Monday, April 5, 2010

..... more Spring Greens

Someone asked me a while ago why most spring wild flowers are yellow. Having thought about it for a bit, I'm not sure that's really the case ....... thanks to their sheer numbers, yellow-flowered lesser celandines and primroses are a very conspicuous part of the flora, but there are quite a few green-flowered spring species too. Perhaps the most interesting is Moschatel Adoxa moschatellina, also known as town-hall clock on account of the fact that four of its tiny flowers face outwards, like clock faces on a clock tower. There's also a fifth flower in the inflorescence, that points directly upwards, and one of the unusual features is that the single upward-pointing flower has four petals whereas the four outward-facing flowers have five.
Moschatel is an inconspicuous plant but it's worth taking a close look at the flower with a magnifying glass ..... and taking a sniff. It has a faint musky smell after rain, which is said to attract small flies...although my sense of smell isn't what it once was, and I can barely detect it.
There's nothing faint about the smell of Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum flowers ...... it's just downright unpleasant and attracts flies. This glossy-leaved umbellifer was once cultivated as a pot-herb and it's quite common around the coast - often near habitation, suggesting a garden origin. Large numbers of plants are coming into bloom on the headland at Tynemouth now, but .....
.. there's a distinct shortage of flies around to pollinate its flowers, although this black ant was attracted by the nectar.
Forty years ago, when I lived in Sussex I used to find spurge laurel Daphne laureola quite frequently in beech woods but up here in Durham it's much less common. There are some plants in Castle Eden Dene and a few in Weardale. Its sweet-scented green flowers attract the first bumblebees to emerge from hibernation and it produces black berries in summer.
Dog's mercury Mercurialis perennis is common everwhere. It spreads via a slow-growing underground rhizome, so large patches tend to be good indicators of old woodlands and hedgerows. There are separate male and female plants, with the former being rather more common.

Like most flowers, even those of dog's mercury become more interesting when you take a close look .... these are the flowers of a male plant, with the anthers shedding pollen, which is carried by the wind rather than by insects.


  1. Hi Phil, keeping company with the dog's mercury in woods around Sandown there a lot of wild garlic in leaf now, some of which made a delicious (even if I do say so myself) garlic + cheese pasta yesterday!
    (Last year's experiment with the Alexanders was definitely a one-off!)

  2. Excellent post Phil. You certainly put a lot of work into these.
    All fascinating, but 'Town-hall Clock', the first plant, is so unusual. The upward-pointing flower with four petals, and not five; strange.

  3. Not many fans of Alexanders out there then? Eat the side shoots with butter (and don't mind the perfume when cooking - and quite a while afterwards).

    Great little plant, moscatel, but very tricky to photograph - we bow to the master.

  4. Hi Keith, apparently town hall clock doesn't set seeds very often, which suggests maybe its insect-attracting powers are not too hot

  5. Can't honestly saw I've tried eating Alexanders, Kingsdowner, although I know Rob has. Like the plant though. Trickiest thing with the moschatel is to find an inflorescence with all five flowers in perfect condition, all fully open... which I haven't managed yet.

  6. Super close up of the Dog's Mercury, Phil.

  7. Thanks Emma, I'm looking for a female plant to flower now..


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