Colourful Flowers in the Woodland
A well-managed woodland ride is a delight to the woodland visitor in summer, providing a corridor of showy blooms and humming insects-a striking contrast in an otherwise green world.
A ride is a break in a forest or wood where no trees grow that provides a suitable track for horse riders. It is thought that our ancient woodland rides were originally cut to aid deer hunting. In today’s conifer plantations rides are important to allow foresters access to the heart of the forest and to act as breaks against forest fires. They provide an easy walk through woodland and a good place from which to observe wildlife. They are often rich in wildand insects, especially butterflies, because they receive more sun than the forest floor. In the recent past many rides were sprayed with herbicides, instead of being managed by mowing. This resulted in a limited number of flowers or insects. But in the last few years more enlightened, traditional management has encouraged some of our most colourful plants to thrive again.
Rosebay willowherb, often known as fireweed because it is one of the first species to appear after forest fires, is a striking and elegant species with leaves arranged in spirals up the stem. Many wild flowers have slowly disappeared or are far less common than they used to be, but rosebay willowherb has spread at a phenomenal rate. After pollination by a range of insects, the seed pod develops from the ovaries. When ripe, the pods burst and release the numerous cottony seeds, each with a tuft of delicate hairs. The slightest breeze lifts these tiny parachutes and carries them off to form young plants, often in new uncolonized habitats.
Foxgloves are magnificent flowers, with softly downy leaves and spikes of purple-spotted pinky-purple flowers at the top of the stem. Each flower is tubular and shaped like the finger of a glove. Indeed, their likeness to thimbles gives the species its Latin name, Digitalis, meaning thimble. The foxglove has given medicine one of its most useful drugs. Digitalin, which is used in the treatment of heart disease.
Deadly nightshade is a powerful and sinister-sounding name for another poisonous species. It is a bushy, unpleasant-smelling plant, with lurid, greenish or purplish flowers drooping from curved stalks. The berries, flowers, and even the leaves can be extremely dangerous to man, though, surprisingly it belongs to the same family (Solanaceae) as the tomato and the potato. Deadly nightshade dilates the pupils of the eyes, and was once used by Italian ladies to make their eyes more alluring. Today the drug atropine is extracted from the species and used to diagnose eye diseases.
Enchanter’s nightshade, a member of the willowherb family, is a slender plant with oval, pointed leaves and small pink or while flowers in well-spaced spikes. Most willow-are wind dispersed, but this plant produces small seeds with stiff, hooked bristles that cling to the fur of animals or the feathers of birds.
Sweet and sour
Meadowsweet grows in damp rides and meadows, its individual small creamy white flowers clustered together in beautiful feathery masses. They have a heavy fragrance, but the flowers do not produce nectar.
Common figwort, on the other hand, has an unpleasant smell to man. But attracts flies and wasps to its rather insignificant loose leafy clusters of flowers. This species is also known as knotted figwort because of its swollen root-stock which appears knotted.
Small balsam was introduced to the British Isles from Siberia but is now naturalised along our woodland rides. It has pale yellow flowers with a short spur at their base and. Like other balsams, it produces seed pods that open to the slightest touch when they are ripe in autumn.
The golden yellow flowers of common St John’s wort brighten many woodland rides in summer. Each flower has five shiny petals and numerous stamens surrounding a distinctive, pear-shaped ovary. This flower is also known as perforate St John’s wort, since its leaves are covered with tiny glands that look like holes when the leaf is held to the light.