The colder weather recently has meant many plants are flowering a few weeks late. Still, there is a lot to see, and a lot of promise budding up for the weeks to come.
Besides the delightful English bluebells, and the blossom on the apple, pear and crabapple trees, here are some of the other highlights to look out for.
Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea)
As pretty as stars, this member of the carnation family grows in abundant clusters in areas of the Park. Named after their herbal use in curing ‘stitch’, they are also plant food for bees and especially moths. They have an explosive seed-dispersal mechanism. In late spring, when the seed capsules ripen, they can be heard popping as they noisily fire their seeds. Some say that if you pick greater stitchwort, you will cause a thunderstorm !!
Cowslip (Primula veris)
Cowslips are beginning to flower in the wildflower meadow. A traditional native flower they are important nourishment for bees, beetles and butterflies such as the brimstone and Duke of Burgundy . The plant is said to have sedative qualities and was traditionally used to treat sleeping problems and coughs. The Spanish add the leaves to recipes for a citrusy flavour; they also traditionally flavour English country wine.
Honesty (Lunaria annua)
Originally native to the Balkans this biennial came to England as a garden plant. It then escaped into the wild and is now naturalised. It’s seeds are flat, oval, papery discs that are much used in dried flower arrangements. It has been used in ‘spells’ to bring about prosperity and is considered to be protective.
Jack-By-The-Hedge or Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
This useful wild herb thrives in damp, shady, hedgerow conditions where few other herbs will grow. It gives off a strong smell of garlic which is especially pronounced if the leaves are bruised; the young leaves can be used in salads or made into a pesto. The plant is an important food source for the orange-tip and green-veined-white butterflies. References to ‘Jack’ in folklore mean ‘everyman’ or ‘common’, and you never find this plant alone.
Red Campion (Silene dioica)
The bright rose-red flowers of red campion brighten woodlands throughout the summer. Just as the bluebells finish flowering, red campion starts to bloom. Growing side-by-side for a few weeks, they gild the Park with touches of pink and blue. They are favourites of plenty of woodland insects – and fairies; being said to have strong links to myths and mysticism. Folklore tells that red campion flowers guard bees’ honey stores, as well as protecting fairies from being discovered. Practically it is used to treat snakebites.
Forget-Me-Nots (Myosotis )
This beautiful little flower erupts in clouds of blue and likes humid, shady conditions. Some of the flowers are classed as wild flowers such as Myosotis sylvatica, whilst others are naturalised garden varieties developed from the same wild variety.
One of the most popular myths about forget-me-not’s name is about how when God was creating the earth he started to name each one of the flowers; as he was about to finish one tiny little flower started to cry and said: “Forget me not, Lord!”. God looked back at the tiny plant and told: “This will be your name, so no one will ever forget you”.
Forget-me-nots are very symbolic, in the Middle Ages they were worn by Lovers, and in the 20th century have been used as symbols of remembrance for great loss during war. Many Alzheimer societies have also adopted this flower as a symbol of memory loss.
Horsetail or Mare’s Tail (Equisetum arvense)
A living fossil, this is one of the oldest plants on the planet reproducing via spores rather than seed – it is also classed as an invasive weed. For over 100 million years this diverse species dominated the forests that saw the first dinosaurs. (There is a patch near the old tennis pavillion.)
Great Wood Rush (Luzula sylvatica)
The sylvatica part of the plant’s name tells you it is found in woodlands and that it likes acid soil. It is primarily found in the north and west of the UK. It forms a clump of spiky leaves, with arching delicate brown flowers which are the sole food for the larvae of the Coleophora sylvaticella moth – if we had Golden Eagles they would use the leaves for their nests !!