by Alice Ashcroft, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust
Woodland wildflowers are synonymous with springtime, laying out a colourful welcome for a brand new season. Visit your local Wildlife Trust nature reserves and discover the spectacular range of wildflowers in your local area.
Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scriptus
Bluebells are one of Britain’s best-known wildflowers, famous for carpeting woodland floors in their distinctive shade of deep blue. Roydon Woods near Brockenhurst is an excellent place to see this springtime spectacle. Bluebells are renowned for their presence in woodlands because they persist even in dense shade (an environment in which most plants struggle), but they are not restricted to woodland habitats. This durable little plant can even be enjoyed from the M3! In William Turner’s New Herball, published in 1548, it is said that their small, white bulbs were used to make glue, and that the starch they contain was used to stiffen the elaborate ruffs worn by Elizabethan gentry. It is now illegal to dig up native bluebell bulbs in most circumstances, but the greater threat to the plant is the trampling of its leaves. Bluebells can survive without their flowers, but if their leaves are crushed they will die from lack of food.
Lords and Ladies, Arum maculatum
Lords and Ladies may have the raunchiest character of all woodland species. In the middle ages this flower was associated with love making, and its various local names often had sexual connotations – ‘silly lovers’ and ‘Adam and Eve’, to name but a few. The spadix (the cylindrical structure inside the outer leaf) emits a foul smell like rotting flesh, as well as a slight heat. This attracts flies, which crawl down the spathe (the large, outer sheath) and become trapped by the downwards pointing hairs on the spadix. Once trapped, they are resigned to a life of servitude, pollinating the flowers until they either die or make their escape when the spadix withers after pollination. This plant is not only a danger to flies, but can also be harmful to people – its shiny red berries are steeped in poison, and could be fatal if consumed by a child. Italian Lords and Ladies, a separate but closely related species, are nationally very rare, but they are locally abundant in the Undercliff near Ventnor on the Isle of Wight.
Primrose, Primula vulgaris
Primroses are often found in woodland clearings, and flower very early in the year – their name is thought to derive from the Latin for ‘first rose’ (prima rosa). The species name vulgaris means common, but the decline in quality of habitats such as woodlands and hedge banks has made this cheerful, yellow flower far less widespread than it used to be. Primroses were once thought to have medicinal uses, and can still be found in some herbal remedies. During the Middle Ages primrose roots were used to ease nervous headaches, and consuming the plant was thought to help cure gout and rheumatism.
Early Purple Orchid, Orchis mascula
For centuries, early purple orchids were associated with love and reproduction. The early Greek physician Dioscorides thought this plant to be prophetic, and declared its two root-tubers could determine the sex of a couple’s future children. Supposedly, if a man ate the larger tube, the couple would have sons; if a woman ate the smaller tube, they would be blessed with baby girls. Early purple orchids are widespread across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight and grow in abundance at many of our woodland nature reserves, particularly in sunny glades. They can be enjoyed at Noar Hill, a nature reserve near Selbourne renowned for its orchids and butterflies.
To find your nearest nature reserves, visit our website at www.hiwwt.org.uk