Anyone with even a passing interest in the natural world cannot help but notice the abundance of wildflowers in the British countryside.
Putting a name to them all, even using one of the many guides available, is quite a task and may well be beyond the patience of many. Therefore, some idea of what wildflowers might be seen on a country walk, month by month, is a useful guide.
Many factors other than the date may affect when a particular plant will burst into flower. For example, it is not unusual for the spring flowers in the north of Scotland to be well over a month behind those growing in Cornwall, a thousand miles to the south.
Even in the same locality, it is not unusual to be picking blackberries on one side of a hill and find them only just coming into flower on the other.
Some plants have a very short flowering period while others, if the weather is kind, may well flower long past their normal time and so, a plant listed below as flowering in July may well be seen in the shorter days of autumn and winter.
Some hardy species can be found flowering all year round, especially if the local micro-climate is mild enough to allow pollinating insects to be active. It follows that what is to be seen on a country walk depends just as much on locality as on time of year.
The following list shows when flowers tend to begin flowering.
With short days and low temperatures flowers are hardly to be expected. But, look down and you may be surprised to find tough customers such as Shepherds Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), Daisy (Bellis perennis), Speedwell (Veronica sp.) and Chickweed (Stellaria media). All flower regularly at this time – and often in every other month, too.
Very early blooms that may be emerging include Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) and the Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) which are easily recognisable.
You may also find Red Campion (Silene dioica) still producing new flowers, as it has been doing since late March of the previous year.
February can be colder, wetter and a lot more miserable than January but grassy banks are brightened by the Primrose (Primula vulgaris) which can be found flowering as early as November, but really gets going this month. Look for it away from well-trodden paths as it is often picked by passers-by out for a winter walk!
The Stinking Hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) and Dog’s Mercury (Mercurialis perennis) can be found flowering in the woods this month and sometimes much earlier.
The glossy, dark green, heart-shaped leaves of the Cuckoo-pint or Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) may also be spotted in February but the flowers appear later, from April onwards.
The one thing to be sure of this month is that the weather will be unpredictable. Frosts and cutting winds will setback any of the more tender plants but there are some flowers that can take this in their stride.
The beautiful white blossom of Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) appears in hedgerows in March and it is the first really noticeable sign that spring has arrived. Although similar in appearance to the Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Blackthorn flowers appear before the leaves.
Hawthorn flowers later in spring and has leaves before flowers. Don’t forget to make a note of where the blackthorn is for future gathering of a few sloes!
The pretty flowers of the Wild Daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus), Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa) and Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) are a welcome sight in March woodlands. Unfortunately March also heralds the arrival of the Danish Scurvy Grass (Cochlearia danica) which appears like drifts of snow along roadsides and motorway verges, and, the Hairy Bitter Cress (Cardamine hirsuta) – an unwelcome weed in many gardens.
April can be a month of extremes. It is not uncommon to have bright, warm sunshine one day and frost and snow the next. This seems to suit the Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) which carpets the road side and lanes and is hugely important for bees of all kinds that are starting to grow their colonies.
Reliable sources of pollen and nectar plants become more widespread in April. The White Dead Nettle (Lamium album) and Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) appear in the hedge bottoms.
Other flowers to be found in April are Lady’s Smock (Cardamine pratensis), Field Pansy (Viola arvensis) and Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris). In the woodland edges are Common Dog Violets (Viola riviniana), Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys), Cowslips (Primula veris), Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella), Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula) and, of course, carpets of Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta).
It is rare to have a really hard frost in May and the variety of less hardy plants is increasing. This month finds the air full of the perfume of Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), alternatively called May Blossom – for obvious reasons.
Common Buttercups (Ranunculus acris), Yellow Flag Iris (Iris pseudacorus) and Snake’s-Head Fritillary (Fritillaria Meleagris) are springing up in damp meadows and watersides. Woodland margins are colonised by the Ox-eye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum) and Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris).
Fumitory (Fumaria officinalis), Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) and Bird’s-Foot-Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) can be seen around fields, in drier grassland and in wildflower meadows.
This month sees the British flora at its best and most diverse. There are too many species blooming in June to list here and many are replacing or out-competing those that have gone before.
The Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) flowers all summer in fields and hedgerows along with Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) and Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis).
Saint John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) find a niche in the verges when they are not swamped by Goose Grass (Galium aparine), Common Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) or the more delicate looking but equally vigorous Hedge Parsley (Torilis japonica) which has replaced the earlier flowering Cow Parsley.
Common Spotted Orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) are appearing with other orchids in the meadowland, while Rosebay Willow-herb (Epilobium angustifolium) can be found in large stands alongside paths and railways.
Usually warm and moist, July provides almost perfect weather for wildflowers to proliferate. Many of the flowers of previous months continue to be in full bloom this month, joined by Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum), Bee Orchids (Ophrys apifera) and Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum).
The warmest month of the year, often the driest and usually the best time for ‘Haymaking’ as the grasses are full of goodness.
Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) has been flowering on wasteland and pastures since June but is at its best this month. Great Willow Herb (Epilobium hirsutum) will be in full flower, towering over lesser herbs and the remaining umbellifers, while Silverweed (Potentilla anserina) is flowering on wayside verges.
Ling (Calluna vulgaris) begins to flower, marking the end of the summer holidays, and coating the moors with pinks and purples.
September is often dry and warm – with the potential for a so-called ‘Indian Summer’ – this month sees many wildflowers setting seeds but, the late flowering Bell Heather (Erica cinerea) joins the Ling this month on moorlands and is even more attractive to bees.
Sunspurge (Euphorbia helioscopia) is more noticeable at this time of year, although it has been flowering since May. Meadow Cranesbill (Geranium pratense) has been flowering prolifically since June but on a warm day watch closely to see its seed being catapulted as far as two metres away from the parent plant!
In October, November and December few plants actually begin flowering although many flowers may persist from more hardy plants.
Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica), Red Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum) and Sow Thistles (Sonchus oleraceus) are common sights. The Spear Thistle (Cirsium vulgare) is still producing nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies still on the wing, and will later in the year be visited by flocks of Goldfinches who adore the seeds.
The shorter days are often bright and dry giving a last opportunity for pollinating insects to visit any flowers that are still around.
Mouse-ear Hawkweed (Pilosella officinarum), Red Campion (Silene dioica) and White Campion (Silene latifolia) will still be in evidence and, the Primrose (Primula vulgaris) might throw out the odd experimental bloom this month.
While anyone deliberately searching for wildflowers this month needs to be of an optimistic frame of mind, it is surprising how often plants which normally flower in summer can still be found in sheltered spots or on south facing slopes. Typically, they are robust, hardy types and flowers such as Burdock (Arctium minus), Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense), Wild Thyme (Thymus serphyllum), Spring Sandwort (Minuartia verna), Common Mouse-ear (Cerastium fontanum) and even the Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) can be seen, at least until the weather becomes really harsh.
Even then, the flower that (although often unnoticed) really typifies the winter will still be in evidence: Ivy (Hedera helix) has been flowering unobtrusively since late September and is a prolific and very welcome source of nectar at this time of year for winter moths and any other insects still preparing for hibernation. When the black berries finally ripen, they are a welcome food source for birds and small mammals and will last well into Spring.
With over 1200 different species of flowering plant, the countryside of the British Isles does not lack for interest at any time of year. It is a wonderful experience to stand in one of our remaining wildflower meadows or walk the footpaths through woods and hedgerows in spring and summer. But, in the darker days of the year it can be just as rewarding to search out those hardier plants – as the discovery of a single, small blossom can give just as much pleasure.