Not all yellow flowers are dandelions.

If you look around for the next six months you will see a lot of flowers – but how many do you actually recognise, how many do you stop to look at in more detail.

Take Coltsfoot for example.  Until today I didn’t know what it was, I had heard the name, but wouldn’t recognise it at all.  It caught my eye because although it looked like a dandelion it was standing proud of the waste ground in groups.

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Apart from looking beautiful with such an interesting stem coltsfoot are recognisable in spring by their lack of leaves.  These appear after the flowers have died back and give the flower their name – apparently looking like a horse’s footprint, but not exactly convincing.  These leaves can grow up to 1.5m tall – that’s nearly as big as me!  However, the latin name Tussilago farfara is derived from its traditional medicinal as a cough medicine – tussis meaning cough and ago to act upon.  It has also been used for skin treatments, gout, rheumatism, colds and viral infections.  More recently though there are concerns about potential liver damage that could result from its use.  This is due to the pyrrolizidine alkaloids that are found in coltsfoot along with other members of the daisy family such as ragwort.  It is these chemicals that attract the caterpillar of the cinnabar moth to ragwort in such numbers as they use these poisons as a deterrent against predators.  However, the levels in coltsfoot are much lower than those in ragwort.

As it appears so early in the year (they flower as early as January and last through into March) it provides an important food source for many insects including honey bees as well as this little beetle.




Winter Colour

Despite all of the snow and frost of recent weeks there are still some flowers attempting to bloom.  One of the easiest to spot is the small but bright yellow, perennial Winter Aconite (Eranthis Hyemalis) which can be found flowering away in January and February in the UK.  These are hardy plants (members of the buttercup family) that grow close to the ground in shady woodland, and, as you can see from the picture below are quite able to survive frost and snow.

Winter Aconite

The leaves only show fully once the flowers have died, the leaves themselves dying off when the forest canopy shades the plants out.

Although the plant looks pretty and as though it wouldn’t harm a fly, beware, as all parts are poisonous.  According to Wikipedia, Medea attempted to poison Theseus by putting aconite in his wine.  Despite (or maybe because of) this, Winter Aconites are commonly sold in garden centres as an easy way to add a bit of Winter colour to an otherwise drab and dormant garden.

Are you missing out on something this weekend?

In the UK a bank holiday weekend is approaching and who knows, maybe the weather will be warm and sunny. So, a nation will get into its cars and head to the coast or the national parks, spend a few hours in traffic jams, looking for somwhere to park, looking for somewhere to eat etc etc. But, what are you missing closer to home? This weekend is the perfect opportunity to go out and look closely at what nature has to show you (for free and without needing to sit in a metal box on a long, boring stretch of concrete).
I have a few suggestions to make, these are for those in the Daventry area, but I am sure there are similar things to be found wherever you live in the UK.

Bluebells at Everdon Stubbs
Bluebells at Everdon Stubbs

Firstly, at this time of the year the bluebells are a must. In Badby and Everdon there are cream teas available this weekend for those going to see one of nature’s most beautiful spectacles. I went to visit the bluebells in Badby Woods for the first time last year. Apart from the spectacle of a sea of blue in all directions, the scent is astonishing as is the constant drone of the bees. I went to Everdon Stubbs this week which is stunning at the moment, but I was later told is also somewhere to hear a cuckoo, something I think of as the quintessential rural England.

If you don’t want to go that far, how about a walk around the country park. At the moment the hobbies have returned and are swooping about at the far end of the dam, just in front of the trees, chasing larger insects and smaller birds. The swallows, house martins and swifts are also there, screaming about the water (being chased by hobbies!) as are the common terns, preparing to nest on the tern rafts and patrolling along the shallower waters looking for their lunch.

Cuckoo Flower
Cuckoo Flower

The hedgerows are starting to get their second coat of white – the hawthorn is coming into blossom. Along the ground around the edges of the housing estate, industrial estates and country park are an array of wild flowers. Cowslips are still in bloom, along with the more delicate Cuckoo Flower (also known as Ladies Smock) and, if you look closely you may notice the small purple blooms of the Ground Ivy. As always, darting above the flowers are the butterflies; Orange Tips, Large Whites and Speckled Woods are all there, waiting for you.

So, instead of trying to get away from it all, why not stay home in the midst of it all and relax!

Rosa Rugosa

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of my favourite flowers of the moment is rosa rugosa.  

rosa rugosa and bee

I am not a huge fan of roses, most seem to be grown for their visual impact these days, whereas I thought that the whole point of a rose was the scent.  I therefore don’t have any roses in my garden at the moment.  That said, however, rosa rugosa is a huge exception and the scent around the industrial estate at the moment is divine.  (If you see a short person snorting the hedgerows of a Daventry industrial estate then that is probably me.)

According to Wikipedia, Rosa Rugosa is apparently a native of eastern asia but has been introduced to Europe where it is used in landscaping and is particularly useful in coastal areas, as well as being pretty hardy it is also highly tolerant of salt.  (This latter property also makes it useful to plant near roads that are regularly in need of deicing with salt.)  The colour of the bloom varies from white to dark pink, and double and single cultivars are known.

The rose is also popular with bees, gives colour lasting well into autumn with bright yellow autumn leaves and bright red hips that are packed with vitamin C.

Good news, and more good news

Contrary to my previous post, I saw a ladybird in the garden yesterday.  I went to get my camera for a quick shot, but the little blighter had vanished by the time I returned, so you will have to be satisfied with a picture of one of the flowers on my remaining courgette (’tis a miracle I tells ye) and the lovely glowing flowers on one of my beans (var. Blauhilde).

Flower on the Blauhilde Bean Plant  Courgette Flower


Spring flower surprises

In my last post I mentioned that I had been out and about looking for a cowslip to take a picture of and had failed miserably. This may seem a bit of a strange problem given that I had been expounding on the fact that there was a multitude of the little harbingers of spring about. Well, there are, just not within a short walk of my house. I started on the industrial estate where I had seen some on my way home. The problem is that I could only find one, it was looking a bit sorry for itself and I couldn’t get a picture without an incredibly unphotogenic industrial unit in the background.
Never fear I thought, I will find some in the grassy area near the reservoir and posh houses, or on the verges on the main road. Ha! All I found were dandelions and daisies, pretty, but not what I was after. Where was I going wrong? According to Wikipedia (I have just checked this in case I was being a muppet and was looking in the wrong place) as well as somehow apparently being used for the treatment of headaches, whooping cough and tremors Primula Veris (cowslip) is ‘a low growing herbaceous perennial plant…found…[in] open fields, meadows’. Not such a muppet.

In case you are thinking why didn’t she just go back to where she found them in the first place, the clouds were grey and threatening rain (and delivering hail) and I only wanted to take a quick snapshot, I thought it would be easy!

Still, all was not lost, I took the photograph of the celandine shown in the previous post, found some grape hyacinth growing photogenically at the base of a tree (shown below left, but must go back and take a better picture with my other camera) and discovered a host of wood anemones (below right) growing in a spot I discovered a few months back that was covered in winter aconites. All in all, not a bad afternoon’s work.