Valerian and mallow Me, hedge mustard & Black horehound Bird's foot trefoil
Adventures in a city meadow
Where the hedgerow meets the meadow, a glow of bunched yellow spurges gave food to a masquerade of colourful insects speaking of a wooded past. Once I drifted through the threshold of spurges I was initiated into the golden delights of a city meadow.
Agrimony, ragwort and bird's foot trefoil competed with ox-tongue, hawkbits and hawkweeds.
Clambering up through them were purple vetches, restharrow and everlasting peas. The spear thistle and exuberant lush foliage of knapweed offered a stately presence whilst huge white trumpet flowers of greater bindweed sounded out with colour matched with the subtler trumpets striped pink and white of the field bindweed.
On its edges flowering valerian, mallow, bedstaw, crane and storks bill overflowed with the joy of beauty. I knew noon had past for the plant jack by the noon had gone to sleep.
I acquainted myself with over 50 species in this single city meadow, a welcome message to green our concrete jungles. Ah, time in nature is well-spent.
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Lime trees at Bradfield Woods
Lime - Tree of Mystery
In this article we will explore the Lime tree.
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I remember my first encounter with the small- leaved lime tree ( Tilia Cordata) in the ancient woods known as Bradfield Woods in Suffolk, one of the most continually managed woods in Britain and also one of the most biodiverse.
The lime coppice characteristically spreads out whilst still young and then somehow straightens itself up as it matures, the rings on its wood grow unevenly and some years do not form at all! Although it has soft wood that is not durable it has an astonishing ability to survive in shade even growing under the dense canopy of oak. Often the lime tree is prone to rot and therefore is short lived and yet has a tenacious habit of suckering. As a coppice it seems to live indefinitely with examples of huge stools over a thousand years old.
A magic seems to feel the air where this species grows, a light graceful aura permeates the wood. Its dense canopy is lightened by its blueish heart-shaped leaves which distinguish it from the more common species of Tilia x europaea. Fossilised remains of the species Ernoporus tiliae, the bast bark beetle and studies of palynology confirm this tree dominated the South of England in early times only giving way to Alder in wetter regions and yet it is one of the least recorded trees in history and is now absent from Scotland, Ireland and much of Southern England. This indicates the continued management and planting of this tree was not essential and as it rarely seeds once destroyed it sadly does not regenerate.
Lime wood is most famously used for wood carving and in piano- making and is also known in the furniture industry. Its wood is soft and not hard wearing so is only rarely used in buildings. The wood is present in Neolithic structures such as the sweet track which although brings evidence of its existence it is likely our ancestors utilised any wood available rather than because of its merits.
One of the most known areas of Lime would have been around Lyndhurst which means 'Lime Wood' and when we discover woods or references with the name 'bass' in it this is referring to the use of the lime tree's phloem layer to create rope. This material would have been used to hold medieval scaffold poles together but unlikely to have competed well against the 1500 year old cannabis industry which produced high quality material.
What then of the folklore of the mysterious lime tree? Baltic folklore connects the tree to the goddess of fate and there are several stories in Greek mythology of goddesses taken the form of the lime tree.
Throughout Europe the tree quite understandably is associated with the joys of spring and especially in Germany with love, justice and unearthing the truth. In Europe it certainly seems to be an exalted and celebrated as tree of sacred stature.
But what of its associations in British folklore? Surely its heart- shaped leaves, soft wood and useful bark speak of a goddess of love and joy? When in July bees swam to its nectar-filled flowers surely our ancestors would have associated it with delightful other-worldly places?
And yet in Celtic lore, historical records and folk stories we draw a blank, the folk song Linden lea at leasts mentions this delightful tree.
Maybe the lime tree is a secret love unfolding in the heart of a ruined wildwood landscape waiting to captivate and awaken a sweet gentle quality once more?
As I leave Bradfield woods and note the exquisite flora, the graceful lime trees and the rare oxslips growing beneath their canopy I reflect on its associations with primulas which seem to favour this tree.
Shakespeare said primulas 'die unmarried' this is due to the flowers early arrival, flowering at a time unnoticed by the pollinators. The lime also stands unnoticed, felled early in wildwood times when we as a race wanted to tame the landscape.
Maybe now the few ancient stands of the lime tree speak of a bereft mother pinning for the more peaceful times when people lived in harmony with nature?
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Creeping cinquefoil Tormentil
Tormentil- 'little roses'
In June the roses start to flower decorating the hedgerows. The rose family (Rosaceae) is a large family which includes many trees and shrubs and also consists of the delicate plants known as tormentils.
Amongst the short grass a beautiful yellow rose appears that lifts the spirit, sometimes upright and at other times sprawling these plants add a patch of gold to the green sward.
The three main species you are likely to see in June are:
Tormentil Potentilla erecta- This delightful species has usually less leaflets than the trailing species ( at least 3) is almost unstalked with thread-like stems which never root. Most likely to be on more acid soils.
Trailing Tormentil Potentilla anglica- This species is slightly larger with runners rooting only in late summer. More stalked leaves with 3-5 leaflets.
Creeping Cinquefoil Potentilla reptans - This species is not so delicate, coarse with far reaching runners with palmate leaves on long stalks, this species you will find in more man-made habitats and sparsely grassy places.
To this species list we can add silver weed with its distinctive silvery pinnate leaves low to the ground, the yellow flowered strawberry with dry tasteless strawberry-type fruits, specialist species of cinquefoils, the strawberry, herb bennet, argrimony and salad burnet. A wonderful array of plants adorning our grasslands.
The potentilla species are often plants which soothe our intestine, stomach and throats the most famous being the herb bennet which will be explored separately.
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In this article we shall explore the delightful clover which is now in full flower and a delight to the insects.
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Clover is a wonderful feature of our meadows and indeed many grass areas both in the countryside and urban areas. It is one of the first plants to produce the ‘main flow’ nectar for bees and other invertebrates after the Dandelion and Sycamore have finished flowering. Its delicate scent attracts long-tongued flies, butterflies, moths and as already mentioned bees. Once the flowers have been fertilised they fold down over their young pods and the flower untouched, still standing, is referred to as an old maid.
Both the leaves and flowers of this plant can be eaten unless it is high in prussic acid which makes it bitter and unsuitable for consumption. It can also be used as a green compost for vegetable growers as it is able to fix nitrogen and therefore enrich the soil. Organic farmers ( and indeed other growers) simply dig or rotavate the plant back into the soil. It is also good animal fodder.
As a herb Clover flowers are traditionally used as a syrup for coughs especially whopping cough and help to purify the blood. To help relieve bronchial or irritating coughs a brew of flowers can be made by steeping them in hot water for about 8 minutes and it tastes great! It is also been said to be good for liver ailments and smoked in a pipe for toothache. Today we tend to use the red clover for medicinal cures although other species can also be used.
Clover is steeped in folklore, a candidate for the Irish Shamrock or Seamrog. This mythical plant brings great fortune to all who use it and either is thought to be the white clover or more likely the lesser trefoil (Latin).
It seems to be the quantity of leaves borne on clover which dictates its magical use.
Poetry of flowers
Join me to explore the flora of the British Isles on this blog. My intention is to attempt to capture the unique quality and beauty of each species of flower, tree or shrub. For every species featured I will be growing many more wildflowers to celebrate the joy of their existence, their intrinsic conservation value and bewildering array of uses. For nearly 30 years I have noted, studied and explored wildflowers in the field much to the patience of the walker beside me. To share this passion is a heartfelt plea to respect, preserve and care for all British Wildflowers no matter how common they seem.