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Wildflower diary

April-May 2023

Alkanet and Cow Parsley 

You just can't predict what flowers you will see each month! With cold weather and a lot of rain in April and early May, many plants  such as bluebells flowered  later than usual this year, and some species you would expect to be waning as the weather warms up, like primroses and lesser celandine, are carrying on right to the end of May!

Now it has warmed up a bit, annuals are going mad! With the drought last year creating lots of bare ground, the seeds of opportunistic annual plants have had plenty of places to germinate and now we are seeing the results.

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Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)
 in full swing at last! Cucknells Wood, 30th April
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Primroses (Primula vulgaris) still giving a lovely display in mid April,  Downs Link
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Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) carpeting the ground by the Downs Link path, 16th April
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Spectacular pink fields (looking north towards Albury from Blackheath)
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Climbing Corydalis (Ceratocapnos claviculata), an annual doing unusually well this year, taking over one bluebell wood on Blackheath. Logging this wood at the wrong time last year (when the bluebells were actively growing) probably not only weakened the bluebells but also left much disturbed ground to allow the annual to get a hold.
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Common storksbill (Erodium cicutarium)

The hills between Albury and Blackheath are flushed pink with common storksbill, a little annual with distinctive lush feathery leaves and zingy magenta flowers 1cm or so across.

You can also spot lots of little pink cranesbill (Geranium) species in flower at the moment (cranesbills are in the same family as storksbills - both get their names from the beak-like shape of their fruits).

 

We featured the perennial species, Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) in the May 22 diary - it has distinctive ferny leaves and is common in many habitats. But equally common at the moment are some annual cranesbills which have popped up everywhere.

Regular readers of the Wildflower diary may remember thousands of seedlings appearing along the bridleway leading from Lords Hill to the Downs Link path last Autumn, which we thought were dove's foot cranesbill. Well now they have flowers, and we can see there are actually three different annual species all growing in profusion by the side of the path - here they are, with tips on what to look for to tell them apart:

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Shining Cranesbill (Geranium lucidum) has shiny leaves and  quite small bright pink flowers only about 8mm across. Behind the petals the 5 green sepals have an inflated look and are sharply ribbed. Lots of it all over Shamley Green this year, and also found on Blackheath, a big patch of it near the Littleford Lane car park.

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Cut-leaved Cranesbill (Geranium dissectum) is only just coming into flower at the end of May. Its leaves are very deeply cut into narrow segments, and each of the 5 green sepals behind the petals has a distinctive long pointed tip. The bright pink flowers are often sunk in a mass of surrounding leaves.

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Dove's Foot Cranesbill (Geranium molle) has leaves with quite a rounded outline in younger plants, but as the plants get older the leaves get more divided - never as much as cut-leaved cranesbill though. The flower stalks and leaf stalks have fine long and short hairs on them. This is abundant everywhere on Blackheath as well as Shamley Green.

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Snake's head fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris), Lords Hill Common
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Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) Lords Hill Common
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Camassia (Camassia quamash)    Lords Hill Common

Much of the planting we carried out in 2021 is now established and coming into flower. We've seen many more lovely nodding heads of Snake's head fritillary this year - we planted 1000 bulbs of this native species, once common in damp meadows and pastures but now frequent only in Suffolk and the Thames Valley. 

It's also very encouraging to see yellow rattle - this is an annual plant, so it means that our introductions in 2021 successfully flowered and set seed in 2022, and hopefully will do the same again this year and into the future. Yellow rattle parasitises the roots of other plants and we hope it will weaken the grasses dominant in this area enough to allow more pollinator-friendly flowers to flourish.

The planted Camassia which has given us such great displays is still going strong - that's encouragng too, because as any gardener knows some bulbs dwindle over time, but these seem to be thriving in the damp conditions of Lords Hill. Bees love their nectar-rich flowers.

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38 species in flower here!! Blackheath May 2023

The scruffy bits of Blackheath are an absolute treasure trove of wild flowers. Look carefully at places where the ground is often disturbed and has piles of logs periodically dumped on it and you will find so many gorgeous tiny flowers: it looks as if the only flowering plant in the picture above is some yellow broom in the distance, but there were actually 38 species in flower here when surveyed on 24th May! Here is just a selection:

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Birds foot (Ornithopus perpusillus): tiny annual with pea-type flowers about 3-4mm
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Thyme-leaved speedwell (Veronica serpyllifolia): 6mm flowers paler than other speedwells
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Thyme-leaved sandwort (Arenaria serpyllifolia): pretty star-shaped 3mm flowers 
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Changing forget-me-not (Myosotis discolor): tiny 2mm flowers which  start off yellow before changing to the usual blue
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Lesser trefoil (Trifolium dubium): little heads of many tiny 3mm pea-type flowers and clover leaves
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Wall speedwell (Veronica arvensis): tiny 2mm bright blue flowers open only in sunshine
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Germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys): big flowers compared to the others here! about 8mm
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Sand spurrey (Spergularia rubra): a relative of sandworts, the 5mm flowers only open in bright weather
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Common vetch (Vicia sativa): an annual plant with bright pink pea flowers, solitary or in pairs
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Bush vetch (Vicia sepium): vegetatively very similar to common vetch but this is a perennial, with larger groups of darker purple flowers

You don't have to look quite so closely to see the beauty of the flowers down in the village, things here are much lusher and the flowers more showy. There is abundant vegetation for scrambling plants like these vetches to climb up and advertise their wares to passing insects, photographed on the verge at the Lords Hill end of Hullbrook Lane.

Vibrant stands of feathery cow parsley and bright blue alkanet, pictured at the top of the page, are lining the roadsides at the moment too, both popular with bees and hoverflies for their pollen and nectar. At last summer seems to be coming!
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