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hazel downs link Jan 23.jpg

Wildflower diary

New Year 2023

After the extreme cold of early December we weren't sure if anything would have recovered enough by the New Year to be in flower for the 2023 New Year Plant Hunt. But on a 3 hour walk on Monday 2nd January in and around Shamley Green we actually found 13 species making the most of the sunshine and opening their flowers. Here is what we spotted:

Red dead nettle Jan 23_edited.jpg
1. Red dead nettle
(Lamium purpureum)

On the bridleway leading to the Downs Link we found some gorgeous patches of red dead nettle . Their pretty pink flowers look almost tropical in close up!

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hazel catkins Jan 23.jpg
2. Hazel
(Corylus avellana)

Hazel catkins are grey when immature, but as they develop the flowers open to reveal anthers full of bright yellow pollen which is shed in abundance as they shiver in the breeze. These were seen by the Downs Link path.

Dogs Mercury, Long Common.jpg
3. Dog's Mercury
(Mercurialis perennis)

Dog's Mercury is an indicator of ancient woodland and is usually one of our earliest plants to flower in the spring, so we were looking out for it - it's  only a few inches high and the flowers are green and quite inconspicuous so you need to look hard! Here you see pollen-filled anthers poking out from male flowers - we didn't manage to find any female plants for them to pollinate, but dog's mercury spreads very effectively anyway by its creeping rhizomes.

hazel catkins Jan 23.jpg
Hazel flowers close up, their anthers full of yellow pollen
4. Field speedwell
(Veronica persica)
5. Chickweed
(Stellaria media)
Erodium cicutarium, Plonks Hill_edited.jpg
6. Storksbill
(Erodium cicutarium)
 7. Whitlow-grass
(Erophila verna)

The next flowers we found were in amongst the maize stubble on Plonks Hill and around the field edges. Here the soil is sandy and maybe a bit warmer than our earlier search areas.

 

We found loads of common field speedwell , a frequent plant of cultivated and waste ground, easily spotted with its bright blue flowers with a white centre. Also the familiar chickweed, common everywhere - look closely for its delicate flowers, each of which has 5 petals which are deeply cleft, almost to the base, so that they look like 10 petals.

Another little beauty was common storksbill: really lush mounds of feathery leaves studded with many stalks of bright pink flowers.  And a new one for our list: common whitlow-grass, a diminutive member of the cabbage family with neat rosettes of hairy leaves from which spring stalks of tiny white flowers.

8. Greater periwinkle
(Vinca major)
9. Yarrow
(Achillea millefolium)
10. Annual meadow grass
(Poa annua)

About the only grass to be found in flower at this time of the year is annual meadow grass - other grasses might have seed heads left from last summer, but here you can see that this little meadow grass has open flowers with fresh anthers poking out. There was lots of it between the rows of stubble.

Greater periwinkle was seen escaping from an adjacent garden and thriving very happily in the wild.

There were several yarrow plants in the margins next to the fields, looking a bit bedraggled and battered but flowering quite profusely having survived those arctic conditions.

11. Groundsel
(Senecio vulgaris)
12. Dandelion
(Taraxacum agg.)

Groundsel and dandelion are common weeds, both spreading by their wind-blown fluffy seeds which readily sprout in open ground: gardeners generally hate them, but they are useful providers of seed over winter for some birds, and the showy flowers of dandelion are also a great early source of nectar for bees.

13. White dead nettle
(Lamium album)

The last plant found in flower on our hunt, unlucky no.13, was a very sorry-looking white dead nettle, and we were getting a bit cold by then and forgot to take a picture of it -

so this is what it could have looked like if something had not eaten all but one flower and most of its leaves! (photo actually taken in April last year).

Our results were uploaded to the New Year Plant Hunt website using the NYPH app. Click here see our results on the NYPH website, along with all the other results from this year's hunt over the whole of the country, which took place 31st Dec to 3rd Jan. Our hunt from New Year's Day on Blackheath is also there, showing the 6 species we found (gorse, annual meadow grass, hazel, dog's mercury, chickweed and dandelion).

This fun citizen science project provides valuable data about how our flora is responding to climate change, with participants recording all the plants they find in flower on a New Year walk of no more than 3 hours. If you are interested in doing this next year, make sure to download the NYPH app in December, pick a nice day from those which will be announced then, and get hunting!

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