Determination. Persistence. Resistance. Constancy.
Humans have cleared the land of ‘weeds’; laid a gravel path edged with a concrete strip; planted a bed of ornamental shrubs (many of which have died); and mulched that garden bed with metal chips yet, in spite of all that destruction of its habitat, this little Colt’s-foot (Tussilago farfara) has managed to push through and begin to flower.
I went for a lovely long walk around parts of Cardiff Bay yesterday and it was sunny and warm, so warm that I had to strip off my scarf and the thin jumper I was wearing over my t-shirt and under my fleece. Spring was definitely in the air and, on my return walk home, I discovered I wasn’t the only one to be feeling the temperature change. These crocuses were putting on a glorious display in the churchyard of St Augustine’s and in the small grassy area just down the hill from the church. Beautiful!
Yellow is the colour of happiness, optimism, enlightenment, creativity, hope, cheerfulness, sunshine … and the quintessential colour of Spring.
Yellow is also the most luminous in the colour spectrum – the colour that most easily catches the human eye but, more importantly, the eyes of bees, so it’s no surprise that yellow is the most common flower colour. Here in Wales, after experiencing only my second British winter in thirty-odd years, I have been delighted by the coming of Spring, and both charmed and uplifted by the yellow wildflowers everywhere. First came the Dandelion and Daffodil, the Lesser celandine and the paler shade of the Primrose and, in boggy places, the Marsh marigold.
Now, as spring becomes summer, the succession of yellow continues with fields and meadows carpeted in yellow. We have the many varieties of Buttercup, vibrant Bird’s foot trefoil and Yellow archangel, the Dandelion look-alike Cat’s ear and Nipplewort, and in boggy places, Yellow flag iris. It is truly glorious.
I am fortunate to have a magnificent location for wildflowers just a short walk from where I live. Cathays Cemetery’s 110-acre grounds have remained largely undisturbed since the cemetery closed to new burials about 35 years ago so it has the perfect habitat for wild plants to thrive… as long as the mowers and strimmers aren’t used too often.
There are native Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) though many of the Spanish variety have also been planted here. The Bulbous buttercups (Ranunculus bulbosus) are always cheerful, as is the Cuckooflower or Lady’s smock (Cardamine pratensis). They may be common but I’m a big fan of the Daisy (Bellis perennis) and the Dandelion in its many forms (Taraxacum officinale agg.). Dog violets (Viola riviniana) and Germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) give pretty bursts of blue and lilac, and Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) add its special touch of pink. Though now past their best, Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) and Primrose (Primula vulgaris) are both still flowering, while the Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is just beginning to bloom. Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is abundant, as is Wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca). And the last flower I couldn’t identify, so if anyone can help with that, I’d be grateful.
I saw my first wood anemones for this spring last weekend, dotted about the Nant Fawr woodland here in Cardiff, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I saw these wonderful lush displays in Cathays Cemetery. The wood anemone (‘) is often to be found in the older graveyards throughout the British Isles, as well as in parks, gardens and ancient woodland. Its gorgeous white flowers, usually blooming from March through to May, have been likened by some to a late fall of snow blanketing the ground but, to my somewhat vivid imagination, it seems rather that the stars of the Milky Way have fallen to earth.
The wonderfully informative Plantlife website gives some interesting nuggets of information about this springtime favourite: it symbolises expectation, brevity and forlornness, and, in China, the flower’s pale, somewhat ghostly appearance has earned it the name ‘Flower of Death’. It is also the county flower of Middlesex.
I also discovered yesterday that the flowers of the wood anemone, though poisonous to humans, are favourites of hoverflies – in my ignorance I thought they were bees – and I got photos of 3 different species feasting on their pollen (but I’m saving those for a future blog.)
Yellow is the colour of happiness, optimism, enlightenment, creativity, hope, cheerfulness, and sunshine. Yellow is also the most luminous in the colour spectrum – the colour that most easily catches our eye and the eyes of bees so it’s no surprise that yellow is the most common flower colour, and the quintessential colour of Spring.
One of the wonderfully vibrant plants whose flowers have been catching my eye over the past couple of weeks is the Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris). As its name implies, this wildflower likes the dampness of marshes, fens, ditches and the wetter areas of my local woodlands. According to Wikipedia, it ‘is probably one of the most ancient native plants, surviving the glaciations and flourishing after the last retreat of the ice in a landscape inundated with glacial meltwaters.’
The Marsh marigold is commonly known as Kingcup – its Latin name Caltha comes from the Greek word for goblet and its large golden cup-shaped flowers certainly look glorious enough to adorn the table of a king.
Mention gorse to a farmer in New Zealand and he’ll curse and swear and grab the nearest strong weed-killer. It’s considered the country’s worst agricultural weed, and millions of dollars have been spent trying to eradicate it. Obviously, then, it is not a New Zealand native but was introduced in the very early days of colonial settlement for use as hedges and windbreaks. Little did those early settlers realise how invasive the plant would become in New Zealand’s temperate climate or how much angst they would cause their descendants.
So, you will, I hope, forgive me for not waxing lyrical about the joys of gorse in my newly adopted country of Wales. Yes, I recognise it has a very pretty flower, and I also acknowledge that it is a useful source of pollen when very few other plants are flowering. Apparently, the scent of its flowers reminds people of the smell of coconut – I admit I haven’t given them the sniff test. And I have read that gorse provides shelter and a good nesting habitat for a range of birds, including the stonechat, yellowhammer and linnet. But, in this instance, I just can’t set my heritage aside – to my eye, it’s a weed, and always will be!
I saw my first coltsfoot in bloom this week. Though it looks a little like a dandelion, coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) is actually a member of the sunflower family. It is favoured by herbalists as its leaves and flowers apparently make an effective cough remedy – the scientific name tussilago comes from the Latin tussis, which means cough, and ago, which means to act on. However, coltsfoot has been found to cause problems with the liver so long-term constant use is probably not wise.
This is another wildflower with a multitude of common names including, not surprisingly, coughwort, but also tash plant, ass’s foot, bull’s foot, foal’s foot, foalswort, and horse foot. Apparently, all those references to ‘foot’ result from the fact that the leaves are a similar shape to animal hooves, though I haven’t yet seen the leaves myself – they don’t appear until the flower has set its seed.
In Britain, there is also a confection called Coltsfoot Rock, made exclusively by Stockley’s Sweets, in Oswaldtwistle, in Lancashire. Though its exact recipe is secret, this rock candy is flavoured using the leaves of coltsfoot. I wonder if any of my readers can tell us what it tastes like.