Wednesday, 22 March 2023

Early Spring in Cornwall 2023

 In a similar vein to 2022, it seems that Winter dragged on forever. Just when the weather turned mild and Spring plants began to appear, we had a prolonged cold spell in early March with some snow on higher ground, putting the plants back yet again.

However, we have now had a week of Atlantic air flow bringing wind, rain and above average temperatures to the peninsular and the flowers are now responding. The following plants are some of the more interesting plants of the season I've found so far, though I have included some Spring favourites too.


Springtime is the time for bulbs, from Daffodils to Snowdrops and a plethora of garden escapes like the one below. Summer Snowflake, so named because it was named in Sweden where these flower much later than in the UK. Whilst the flowers are attractive, you have to get underneath them to see the insides, so expect muddy knees when taking a photograph. I found these in flower at the end of February on a rural roadside verge.

Leucojum aestivum subsp pulchellum - Summer Snowflake

I'd never seen this type of plant before, though I quickly recognised it as a Geranium. Research and help from other botanists narrowed this down to be Rock Cranesbill, a garden escape growing wild.

Geranium macrorrhizum - Rock Cranesbill

Dandelion season is now upon us, when the fresh Spring grown leaves aid identification of this difficult group. A little known fact is that there are around 250 species of Dandelion in the UK alone. Nearly all of them produce clones and do not hybridise. It's called an apomictic species, with each group of plants  mutating over time to form a different species. Brambles and Hawkweeds are similar in being apomictic.

The Dandelion below keyed out to be Taraxacum prionum, however, the BSBI referee couldn't be absolutely certain due to the leaves not being mature enough. If I find time, I''ll go back and have another look.

If verified, the fern below would have been a first for me of Lanceolate Spleenwort, a rare fern that grows on Cornish walls and in coastal areas. It most likely is this species, but being a young plant, I cannot say for sure and nor can the experts! It had the right shaps and wasn't triangular in outline and the stipe was not black, so ruling out the similar Black Spleenwort.
Another plant to revisit at a later date when spores are present on the back of the pinnae perhaps.

Asplenium obovatum subsp lanceolatum - Lanceolate Spleenwort

This is one of the problems of botany in early Spring. Sometimes it's not possible to firmly say what a plant you've found is called. Still, I would rather look than stay indoors.

After searching out various Erica species last year, I realised there was one I had missed by referring to the amazinf Flora of Cornwall book that I own. It was Portuguese Heath, a naturalised garden escape that is infrequently found around the county. I had earmarked a site near Lanhydrock to go and see one, but I found the ones below first, saving me a visit. These were widespread around the cliffs at the back of Carlyon Bay near St. Austell and put on quite a show. I saw more by the side of the A391 climbing out of St Austell too. I'd not seen this species before, so they were nice finds for me.

Erica lusitanica - Portuguese Heath

By mid March, more flowers were coming out. On a short visit to Rock Dunes, I found carpets of flowering Sea Mouse-ear which are very recognisable by only having 4 petals. Confusion can arise as a (very) few may have 5 petals. The flowers are less than 10mm across and you can see grains of sand on the plant, it's so small.
Cerastium diffusum - Sea Mouse-ear

Another ephemeral plant that flowers for a short time in Spring then disappears is Common Whitlowgrass. These are very small and the flowers even smaller. Have a look below at the £1 coin I put in the photo for scale. However, they are a nice little plant and here they carpeted areas of compacted sand dune like snow. They are most commonly found as a street plant in pavement and wall cracks. Note that the leaves in the photos belong to another plant called Common Storksbill.

Erophila verna - Common Whitlowgrass

Below is another ephemeral species which will be a distant memory by the end of April, it's the Ivy-leaved Speedwell. The flowers are again very small and easy to miss among the carpet of pale green ivy shaped leaves. In places with more sunlight you get the blue pollen subspecies, hederifolia, and in shady places, subspecies lucorum, which has cream or white pollen is more commonly found.

Veronica hederifolia subspecies hederifolia - Ivy-leaved Speedwell

By mid March the Daffodils were in full flower. There are so many cultivated species of Narcissus that have been planted, dumped or self seeded in the wild that I didn't know how to recognise a truly Wild Daffodil, up until now. I applied myself to the books and also got some expert advice from what to look for. To make sure I got it right, I then went to a known site near Lanhydrock to check them out.
They really are delightful and far superior in my view to the garish creations of man that adorn road verges and gardens everywhere.

Narcissus pseudonarcissus ssp pseudonarcissus - Wild Daffodil 

To help you identify these, the photo below shows what to look for to separate these from the cultivars.

A couple of weeks had passed, so I tried my luck at naming a Dandelion again. It would be impossible without the BSB Dandelion Handbook and access to the referee (available only to BSBI members). Of course, you need lots more sharp macro photos than those below and measurements of various parts too, but it's fun working it out.

This striking Dandelion, verified by the referee, turned out to be:
Taraxacum britannicum - no common name

Below is a Butterbur spike by the roadside at Washaway Church. They look a bit like mini triffids and comprise of a flowering spike only. The leaves don't appear until later in the year. These flowers had almost gone over and the spikes were short as the verge had been mowed later than usual by the local council, damaging the emerging spikes. They only grow in very damp places, often in areas submerged in Winter that dry out in Spring. Here they grow in glorious road run off water that keeps the verge quite wet and muddy to walk on.

Petasites hybridus - Butterbur

I quite like Fumitories, although they can be challenging to sort to species and sub species levels. The most common here is Common Ramping Fumitory and it's just coming back into flower now in numbers. It's quite a large Fumitory with flowers around 12mm long, the top and side petals are black tipped and moderate sized sepals with ragged edges around the base area.

Fumaria muralis - Common Ramping Fumitory

My final plant highlighted for early Spring is the Sweet Violet. It's a lovely plant and comes in various colour forms, the usual being a deep purple. So it is always nice to find the variants and below is a white form. There are actually two white forms, one with tufts of hairs on the side petals like this one below and one without (var. imberbis).


Viola odorata var. dumetorum - Sweet Violet

 I hope you enjoyed the first blog of 2023 from me. Of course, I omitted lots of wildflowers coming out now, such as carpets of Lesser Celandines, Primroses and Greater Stichworts, all beginning to light up the road verges here in Cornwall. It's a similar story around the southern part of the UK so go out for a walk and see what you can find. Most of all, have fun looking and enjoy yourself.

Take care


@Botany2021 (Twitter)

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