My favourite was entitled “Spring Flowers of the Woods”. To start, I relished the beautiful hand-painted illustrations, and, later, when I read that the woods were full of flowers in spring BECAUSE leaves were off the trees – allowing light for the flowers to open and the pollinators to amble in – it was my first glimmer of ecology, and the entangled ways of nature. I came to recognise and seek those exquisite, archetypal spring flowers such as primrose, wood anemone, wood sorrel, mercury and violet.
Today in Five Mile Wood, on a damp and overcast day, I greeted some of them. In the broad strip of mixed broadleaved and conifer woodland to the south, violets a-plenty sprinkled themselves over the dead leaves of birch and beech, grow on old stumps and under windthrown trunks. Sometimes they congregate with Wood Sorrel, whose edible, trifoliate leaves which drape from their stems, and finely-veined, nodding white flowers are one of the (many) most beautiful things on earth. Wood Sorrel grows here only in scattered communities. I have the impression these colonies are networking towards each other, perhaps via the hidden telegraph of soil-fungal communication.
I have not yet found Wood Anemone there, which is surprising, but intriguingly, there is the merest germ of a bluebell wood, if you know where to look, and they are beginning to flower. Bluebells are said to be a sign of ancient woodland (which Five Mile probably isn’t) or at least a settled woodland ecology. I do not wish to unsettle them!
As the ground rises, that ecology morphs into something more akin to acid heath (there are certainly signs that at least part of the central area once held deep peat, signifying raised bog, perhaps). Two flowers in this habitat – not stars of “Spring Flowers of the Woods” – gave me great pleasure. One was the blaeberries that line the paths and snuggle up to trees here. They are now in hard-to-spot flower. Tiny, beautiful dull reddish bellflowers (look closely!) which will turn into the fruit of this our native blueberry and provide good walking snacks in the summer. It’s a treat to see this wild harvest crop doing so well; it was somewhat decimated by the last clear-fell. (Do we understand well enough the changes we force on a landscape by our actions? Do we care enough?)
The other is gorse. I have a very soft spot for this riotous, prickly native shrub. So many plus points does it have: nitrogen fixing, baby tree protecting, wild tea providing and a redoubtable habitat for spiders (see here) among others. What’s in a few scratches? A week ago, cycling round the wood at speed (to be honest, anything over 6mph is “at speed” for me even on an electric bike), I did incur a few scratches….. but it was like moving through a mist of warm coconut, the delicious gorse flower smell made powerful by the bright sunshine and muggy air. Today, it was fainter – but thanks to the slightly unnerving vigour with which gorse is spreading across the path, I could still catch it. Divine!
Primroses seem to be absent, as well as the wood anemones, but there was this unexpected relative – Primula denticulata, the Drumstick Primrose or, locally, the Kirrie Dumpling. Native to Himalaya, this has not, I suspect, got here on its own! If I were a hard-line ecologist, I’d uproot it (and find a home for it in a garden). I’m not, but there might be a good argument for collecting the seed before it spreads itself about. Or not?