Spring is here and life is returning; a few short weeks ago there was little to be seen, but with some better weather, plant life is gathering pace. Here are some of the Park features this month, Easter weekend is a good time to get out on a nature walk and see what you can spot.
Besides, the daffodils, and primroses, most of which have been planted by the Friends since 2010, there are a variety of other flowers on show.
Lesser Celendine or Pilewort (Ranunculus ficaria)
A relation of the buttercup, Lesser Celendine is found in carpets all round the park. The name celandine itself comes from Latin chelidonia meaning ‘swallow’ because the flowers were said to appear when the swallows returned (in reality they appear much earlier!). The Celts called lesser celandine ‘Grian’ (sun) because of its bright yellow flowers that close up before rain. It was used for the treatment of haemorrhoids, hence its nickname
Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa)
In the woods, the Wood Anemone is forming early carpets of white. They love the sun and take in the light that comes through the leafless canopy of the broadleaf woodland. They are a sign of an old woodland because they are so slow growing. Wood Anemones are particularly attractive to hoverflies which help pollinate them. The Romans considered wood anemones a ‘lucky charm’ and would pick the first flowers to appear each year to ward off fever.
Colt’s-Foot or Son-before-Father (Tussilago farfara)
Down in the wetter lower areas of the park Colt’s-Foot is blooming. Together with Lesser Celendine it is among the earliest wildflowers to bloom . It flowers in bare, damp or disturbed ground, which is where you’ll find it. The flowers appear before the leaves, hence the name son-before- father. It is said to be medicinal.
Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)
The trees and shrubs are beginning to bloom, down in the lower shrub areas, the planted blackthorns are one of the first to flower. Blackthorn bushes have clouds of snow-white flowers in early spring. They’re best known for their rich, inky, dark fruits used to make sloe gin. Blackthorns can live for 100 years and are a hermaphrodite, meaning both male and female reproductive parts are found in one flower. Blackthorn wood has been used to make walking and riding sticks, and was the traditional wood for Irish shillelaghs.
Goat Willow (Salix caprea)
Again at the bottom of the Park, where springs trickle out of the hillside, there is an abundance of willow. Used to decorate churches on Palm Sunday, Goat Willow has both male and female catkins – it is the male that are the showy, gold colour. It colonises damp ground and is a food store for bees when few other flowers are out. The bark contains tannin, and can be used in medicines. We are slowly developing willow walk and already use the willow for our Christmas wreaths.
Not strictly a spring bloom but something that is easier to see on leafless early spring trees. Witches’ Broom is a deformity in a woody plant, usually a tree, where the natural structure of the plant is changed. A dense mass of shoots grows from a single point, with the resulting structure resembling a broom or bird’s nest. Caused by microorganisms, it is a type of gall. Witches’ brooms on birch trees are caused by a fungus called Taphrina betulina, and create some lovely examples. Multiple years of growth is required to create big brooms. Can you spot the Witches Broom in the Park?
And to come
There are also a variety of useful plants starting to poke their leaves above ground; in the grasslands the delicate leaves of the herb Pignut are showing, along with the lacy leaves of Cow Parsley – it will not be so long until their white flowers put on a show. Meanwhile, the fragrant leaves of Wild Garlic, another plant that can be used in cooking, are showing vibrant green along Kelcliffe Lane, and Bluebells are gearing up for May.