Similar looking but without any leaves, the creepy looking parasitic Toothwort is out in flower beside the woodland path on the west side of the park.

The Coltsfoot (a dandelion on an asparagus shoot) has come and gone leaving its “clockface” seed head as the large leaves emerge. Gardeners may know this as persistent weed of waste ground, but it does not tolerate aggressive weeding for more than a year or two (or four).

Lesser Celandine is out – looking like a buttercup at first glance but thinner and has more petals. Confusingly the Greater Celandine which doesn’t occur in the park is from a different plant family.

The Wood Anemone is also out with its delicate pale flowers catching the light before the tree leaves erupt to cast this ancient woodland indicator (AWI) species into shade. It is often accompanied by Dogs Mercury, another AWI. This is male and female flowers borne on different plants (dioecious) and I’ve notice that they occur at different time. This may not seem to be a good idea if all the male flowers have gone before the females emerge, however ten metres of so away they plant may flower later or earlier and so the flowers will be pollinated but not by close relatives. It tends to avoid acidic soils and so it useful to identify the base rich areas in the park.

Of course the dominant plants of the woods at the moment are the bluebells and Ramsons (Wood Garlic). Both are also AWI and prefer slightly more acidic soils and the bluebell prefers it slightly less damp than the Ramsons. So you will often see Bluebells giving way to Ramsons lower down a woodland slope. For Bluebells to flourish they require their roots to be infected with a fungus which enables the plant to take up phosphorus. This is not unusual in the plant world and it is thought that over 90% of flowering plants in Britain have similar symbiotic relationships with fungi.

Britain is the main place in Europe for the Bluebell but the introduced Spanish Bluebell hybridizes with it. Once I’ve admired the shimmering blue haze in the woods I like to check what I’m looking at, here are the differences:

  • Bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scriptai: The petals (technically actually they are tepals) bend back strongly at their tips; the flowers are down one side of the stem; the stamens (inside the flower) have cream-coloured pollen; they have a strong scent.
  • Spanish Bluebell H. hispanica: The tepals bend back less at their tips; the flowers are all around the stem; the stamens are purple; they have little if any scent.

Looking at the difference, I wondered why anyone would bother with the Spanish one, however our native Bluebell is a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Landowners are prohibited from removing common bluebells on their land for sale and it is a criminal offence to remove the bulbs of wild common bluebells. The Spanish one is not protected. Recent genetic work suggests that the two species only differentiated about 8,000 years ago. I suspect most of the Bluebells in Linn are actually a mixture but certainly they are mostly closer to the Bluebell except for a distinct Hispanic tendency close to the Linn Cemetery.

Spreading from there is also the Few-Flowered Garlic. It is also listed in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 however this time because it is an invasive alien from the Iran and the Caucuses and you cannot plant it in the wild.

I have been asked whether you can cook with these garlic species and you can, BUT BEWARE! Their leaves are not strongly flavoured and you may require a lot and the leaves of Ramsons especially are easily mistaken for Lily of the Valley which does grow in the park and is very poisonous.

The Barren Strawberry is coming into flower, earlier than the Wild Strawberry. Its leaves and flowers are the best it has to offer, so enjoy.