In some sheltered places Common Hazel trees can now be seen in flower, showing that spring is just around the corner. The yellow pendulous male catkins are conspicuous and are often present in high numbers. The small delicate red female flowers have to be searched for as tiny red tassels protruding from buds, often on the same twigs as the make catkins. When the yellow pollen is blown onto the female flowers, fertilisation will occur, resulting in Hazel nuts in the autumn, so loved by squirrels, mice, and some birds.
This persistent perennial may be found flowering between December and March. Unlike its near relative Butterbur, leaves are present during flowering, and persist throughout the winter. Winter Heliotrope, with its fragrant vanilla scent, is an introduced plant from North Africa, and it may be found on waste ground, along hedgerows, as well as on roadside verges as seen here.
This is a good time to look out for the berries of Spindle which occur infrequently in the Wyre area. In some hedgerows the pink fruits contrast in colour with red haws when they grow alongside. A close view will reveal the Spindles’s seeds in bright orange sheaths.
It was good to find Sneezewort flowering in a meadow near Button Oak recently. We don’t find this plant growing very often around Wyre. It grows in damp grasslands. The smell of the flowers is supposed to make you sneeze, although it was the roots that used to be collected to treat toothache apparently.
This is the smallest of the stitchworts. It is a delicate plant which likes growing in acid grassland and heathy places. In many of our Wyre meadows it can be seen growing on the anthills of the Yellow Meadow Ant (Lasius flavus) as seen here.
True Black Poplar trees are scarce nowadays but there are a few around Bewdley. They were once characteristic of river valleys like the Severn but their seed is hard to germinate and the timber is now longer required. At this time of year, before the leaves come out, the catkins of the male trees are easy to spot if you have the right tree.
One of the most important nectaring plants for insects in the early spring is the willow (Salix spp). Male catkins and female catkins are on separate trees. Although only the males produce pollen, but types of catkins produce nectar which are eagerly sought by a range of insects, especially when the sun in shining! The catkins are just stating to open now in sheltered places.
Rusty-back Fern Asplenium ceterach was found recently on the walls at Hole Farm, near Bewdley, where it was growing close to Wall-rue Asplenium ruta-muraria. They were both associated with the mortar in the wall as they like a calcareous substrate.
The Lily of the Valley plants in the Wyre Forest are in flower this week and are beautiful to see. There are large clumps in various parts of the main forest, but most of these are south of the Dowles Brook. They are also present in Ribbesford Wood and Rock Coppice. They are well adapted to a coppice cycle and reproduce vegetatively when light conditions are poor. Then, when trees are cut and light reaches them, they flower and produce their bright red berries.
The banks of the River Severn are colourful with flowers at present – comfrey, red Campion, Garlic Mustard, Cow Parsley and others. Much of the comfrey we see locally is Russian Comfrey Symphytum x uplandicum which is a hybrid between Common Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) and the introduced Rough Comfrey (Symphytum asperum).