Despite the oddness of the times, the seasons and months roll on. April once again this year has perhaps surprised us by its brightness. And the harbingers of brighter days have not disappointed us. Earlier in the year I featured the Lesser Celandines as sun-seekers. They certainly have not let us down, responding to the sunshine in their multitudes. Some of the bright yellow faces are now beginning to turn a little white with age – but then don't we all!
But now they have competition. The flowering of the undervalued Dandelion, Taraxacum. Most commonly regarded as a weed, this plant plays a vital part in providing early season food for many insects. A close look at the ones scattered along the path edge will see, bees, flies, hover-flies , beetles and many other insects enjoying a welcome feed. So what can we say about this much overlooked common resident. First is that there are 232 types of dandelion, although you need to be a specialist to distinguish them. It also goes by over 25othernames many of them French, although in English as Blowball, Cankerwort, Priest's Crown and Swine Snout.
They are now at there best and if you take a close look at the individual flowers you will observe a beautiful combination of texture and shape worthy of any prize bloom. (I measured one at 5cm across (2inches) the other day). They play a vital place in the eco-system of the wild, for as well as providing for pollinating insects they also provide a tasty treat for rabbits and other mammals.
Humans have also added the leaves to the gastronomic menu although with a bitter taste and in unapproved medicine for such things as upset stomach although there are severe risks of side-effects. But it is the sheer brightness at this time of year of limited colour that does most to lift our days.
Hard on the heels of the early risers now comes another of my favourite Springtime flowers. It is the Greater Stitchwort, Stellaria Holostea (now clarrified as Rabelera Holostea. In the last week I have seen the first of these flower but before long, if last Spring is anything to go by, our canal banks and hedgerows will be a carpet of white. The name Stellaria reeflects its star-like appearance giving rise the the alternative name Greater Starwort. The name Stitch was attached to it because in the past it was thought to cure a stitch in the side! It was also thought that picking the plant brought on thunderstorms. This plant has been called "one of our prettiest woodland and hedgerow Spring flowers" and is one to look out for in the coming days.
I can also tell you that Jack is back. That is Jack-by-the-hedge, Hedge Garlic or Garlic Mustard (Alliara Petiolata). This was prolific in our hedgerows last year and is set to repeat the show this year. It actually belongs to the Cabbage family. Its leaves, particularly when young, are good in salads being high in vitamin A. When crushed the hedges give off a mild garlic smell. It has a delightful white flower in clusters. Later in the year the seeds do a "ping" which probably gives rise to the Jack (as in Jack-in-the-box) connotation. It is another delight plant to look out for.
Month of hope and expectation formed of Easter thought
From hidden places winter borne fresh life is newly brought
The first light hints of colour shown in hedgerow and in field
We wait with bated breath to see your fullness soon to yield.
Yet sunshine flower of Cellandine and Dandelion now catch the eye
The food for the soul and food to rouse the bee and hover fly.
As day by day blossom and bud from nature's lockdown released
As we ourselves in strange and familiar ways our daily life can feast.
In heart and mind our praises rise as April soon its course is run,
And thanks that life continuing still through wind and rain and sun