiny flowers that celandines have been referenced in many poems over the years, they were particularly favoured by William Wordsworth who wrote an ode to the Lesser Celandine.

The lesser celandine has other local names including pilewort, small celandine, smallwort, figwort, brighteye, butter and cheese. The name pilewort derives from its therapeutic use in the treatment of piles, both internally and as an ointment. This was due to the resemblance of the roots to haemorrhoids

All traces of this, and the following flower will have gone by mid-summer, the leaves and flowers dying away completely.


Another flower to look out for in March is the incredibly pretty wood anemone. As the name suggests, it is mainly found in wooded areas (dry and deciduous please), although it can be found in old hedgebanks – as long as there isn’t too much shade. In common with the celandine, it likes sunshine and therefore does all of its flowering before the leaves are out on the trees and only opens when the sun is out.

The exquisite (but scentless) white flowers are held above dark green palmate leaves, just one flower per plant. The flowers are often flushed with a little bit of pink. Again, just like the celandine, it flowers too soon to attract many insects and so propagates underground – although in this case very slowly.

Another name for the wood anemone is the windflower. According to Greek mythology, Anemos, the wind, used the star-like flowers to herald his coming in Spring. The delicate flower stems are strong, but supple enough, to bend and not break in the March winds. It is also called the thimbleweed and smell fox, the latter being an allusion to the musky smell of its leaves.

Wood anemone has few medicinal uses due to the fact that it is toxic to humans and most animals causing amongst other things skin and gastrointestinal irritation, burning mouth and throat sensations, mouth ulcers and nausea.

Unimportant fact of the day – the wood anemone is the county plant of Middlesex

Springing out this week.

OK, so the weather is warmer, the hint of Blackthorn flower to be glimpsed last week has erupted into a frothy, white mass and the Chiffchaffs can be heard regularly – Spring is definitely here.  So, what else has been happening out and about this week?

To start with, in my garden the Clematis Armandii is flowering away on the bottom fence, and, every now and again giving a hint of scent.  The Primroses and Hellebores are still looking great, and, the Pulmonaria is in full flower and attracting bumblebees.  The early tulips have now gone over, but the others are starting to show flower buds.Trees are now starting to show hints of lime green colour, such as this Maple / Sycamore that I pass on my way to work.

There are more flowers out for the aforementioned bumblebees, and, ergo, more bumblebees; mainly queens foraging before setting up home  – such as this one that I took a picture of whilst it was a little dazed having for some reason flown into a lampost!  On the flower front, the Celandines are particularly noticeable on sunny roadsides, as is the purple flower ground ivy.  There are also some wild violets flowering in places.

There are also more butterflies about, initially I had only seen Brimstones, but today I saw my first Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies.  I think it will not be long before the Speckled Woods are roaming up and down the old Railway Track.

On a distinctly Wintery note though, I had a Redpoll in the garden this week for the first time ever.  This is a bird I associate with Winter, and one that I have only seen in the Country Park before now (and then only once).  Very strange, it must have been passing through.  I have no idea whether it is a Lesser Redpoll or a Mealy Redpoll, however, I don’t care either.