When you're walking the dog or taking a lunchtime nature stroll it can be easy to ignore the many hundreds of plants around us and below our feet. Here are just five, easy-to-identify plants, plus a special foraging feature! Which of these have you already spotted this month?
Humble. Plain. Overlooked. Yet it sweeps over the woodland floor every spring and is a badass ancient woodland indicator plant. As you'd guess by the name, it is poisonous not only to dogs but to many animals. The name actually refers to it looking similar to, but 'lesser than' plants in the mercury family.
Ancient woodland is one of our rarest habitats. On your next woodland wander look out for dog's mercury as well as other ancient woodland indicator plants such as bluebell, primrose and wood anenome. Together, they show that a wood has been long-established and undisturbed by human development.
Good old Rob is a resilient chap and very amenable, not very fussy about where he grows. Be dazzled by his hot pink geranium-like flowers creeping low to the ground just about anywhere - from woodlands to pavement cracks. He quite likes hanging out in darker spots, but when he finds himself in full sun, the sunshine dyes his stems a sexy crimson red!
Herb-robert is a food plant of bees, hoverflies and especially the barred carpet moth. Many of these insects will pollinate him, but if none are available then he can actually pollinate himself. Cheeky Rob.
Every spring, these little stunners poke their faces out from the bottom of hedgerows and this cheers me up to no end. In case you haven't noticed them on your walks, look for dainty white star-shaped flowers and lean in a little closer - they have five deeply-grooved petals with sunshine yellow stamens.
In folklore, some say that if you pick greater stitchwort you will cause a thunderstorm! And in Cornwall, it was believed that the plant was the property of pixies 🧝🏼 and picking it would anger them - so much so they could use their magic to enchant you.
Tall, lean, grows at lightening speed. They seem to appear along woodland edges, hedgerows, alleyways and road verges overnight! It was once nicknamed 'Queen Anne’s lace' as it was said to bloom for Queen Anne and her ladies in waiting, reflecting the kinky lace dresses they wore.
Cow parsley's flowers are umbels - clusters of flowers on stalks which come from a common centre. Its leaves are edible but I hiiighly recommend you don't try them - only because this plant has several poisonous relatives that can be easily mistaken. Once such cousin is hemlock, which can cause muscular paralysis, leading to respiratory failure and eventually death. Only a tiny amount of hemlock can prove fatal to a human.
I know I know - the flowers are blue so why is this not blue alkanet? Well to understand this forget-me-not faker we need to look at its scientific Latin name "sempervirens" which means "always alive" or "evergreen". It blooms along shady waysides and skulks in alleyways. It even sprouts in ditches and other damp areas. Then it dies down by late summer but it is always secretly lurking, spreading its looong tap root underground, ready for next spring. For that reason, many gardeners hate the stuff for spreading everywhere, but bees absolutely LOVE it.
FORAGING FEATURE OF THE MONTH 🤩
In May, the hawthorn bushes are in full bloom and oh myyy are they may-gnificent! It's no wonder that they are also known as the 'Mayflower'. At this time of year, the young leaves are full of scrummy green goodness, and the flower buds and flowers are also edible. What a treat! So funk up your salads, pimp your sauces, pop 'em in your sandwiches 🥪
Where to find hawthorn: it's very common in hedgerows, woodland and planted in gardens, parks and urban areas. The leaves are small, deeply-lobed with small, white flowers that have five petals. The flowers have a distinct almondy smell. If you're too boring to eat one, you at least have to lean in to give them a good whiff!