Spring Honours by Adrian Leighton
With Spring now firmly established, it is interesting to see which of the wild flowers we see around us are in contention for this year's Spring Flower of 2022. Previous winners have included Greater Stitchwort, Lords-and-Ladies and last year's winner Cuckooflower (Lady's Smock).
There seem to be two main contenders. An early contender who has continued to cheer our way in abundance is Lesser Celandine. This sunshine lover, Ficaria verna, who mopes on cloudy days, this year, has lined the towpath and the Field hedgerows with increased exuberance. Although in the past used as a herbal remedy, like all of the buttercup family, it is best feasted on with the eyes more than ingested or even handled, as in the raw state it contains a toxin. Over the seasons this little gem has greatly extended its range and now rightly stands as a number one contender for this year's honour.
However, a firm challenger, who has only shown in the last couple of weeks but with such gusto is Jack-by-the-hedge (Garlic Mustard). Lining stretches of the canal towpath and the Fields hedgerows the plant has really put on a show this year. This biennial plant spends its first year or "basal year" at ground level before bursting out in its second or "bolt year". It is a member of the Mustard family, Brassicaceae. The young leaves picked in the Autumn have long been used in salads and as a flavouring for fish. You can see them in full glory on the banks in the wooded area beyond Lock 1.
With these two main contended, I have almost overlooked a late challenger and it none other than last year's winner Lady's Smock (Cuckooflower). Now in flower in multiple places, a real show can be seen in the grassy patch where the daffodils have been, opposite the Green Lane turning. There were a few plants there last year but this year the whole area is covered. The term Cuckooflower comes from the fact that the flowers open at the same time of year as the cuckoos can be heard, except you don't hear many of them these days. Generally the plants likes damp places and can be seen lining the canal edge. Under the name of Milkmaid, traditionally, it is the county flower of Cheshire. The Orange-tip butterflies, which are our earliest to take to flight, feed on them. The males have the orange-tips to their wings,, while the females are mostly white with a black smudge on their top side. The underwing is a filigree of darker veins, good for camouflage.
Finally, I could not help noticing that the good old Dandelion is having a very good season this year. Whilst seen in flower throughout the year it is in the Spring that it provides much need food for early stirring insects. As we turn into summer Hawkweed and other lookalikes take over. So as an enthusiastic member of the DDL (Dandelion Defence League) I cannot overlook this stunning splash of sunshine.
So now to the crucial decision who is going to be this year's winner. And the winner issssssssssssssssss GARLIC MUSTARD. Or perhaps you think differently!
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