I guess you’ll have recognised this flower straight away – and maybe you call it by its other common name, cow parsley. I prefer the lace one as I feel it fits the beautifully delicate and intricate flowers so well.
What is surprising is the large number of other common names it’s had over the centuries: fairy lace and spanish lace are understandable, kecksie and Grandpa’s pepper seem somewhat odd, but rabbit meat and step-mother are just plain weird! It was also referred to as ‘mother die’ and it’s thought this was to frighten children away from picking it so they didn’t pick the poisonous hemlock by mistake. Hemlock has purple-coloured spots on its stem which is also solid not hollow, otherwise it looks very similar to Queen Anne’s lace to the non-expert eye.
Queen Anne’s lace is related to carrot, celery and parsley – all are members of a family of plants called umbellifers. In past times, if you had stomach or kidney problems, breathing difficulties or a cold, you’d have been given remedies containing Queen Anne’s lace as an ingredient. It’s also been used as an insect repellent but, in seemingly complete contrast, has also been used to sweeten puddings and other foods as its tap root contains a lot of natural sugar. Crush the leaves between your fingers, and the fragrance of aniseed hits the nostrils.
It’s easy to dismiss this plant as unremarkable simply because it’s so common and grows everywhere from roadside verges and edges of playing fields to gardens and nature reserves. But it has great wildlife value as it feeds so many insects thanks to the large number of flowers on each plant and its sheer abundance.
And when you see a long swathe of it flowering during May alongside a road, looking like the frothy crest of a wave about to crash down onto the passing cars, how can your heart not be gladdened by the sight of it?
Swathe of Queen Anne’s lace alongside Thames & Severn Canal (credit C Aistrop)
Queen Anne’s lace & flag iris in Thames & Severn canal (credit C Aistrop)
Queen Anne’s lace alongside country road (credit Alkemade on Pixabay)
Yes, I know what you’re thinking – it’s blue. So why is it called green alkanet? The second part of its scientific, latin, name (Pentaglottis sempervirens) means ‘always alive’ or evergreen, possibly because the leaves start to appear in late winter or early spring, adding a splash of green to the last grey tendrils of winter. Plus the plant hangs around until well into the summer, so quite a while even though it’s not technically evergreen. Another common name for this flower is ‘evergreen alkanet’.
Cockchafer, May bug, spang beetle and Billy witch are all names for what used to be a common sight at this time of year. pening the curtains and switching on the living room lights after dusk to attract the cockchafers was wildlife watching made easy. But sadly, they haven’t appeared for many years now.
English v Spanish: the native, English bluebell is on the right, and the Spanish one on the left
The bluebell wood is a phenomenon particular to Britain – believe it or not, 80% of all the world’s bluebell woods are found in the UK! The sight of the glorious violet-bluey haze which carpets many woodlands (especially beech woods) begins in late April and lasts until late-May depending upon where you live. The flowering season starts earlier in Cornwall and gradually spreads up the country with Scotland’s flowers being last to the floral party.
I guess it’s a safe bet that you know what bumblebees look like and you’ve probably seen them cruising around flowers if you’ve a garden and, like me, you’ve been outside impersonating a lizard by basking in the recent, lovely sunny weather.
If I asked you what bees are vital for pollinating a third of our food crops and most of the UK’s flowers, I’m sure you’d say the bumblebee and honeybee. However, they’re not the only ones – there are around 270 types of bee in the UK and one of these is almost 200% more efficient at pollinating flowers than even the honey bee.
Here’s a flower that doesn’t know what it wants to be – so it’s both! It’s name comes from its edible leaves which taste both of garlic and mustard (weirdly!) and it’s been used as a flavouring for centuries. In fact it’s one of the oldest culinary ingredients used around Europe: some tiny remains of this plant have been found in pottery dating back thousands of years ago in what we now call Denmark and north-eastern Germany. Wow – that fact blows me away and I look at this plant with a new fascination.
OK, so we’re in lockdown right now but the sun is shining and the silver lining to the current situation is that’s co-incided exactly with when nature hits the accelerator pedal – forget June busting out all over, from now to mid May is when nature goes from dormant to wide awake. So for the next few weeks, I thought I’d focus this blog on some of the wild flowers, birds and animals that you may see when you go out for your ‘once- a-day-for-exercise’ walks, or even see in your back garden, to help answer those ‘I wonder what that is?’ questions.
Coaley Peak viewpoint and picnic site is one of my favourite wild places around Stroud and most evenings it offers an added bonus – a wonderful cooling breeze blowing off the Severn Estuary. After another day of delightfully hot weather (I’ve vowed not to complain about the present heatwave given how much English people moan when it’s raining, cold and generally miserable), an evening’s stroll here not only offers a wildflower spectacle but also the opportunity to cool down and take in an impressive view and sunset. There are picnic benches dotted around the meadow, and my family has enjoyed evening picnics there – much cooler than a lunchtime one as some of the benches are in shade from early evening onwards. This keeps my husband and daughter happy as they dislike strong sunlight (I sometimes wonder if I’m living with vampires, though I haven’t noticed them staring intently at my neck yet).
Daneway Banks near Frampton Mansell offers the ideal wildlife watching experience – flowers galore, beautiful views, butterflies galore and a fabulous pub. Yep, once more I’ve managed to mix wildlife watching with a pub stop. Do you notice a pattern here? I don’t know whether or not it reveals more about the character of naturalists than about wildlife but there always seem to be good pubs in the vicinity of nature reserves. Well, all this surveying and watching wildlife builds up a thirst so we need somewhere to quench that thirst, of course!
It’s the last flourish of orchids right now and Rudge Hill near Painswick is an ideal place to enjoy this. The flowers of fragrant orchids and common spotted orchids were starting to finish when I visited the site the other day, but pyramidal orchids are in their prime and looking sooo perky. It’s also peak time for meadow flowers and there are more flowers than you can shake a stick at showing themselves off in the sun with the accompanying butterflies dancing around. Added to all this is a fantastic 180 degree view from the top, taking in Painswick, the church, Sheepscombe and into the distance along the Painswick valley. It’s such a sublime site, especially on a sunny day, that I dare you to not to break into a ‘Sound of Music’ moment: you know the one – the opening scene where Julie Andrews runs through the meadow on the mountainside, arms outstretched singing ‘The hills are alive….’. And then you can recover your composure in the fabulous Edgemoor Inn just across the road. So this is 4 star wildlife watching! Continue reading “Rudge Hill – can you resist a ‘Sound of Music’ moment?”→