There is something so enchanting about glimpses of wildflowers growing in hedgerows, meadows, lawns, green spaces, or flowering in the lowly cracks of urban pavements. A whole universe of flowers at your feet, a collaborative landscape where the bumblebees congregate. A floriferous watering hole.
There was a time when the UK was covered in 3 million hectares of wildflower meadows, now sadly only 1% remain. Within these precious environments of colour and vibrancy, in a world so environmentally damaged by us, there is a wonderful sense of hope and wonder to be found in flower-rich pastures.
Coming across a rich, entangled bank of wildflowers and I am instantly overwhelmed by its complexity and endless detail. Language breaks down, speechlessness takes over and I am overcome by the exquisite feeling of being the first person on Earth to enter with awe into wilderness. If you take a walk in these late Spring, early Summer days, direct your gaze downward and all around and see how many species of wildflowers you can spot and identify. Here are some of our favourites...
Crataegus monogyna Crataegus laevigata
Home to fairies and fodder for caterpillars, dormice and birds. Hawthorn are characterised by a dense, thorny habit reaching heights of up to 15m. They can also grow in the most unexpected places as a small tree with just a single stem. Hawthorns are hermaphrodite, meaning both male and female reproductive parts are contained within each flower. Hawthorn flowers are highly scented, white or occasionally pink with five petals, and grow in flat-topped clusters.
Buttercup Ranunculus bulbosus One of the most ubiquitous wildflowers and you can often spot them from around May right through to October! The buttercup is widespread and common in meadows and pastures, and is also found in gardens, parks, hedgerows, and woodland edges. Buttercups are common on grazing land because animals avoid eating them as they contain a poisonous sap - a beautiful symbiosis between flower and beast. The meadow buttercup has unmistakeable yellow flowers comprised of five, shiny petals and rounded leaves divided into three to seven lobes.
Cow Parsley Anthriscus sylvestris Tall, elegant sprays of white flowers commonly found growing on verges, shaded areas and the edges of woodlands. cow parsley is fast growing and can often seem like it appears rapidly and out of nowhere. It is an important early source of pollen for a wide variety of insects such as bees, moths, butterflies, and hover-flies. The flowers consist of delicate white umbels where clusters of tiny flowers emerge from stalks which come from a common centre. It is important not to confuse cow parsley with the poisonous hemlock which looks similar but sports a stem spotted with purple splodges and a few other key but subtle differences. Given that cow parsley has quite a few poisonous relatives, it is best left alone to the untrained eye!
Silene dioica I love red campion because they provide a sweet and cheerful pink soon after the bluebells have finished flowering - a seasonal flower tag team. They are the favourites of bees, butterflies and hover-flies. The flowers are a distinctive pink-red colour with five petals that look like little love hearts. Red campion is dioecious, meaning the male and female flowers grow on separate plants. Spot them in woodlands, hedgerows, fields, ditches, and roadside verges. Red campion is a really special wildflower to spot as this species is an ancient woodland indicator and may give a clue to the age of the land or wood its found growing. According to folklore, red campion is the guardian of bees’ honey stores and protects fairies from being discovered. Magical!
This one is a new discovery for me. A shy and retiring little flower that hangs like a lantern and can be spotted very close to water along riverbanks, marshy ground and wet woodland throughout mainland Scotland. It is interesting that it is not present anywhere in the Western Isles. The flowers grow on long purple stalks with white hairs, branching at the tips to support three to five nodding flowers. Water avens attract dragonflies, bees and butterflies, which invite hungry frogs, toads and other small animals too. Water avens flowers from May to September and is followed by a feathery seed head which is just as pretty as the fresh flower.
The delicate, pink flowers of Common bistort can be spotted crowding in damp places such as riverbanks, loch sides, wet meadows, pastures, and roadside verges. Common bistort puts on a wonderful display of cylindrical, pink flower spikes which appear to dance and sway. The plant is just as interesting under ground as it is above ground. In dry conditions it goes into dormancy, losing its foliage until adequate moisture levels rise again. It has a gnarled and twisted rootstock which also gives it the name 'snakeroot'. The plant was historically used ground up to make flour and form the ingredient of a bitter pudding eaten during Lent.
The fluffy seed 'clocks' of the common dandelion that follow the bright yellow flowers are my favourite stage of the plant. I love seeing the fluffy white parachutes hanging in the air. Another beautiful feature is how the flower heads close at night. You can find dandelions growing in all kinds of places from inner cities to garden lawns to roadside verges, also in pastures, and traditional meadows. It is interesting that the common dandelion is actually a variety of 'microspecies' and there are also a number of other dandelion species, so an accurate identification can be tricky outside of expertise. The stem contains a milky white fluid if it is broken known as latex. I have vivid memories of dissecting the stems as a child and attempting to put them back together because the sap looked like PVA glue.
Bush vetch is widespread in rough grassland, hedges and thickets throughout Scotland.
The leaves extend to a beautiful tendril which helps it cling to everything around it gaining height as the season progresses. The small, purple flowers are tongue-like and form a standard shape usually found with the pea varieties. For a flower head so small, it rather impressively hides 10 stamens inside the calyx. The flower turns to fruit and ripens into a smooth, black legume at about 3 cm long containing up to 8 tiny peas. Bush vetch is another favourite of both bumblebees and honeybees. Its nectaries also attract ants giving it extra insect pollinating activity despite the fact it actually spreads by means of underground runners.
Why not take yourself out for a walk in the countryside or your local greenspace equipped with a phone, camera and/or notebook and see how many of these beauties you can spot in the wild?
Note: as tempting as it can be, try to resist the urge to pick wildflowers. The repercussions of removing them from their habitat goes beyond the loss of the flowers themselves. Wildflowers are a critical ecosystem for pollinators, birds, and other small animals who rely on their seeds, nectar, and pollen for food and life support. Picking wildflowers or collecting their seed will reduce a plant's ability to reproduce and will impact its long-term survival. Protect wildflowers and their habitats, only taking photos and moving on empty handed but heart full.