Spring is definitely in motion!
Crocuses are popping up everywhere. The first cheerful daffodils have arrived. Day’s are noticeably lengthening. The dawn and dusk chorus is cranking up a gear. The buds of trees are beginning to swell and it won’t be long before they burst.
Last week especially, whilst working at Hawthorn Dene on the Durham Coast, there were further signs that spring has finally sprung.
First off, drifts of Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) were present…
One of the first wild flowers to appear, pushing their hardy heads above the earth (often through layers of snow, from which they get one of their more vivid local names – the ‘snow-piercer’), they are certainly a welcome sight, creating small carpets of white to brighten the woodland floor.
Sporting tiny, bell shaped flowers drooping in blossom, the snowdrop provides an early feast for bees which in turn pollinate the flowers.
The first signs of Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) were also evident…
For now, only their arrow shaped leaves are showing. The characteristic purple cylindrical flower-head of lords and ladies will not show until later in spring.
Interestingly, the roots of lords and ladies were once gathered for their high starch content, and in Elizabethan times this was used for stiffening the high, pleated, linen ruffs that were then fashionable!
Emerging Ramsons (Allium ursinum) were also in abundance, popping through here there and everywhere…
The name ‘ramsons’ is very similar to that used in Germany and some Scandanavian countries – rams – and is probably derived from an older word meaning ‘rank’. This refers to the strong odour of the plant, an unmistakable and pungent aroma with a distinct onion smell.
The species name ursinum is derived from the Latin ursus, meaning ‘a bear’. Some think that this refers to the shape of the leaves, supposedly resembling a bear’s ears; others suggest that it signifies inferiority to cultivated garlic – a garlic fit only for bears to eat. The chopped and cooked leaves are, however, often used to flavour dishes and sauces.
Another visible sign of spring were clusters of Dog’s Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)…
A common plant of ancient and deciduous woodlands, it is very tolerant of shade and often forms solid carpets. It is extremely poisonous and is named after Mercury, the Roman god of trade, its supposed discoverer.
And another wild flower on show, Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)…
The heart-shaped leaves of this wild flower are distinctive, deeply cleft with blunt ends and growing on long stalks.
Often showering woodlands with a broad splash of gold in spring, at this stage we only spotted one flower in bloom, with its petals folded in against the dullness of the day.
William Wordsworth so admired this particular flower that he wrote a whole poem about it. It begins:
There is a flower, the lesser Celandine
That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain
And, the first moment that the sun may shine
Bright as the sun himself, ’tis out again!
The quintessential sign of the start of spring was spotting a beautiful Peacock butterfly.
There are few more poignant giveaways that the season is changing than seeing these fragile creatures on the wing again.
The peacock butterfly hibernates throughout winter, emerging during the first warm days of spring – usually early March.
The four false eyes on the peacock’s wings make it unmistakeable. Amazingly, it uses sound as well as its coloured false eyes to frighten away a predator such as a bird (as the predator approaches, the butterfly will open and close its wings rapidly, making a scraping noise as the wings rub together).
There can be no doubt that the natural world is reawakening after its cosy winter slumber…