Nature at Home: Identifying and Enjoying Flowers

Recognising something is a way to enjoy it more, which is certainly true for plants. Finding your way into the greenery delivers more texture and detail, which leads to more enjoyment and understanding. This post is about highlighting a few of the flowering plants you might see this spring.

Woodland carpets

Before the trees regain all their leaves, the woodland floor comes alive. Bluebells are famed for their beautiful displays, and there are other swathes of colour to behold as the season progresses. At the beginning of the lockdown the dog violet, with its purple flowers peeping out between the leaves, carpeted woodland floors. Lesser celandine provided a bright yellow delight. Forget-me-nots offer another shade of blue and are appearing in cracks of pavements as well as wooded areas.

Bluebells © Sarah Wilson on smartphone.
Bluebells © Sarah Wilson
Common dog-violet (Viola riviniana) with purple flowers and heart-shaped small leaves, seen among the larger spotted leaves of lords and ladies (Arum maculatum).

Common dog-violet (Viola riviniana) with purple flowers and heart-shaped small leaves, seen among the larger spotted leaves of lords and ladies (Arum maculatum).
Lesser celandine © Kerrie Curzon.
Lesser celandine © Kerrie Curzon
Lesser celandine close-up © Lee Ismail.
Lesser celandine close-up © Lee Ismail
Forget-me-nots © Kerrie Curzon.
Forget-me-nots © Kerrie Curzon

The grass might well be greener

For those of you with gardens, or visiting parks, you may want to take a minute to consider grass. It is usually kept short and neat as this is good for sitting or playing games on. In my opinion, it is much harder to identify but you can still enjoy the variety in meadows where it grows longer. Grasses come into flower at different times of the year, grow to different heights and even the leaf shape varies, so there will always be something different to see. As well as grasses, meadows support a whole range of wildflowers, and because of this a huge variety of insects and other invertebrates, as well as birds, mammals and reptiles. Grasses also have excellent Latin names, which, if nothing else, are fun to call out while standing in a meadow. Admittedly, the last time I did this, I was on a field trip studying plants, but to share just a few: Alopecurus pratensis, Festuca ovina, Nardus stricta and one of the best Deschampsia flexuosa.

Grasses in a meadow © Lee Ismail.
Grasses in a meadow © Lee Ismail

Getting to know you

Flowers often have more than one common name. Formally known as Lotus corniculatus, this bright yellow flower is a member of the pea family, giving it readily recognisable flowers. It is also known as birds-foot trefoil, which describes the shape of the seed pods. Another of its many names is bacon-and-eggs, due to its colouration, which is yellow with patches of red.

Lotus corniculatus © Lee Ismail.
Lotus corniculatus © Lee Ismail

Gorse (Ulex europaeus) is so often in flower, it has its own phrase:when gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of fashion’. Gorse flowers have a wonderful coconut fragrance but be careful of the spikes when you lean in to sniff it. It’s another member of the pea family, so you might be able to recognise the flower shape. It also makes great habitat and linnets and other small birds can often be seen perched at the top. Gorse is also known as furze, which you may have heard of.

Gorse © Lee Ismail.
Gorse © Lee Ismail

Not what they seem

As well as many seemingly serene flowering plants, there are also poisonous plants and meat-eating plants, here in the UK.

Lords and ladies (also known as cuckoo pint and many other common names) has bright red berries, which are poisonous to humans. In the flowering stage this plant actually gives off heat to attract and trap insects for pollination. Sundew may sound like a lovely name, but it’s a very small plant that catches flies in it’s sticky ‘dew’ and consumes them to gain nutrients.

Lords and ladies © Sarah Wilson.
Lords and ladies © Sarah Wilson

Plants are often overlooked but not only do they take up carbon dioxide and provide us with the oxygen we breathe, they are interesting in their own right and provide the basis for other life. They provide food and habitat for many other organisms, not only animals, but fungi and other plants too. There may also be surprising details to learn about their appearance if you stop and look and much more to uncover in their names and functions.

Discover More

Have a look at the previous posts in the Nature at Home series to help with insect identification. Look out for upcoming posts for more details on flowers and trees.

The Field Studies Council (FSC) has excellent guides for trees and other plants, which are often very easy to use.

The Woodland Trust produce handy swatches:

Wildflower swatch

Rewild Yourself: Making Nature More Visible in our Lives, by Simon Barnes

Kerrie Curzon, Collections Assistant

2 Responses

  1. Joan MacGregor

    One of the ‘fun’ aspects of identifying wild flowers is the different, but broadly similar, species within a family, and telling them apart e.g. there are several different species of forget-me-nots, and violets. With violets there are differences in the shape and colour of the spur at the back of the flower which help with separating Early dog-violet (V. reichenbachiana) from Common dog-violet. Sweet violets (V. odorata) have flowering stems that grow straight from a common base and not on branching stems. It’s easier to see this than to get down to ground level to try to detect any scent!

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