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Wildflowers at Langdon

Just as I get excited by the fungi that turn up cheekily and uninvited during autumn (“Invitation? Whoever said we needed an invitation?” said the Common Earth Ball to the Shaggy Ink Cap), I also love coming across wild flowers popping up from every untended nook and cranny they can find at this time of year. I could call them weeds and get stressed about them, but where’s the fun in that?

Here’s a selection of some I’ve found this week…

Red dead nettle

Lamium purpureum

Red dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum)

Red dead-nettle and a bumble bee

Red dead-nettle (although the flowers and leaves are purple) is an annual flower of the mint family (Lamiaceae). It’s one of several flowers from this family known as ‘dead-nettles’ because, although they resemble stinging nettles (Urtica dioica), they’re quite friendly with no sting at all. One of its alternative common names, ‘archangel’ might also be because it doesn’t sting.

I’ve also read that it’s sometimes called ‘the bumblebee flower’ – our bees like it, that’s for sure.

It’s found growing all over the UK, especially on disturbed or cultivated ground. Here it is on a mound of earth that was dug up about two years ago for a landscaping project and while we’ve left it there until we get back to the job, nature has moved in, keeping the ground vital and healthy. It’s now covered in wild flowers, and often there’s more buzzing and fluttering here than any other part of the garden!

White dead nettle

White dead nettle (Lamium alba)

Lamium album

White dead nettles look a lot more like stinging nettles, but again are quite benign. I have seen suggested that they may have evolved to look like stingers as a defence against predators. They’re from the mint family (Lamiaceae) again, but are perennial, unlike the annual red nettle above.

They also love disturbed soil so can be found all over our garden in the many messy ‘work in progress’ areas.

Their delicate white flowers appear from early March – perfect spring foraging for pollinators, especially bumble bees who emerge earliest in the year.

With my years of townie life, nettles to me were always those nasty pointy-leaved bushes that made me cry when I was little. It was a revelation to know that we have other nettles growing abundantly in the UK (albeit not actually related to the stinging sort), that are beautiful and benign. They ought to have a less forbidding name than ‘dead-nettle’, I think.

Ground Ivy

Glechoma hederacea

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea)

Despite its name, ground ivy is also in the Lamiaceae family, and also classed as a ‘dead nettle’ (though to my mind, there’s no need to reassure me on this one – it’s clearly nothing like a stinger!).

It’s a perennial evergreen creeper that forms a mat on the ground, just like ivy – great for ground cover and shady areas, but a problem if it’s tidy beds and lawn your after. I liked how a site called Eat the Weeds put it: ‘it’s the Botanical Bull in the China Shop. It doesn’t take over, it takes command‘.

Here it loves those same messy, churned up in-between spaces as its other dead-nettle siblings. Not a problem for us at the moment – but maybe we’ll have to take on this botanical bully at some point.

Finally, I must mention (meticulously researched on erm…Wikipedia) some of its other wonderfully poetic common names: gill-over-the-ground, creeping charlie, and run-away-robin

Lesser Celandine

Ficaria verna

And now, not a dead nettle – this time its a member of the buttercup family: the lesser celandine. These sunny star-shaped flowers started appearing here early in spring and their cheerful faces were so welcome. Like all they can be invasive and troublesome, but here in our brick and random junk storage area, they make a wild and sparkly carpet of boldest green and yellow.

Final fun fact is that one of its other names is ‘pilewort’ – a clue to its traditional use as a treatment for piles or hemorrhoids – good to know!

Common Field-Speedwell

Veronica persica

My wildflower book has two packed pages of different speedwells (also called ‘veronicas’) – all of which have these tiny blue flowers. Peering back and forth between my book and this photo I think I’m right that this is the Common Field-Speedwell.

I liked this bit of etymology from the Kent Wildlife Trust website, that the name Speedwell is from the flowers habit of growing on roadside verges where it would wish travelers ‘good speed’. I’ll grab me some when I’m dashing out late for the school run perhaps.

That’s my wildflower (aka weed) appreciation slot for this month. Next post I think we should trumpet some of many gorgeous, and altogether better-behaved and less presumptuous flowers that our lovely gardener Gail has been planting around the place.

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