Even supposedly ordinary plants, like ordinary birds, are exceptional if studied closely, as the Wild Cherry blossom, Hazel catkins and Teasel leaf shown here indicate. Yet too often what seems abundant is taken for granted, and there’s no guarantee that what’s abundant now will have that quality a century on.
Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) is not difficult to find, though there are a lot of non-native garden versions in our woodland as well, and catkins on Hazel (Corylus avellana) are among the earliest to appear, usually while we’re still in the grip of what passes for winter these days.
Both Wild Cherry and Hazel have a harvest for people and for birds or mammals – the Dormouse (Muscardinus arvellanarius) is best known for its liking for hazelnuts, though how often it gets a chance to eat them when there are legions of Grey Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) vacuuming everything up is debatable.
Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) is a commonplace plant on margins, in rough grassland and waste places and plays host to numerous invertebrates as well as providing Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) with welcome food. Much less easily found in many parts of the south, though still widespread, Wild Daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) suffer from lack of woodland management. They also suffer from the tendency some ill-informed people have to plant garden daffodils in clumsy clumps across the countryside, including in woodland. The wild ones cannot compete with their grosser cousins.
Surveys in 2005 revealed that a number of familiar woodland plants are not doing that well, including recognised ancient woodland indicators Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon) and Primrose (Primula vulgaris).
The issue of too much shade through lack of management can be compounded by the effects of nutrients where intensive agriculture is close to woodland, encouraging such plants as Nettles (Urtica sp) and Cleavers (Galium aparine). According to the Woodland Trust, attempting a sudden fix by opening up the woods without a change in local agricultural methods might merely exacerbate the problems already there.
One plant that has increased recently is the Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa). The flowers are one of the countryside’s finest sights in the spring, the white of the bloom contrasting with the rich green of the foliage and the various hues of the accompanying trees.
Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) are not in danger either, and while we have few areas to compete with those in the north-west United States, where the plant has seized its adopted home and made the place its own, there can be great shows. Stately is the only word to describe these one- or two-metre giants.
The Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula) is one of the commonest of all orchids. Open woodland suits it perfectly, but the plants can provide a dashing burst of colour (and an unpleasant cat-like smell) on banks or scrubby grassland as well. Ramsons or Wood Garlic (Attium ursinum) also send out an aroma every spring, and not one appreciated by everyone, but the sight of a damp woodland floor virtually covered in these striking plants is unforgettable.
Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) is a woody climber but rarely dominates its host as much as the one in the picture, which is almost as thick as the Hazel it is on. Honeysuckle is the foodplant of the White Admiral (Ladoga camilla) butterfly.
Spindles (Euonymus europaeus), always easy to spot because of their green bark, are nothing like so common as Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) but their coral-pink berries with bright orange seeds provide a perfect counterpoint to the latter species.
Images © Jeremy Early. All rights reserved.