One of the best things about this time of year is the abundance of wildflowers that seem to spring up all over the place. As well as being pretty, they help with biodiversity. They’re an important food source for bees and other pollinating insects, which in turn pollinate our fruit and vegetable crops.
Even in an urban environment you can find plenty of wildflowers growing in parks and urban woodland areas, but also in more unlikely places, such as popping up through the cracks between paving stones.
We set out for a walk in our local woodlands to see how many wildflowers we could find. It’s amazing how many different types of flowers you can spot when you’re really looking. We even found some really tiny ones hidden like jewels among the long grasses.
Armed with some basic knowledge about native wildflowers (thanks, Mum!) we attempted to identify the plants we found before realising it’s hard to be completely sure what’s what. Unsurprisingly, googling “small pink flower” doesn’t lead to very accurate results.
There are several apps that can help you identify native British plants; some require a subscription, but many offer a free version. We tried “Picture This: Plant Identifier” - the limited version is free and worked very well. There are other similar apps available such as Plantnet, iplant and Plantsnap, but we haven’t tried them. It was a revelation to be able to identify plants instantly, by taking a photo and letting the app scan its database. It’s also a very useful way of identifying any mystery plants in your garden!
We found some common wildflowers that were easy to identify such as cow parsley, blackberries and wild roses. But there were plenty of wildflowers we weren’t sure about, and some which turned out to be completely different to what we’d thought they were.
A species of chervil, cow parsley springs up on every verge and in woodlands for a short-lived period in spring/summer. We were surprised to find that not everything that looks like cow parsley is actually cow parsley - it’s easily confused with other similar plants like hedge parsley, hogweed and even poisonous hemlock, so do take care. With its delicately wispy sprigs, a handful of cow parsley in a vintage jug makes for a lovely rustic table decoration.
With nettle-like leaves and bright purple flowers, black horehound was to be found in abundance lining the footpaths in our local woods. This plant is said to smell of mould or rot, so not one to pick for your table!
Flowering in springtime, these native English flowers like to grow in clumps in woodland areas. We were surprised to learn that they are actually part of the asparagus family.
The Greeks and Romans believed comfrey helped heal broken bones and stem heavy bleeding. However, please don’t try this, as comfrey has actually been proven to be quite toxic!
These striking blue flowers are a magnet for bees and other insects.
Common birds foot trefoil
We liked this cheerful yellow flower whose leaves look a bit like clover. It attracts nectar-drinking insects and can improve soil quality.
We found these absolutely tiny pinkish purple flowers growing among tall grasses.
This common wild rose can be white, pink or purple. Legend has it that it got its name because people once thought this rose could cure a dog bite. We didn’t fancy testing the theory!
With pretty periwinkle-blue flowers that look a little like forget-me-nots, green alkanet grows in shady areas under trees.
With its long gangly stalks and tiny yellow flowers, hedge mustard passes almost unnoticed in the undergrowth.
An exotic name for the ferocious tangle of brambles in the undergrowth, the Himalayan blackberry has larger fruit than the common blackberry. At the moment these barbed plants are daintily dressed in little pale pink blossoms. Come August/September they will be covered in fat, juicy blackberries.
These cheerful blooms appear all over our urban neighbourhood, self-seeding in cracks in the pavement and growing in any spare soil they can find.
These giant daisies grow in meadows and fields, but they also thrive on brownfield sites and motorway embankments. Oxeye daisy pollen is popular with insects, and birds gobble up the seeds.
Ranging from deep crimson to pink and even purple these valerian blooms were a riot of colour, and the bees seemed to love them.
They looked to us like ordinary stinging nettles but having looked them up on the app we found out they were a lookalike, white deadnettle, which does not sting. We tested the theory and didn’t get stung – phew!
Post and photos by Camilla Artault.