A Bright Splash of Woodland Colour

Some of our best-loved wild flowers-among them the bluebell and wood anemone-bloom in woods in spring. Taking advantage of the lengthening hours of sunlight, they lend a splash of colour to a landscape recovering from winter and are a welcome reassurance that warmer days are with us.

Spring woodland flowers must seize the chance to blossom as the days lengthen but before the trees burst into leaf and block out the sun. As spring progresses, less light reaches the ground and woodland flowers that bloom later in the year are adapted to the shade.

Wood anemones flourish in coppiced woods and on the floors of mixed woodland. Each dainty white flower, borne on a separate stem, is tinged with pink, or more rarely reddish-purple, and very occasionally you see a blue form. The dark green leaves grow from a point halfway up the stem and later in the year, when the flower has disappeared, two similar leaves rise from the base of the stem. Anemone means wind flower in Latin; one common English name is ‘smell foxes’, because of its sharp characteristic smell.

Spring lilies

Two members of the lily family-bluebells and ramsons (wild garlic) -can tolerate the shade and appear in early summer. A bluebell wood in full bloom is a magnificent sight; the flowers grow close together and cover the woodland floor in a dense mass of dazzling colour stretching as far as the eye can see. We take this for granted, yet it is a purely British phenomenon; elsewhere in Europe bluebells only grow in small groups.

The bluebell’s violet-blue or occasionally pink or white flowers are similar in structure to individual hyacinth blooms. The leaves emerge early in the year and the flowers follow in April. By the end of the summer the flowers and leaves have died back completely and all that remains is the bulb. Under dark hedgerows and beside streams you may see-or smell-the garlicky ramsons. Their delicate spiky white flowers are starlike with six-pointed petals and long stamens and the glossy leaves twist through 180 degrees, like those of lilies-of-the-valley. The leaves can be used to flavour stews and fish.

Oxlips, once widespread in old woods, are now confined to the boulder clay area where Essex. Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire meet, and further south in a few woods on the Hertfordshire-Buckinghamshire border. In these ideal conditions they flower abundantly. Do not confuse oxlips with the more common false oxlips-hybrids of the cowslip and prim-rose. True oxlips have nodding heads which droop like those of cowslips, but their flowers grow all to one side.

Wood spurge is common in the damper areas of southern England and Wales. Like all spurges, it has separate male and female blooms: each single female flower is surrounded by several male ones. Wood spurge is hard to miss, even on a crowded woodland floor. Its brilliant yellow-green flowers contrast with its darker green leaves which taper where they leave the stem; there is sometimes a ring of them at the base of the top cluster of flowers.

14. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Featured Articles, Woodlands | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A Bright Splash of Woodland Colour

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