Woodland Wonders: March
By Katie Stevens
Hello, and welcome to the March edition of the Woodland Wonders blog. March has flown by, with the first ‘official’ day of spring, the 20th, living up to its name last weekend when beautiful sunshine was seen across the country. The early signs of spring have been flourishing all over the country over the past few weeks – popping up here and there, in gardens and woodlands alike.
The most iconic sign of spring is the Daffodil (Narcissus spp). The national flower of Wales and a symbol of new beginnings, the only species native to Britain is known as the ‘Lent’ or ‘Easter Lily’ (Narcissus pseudonarcissus), as most other species originate from North Africa and South Europe. Truly wild daffodils are found in damp woodlands, fields and grasslands. They have a bright golden yellow central tube, pale yellow/grey petals and are much smaller than the typical garden variety.
Another common (but less talked about) wildflower is the Sweet Violet (Viola odorata). Naturalised across the UK, it is found in broadleaved woodlands, on banks and under hedgerows. This gorgeous little flower can vary in colour, though is primarily blue, purple or white, and it has two pairs of unequal petals and one single petal lower down. The deep green leaves are heart-shaped and enlarge as the plant continues to flower. Sweet Violets are edible and can be candied to decorate cakes. In fact, over recent years, they have become increasingly rare due to foraging for culinary purposes. This has a big impact on early spring butterflies, such as Brimstone, Orange-tip and the Large and Small White butterfly, as Sweet Violets provide essential nectar for these insects. So, for this plant, I would encourage you to look, but please don’t touch!
With the winter fungi slowly decaying, the season for one fungi is just beginning: the common morel (Morchella vulgaris). Morels are found in broadleaved woodlands, particularly in chalky ash or elm woods, woodland clearings or pastures. Morel caps have a dark brown, honeycomb, shrivelled appearance, very global in shape with a creamy-white stem. Although very common, they only appear for a few days before decaying, so you’re very lucky if you see one on your woodland walks!
Brimstone butterfly on a Sweet Violet
Although many trees are currently dormant, some tree and hedge species are ‘waking up’ at this time of year. Spindle (Euonymus europaeus) is flushing its bright green buds, with some Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) and Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris) trees and hedges already blossoming. These three species all produce delicate white flowers, with Crab Apple having a pinkish tinge to the petals. These flowers provide nourishment for over 150 different insect species (such as earwigs and bees) in early spring. Although more obvious in gardens or domestic situations, Cherry trees (Prunus spp) are blossoming in all their glory. Not typically a long-term tree species for woodland planting, Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) and Bird Cherry (Prunus padus) are used when establishing new woodlands, so if you are visiting younger woods, be sure to look out for white blossoms.
With lockdown restrictions gradually relaxing and weather improving, I think there is nothing better than a good ol’ walk! Keeping up to date with the current guidelines, visit your closest wood or general open space – even walking through a field, you can see so much wildlife. Try to see if you can spot the difference between our native daffodil and other species. Listen out for the bird calls, in particular, the Chiff Chaff – a nimble bird whose song sounds like its name. Have a listen by clicking here then keep your ears tuned for the sound when you’re out and about. Keep an eye out for hedgerow blossoms and see which insects are having a feast.
I’ll see you next month for our April edition, when everyone’s favourite woodland flower, Bluebells, are out in abundance, and most trees are beginning to show their leaves.