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Wildflowers are beautiful and important elements of a complex woodland habitat.
Wildflowers in woodland
In spring, woods are a delight to visit. Some produce spectacular displays of spring flowers, carpets of bluebells, and bursts of wood anemones and celandines. Some wildflowers are ancient woodland indicators because they are slow to spread to new areas.
They form an intrinsic part of a woodland ecosystem, but low light levels can be a challenge for many species. Many plants on the woodland floor flower early in the year to capture the sun’s energy, while the leaves are not yet on the trees.
Here are some more common wildflowers you may encounter in your local wood throughout the seasons.
Winter (December- February)
This is the coldest season which makes it difficult for most species to grow, but a few are tough enough to be the first flowers of the year. A much anticipated sight in the winter months is snowdrop. It flowers from January to March.
Lesser celandine is a characteristic early flower of woodlands. It is a member of the buttercup family, and is not closely related to the greater celandine (poppy family). The shiny star-like flowers can cover woodland floors with a carpet of gold between January and May.
In the depths of winter, the greenery and white berries of mistletoe is a welcome sign of life. This parasitic plant is partial to growing on trees in the rose family. Common hosts include hawthorn, blackthorn and rowan, as well as lime and poplar. It flowers between February and April, and its berries appear in winter.
Primrose and dog’s mercury are both found in woodland clearings, and are early to flower between late December and May.
As the days warm many more plants join the early pioneers and make an incredible display of life and colour in our spring woods. The vibrant blue flowers of bluebell are a sure sign that spring has arrived. They carpet native woodland floors throughout the UK between April and late May.
Often arriving with the bluebell, the purple-pink flowers of early purple orchid are a handsome sight. One of the earliest orchids to bloom, look out for its flowers between April and June.
Other woodland plants that put early spring displays are wood anemone, common dog violet, red campion, wood-sorrel, ramsons, garlic mustard, lords-and-ladies, yellow archangel, and early purple orchid.
Late spring flowering plants include bugle, wild strawberry, herb Robert, pignut, lesser stitchwort, common nettle and foxglove.
By now the leaves are on the trees and the canopy casts more shade onto the woodland floor, but woodland edges, rides and glades can offer more light.
As days grow colder and shorter, the number of plants starts to dwindle and the leaves take on their autumn hues before falling from the trees. Some summer flowering plants continue to bloom throughout autumn, such as common dog violet and honeysuckle.
Ivy flowers between September and November. Its umbel shaped inflorescence late the season makes it a valuable source of nectar for many insects before they hibernate.