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. 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 – bluebells can even be enjoyed from the M3! 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.
Common Dog Violets, Viola riviniana
The reason common dog violets suffer their rather derogatory name is because they were long considered an inferior counterpart to other related plants – sweet violets, for instance, produce a beautiful fragrance, while common dog violets are scentless. They do, however, attract a myriad of butterflies. Silver-washed fritillaries are particularly fond of common dog violets, as the leaves are ideal places for them to lay their eggs. They create a striking picture as they flit from plant to plant. Common dog violets like broken ground and lots of light; they can explode in numbers in coppiced woodland. If you’re hoping to see them this spring, Pamber Forest nature reserve near Basingstoke is a great place to start.
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. Primrose plants grow two kinds of flower, and in order for the plant to become pollinated and produce the sticky seeds it needs to reproduce, pollen from one kind must be transferred to the other.
Early Purple Orchid, Orchis mascula
For centuries, early purple orchids have been associated with love and reproduction. The early Greek physician Dioscorides thought this plant to be prophetic, and declared it 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 also be enjoyed at Noar Hill near Selbourne.