Spring has sprung and Dave Winnard has 3 new species for you to forage for this month!
Spring really has sprung! I have heard the first reports of Wheatears returning from Africa, birds are moving back to upland areas to breed, more plants are in flower and it’s starting to feel a bit warmer.
For the fruit-lovers, especially those who like plums, sloes and cherry plums, now is a good time to start finding out where they are growing near you. Many will be in flower now, with white fluffy flowers on trees and in hedgerows, to come back and forage for later in the year.
This month I have included three plants for you to seek out, one a tasty edible, one is a bit of a ‘look-a-like’ (judge for yourself) and one that any botanist should know despite also not being edible.
Wherever you explore this month, only ever pick and eat something from the wild if YOU are 100% sure that YOU know what it is. Use this blog as a guide to what to look for and then use a good reference book to confirm your finds. If in doubt, leave it out.
Daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus)
I am including the Daffodil this month, as I have been asked if they are edible, which they are not. I think every budding botanist should at least search for the wild daffodil anyway, just make sure you do not eat it.
I will hold up my hands and admit that I am not a huge fan of Daffodils. I just do not like the intense yellow daffodils often found lining the streets. The true wild daffodil however, now that is something I can get behind. Less is more, and the daintier, less gaudy version is worth a wander into the woods to find.
Finding true Daffodils is becoming harder and generally they can only be found in certain woodlands. North Wales, Cumbria, parts of the North-west, including one or two of Manchester’s woodlands, Devon and along the Welsh border are some of the better places to find this plant. They usually prefer ancient woodland but over harvesting during the19th century and habitat loss are to blame for this little flowers decline in numbers.
Compared to the larger, cultivated varieties, the Wild Daffodil is shorter, growing to around 25-35cm. The Wild Daffodil is also paler, usually with a two-toned look to the flowers, where the ‘trumpet’ part of the flower is more yellow than the petals around it.
Spring Beauty (Claytonia perfoliata)
This weird and whacky edible species is not a true native, thought to have arrived here around 1794, it has quickly spread and colonised many parts of the UK.
This plant is really quite unique, the upper leaves form a bowl for the flower to sit in, so it appears as if the flower comes through the centre of the leaf. The basal leaves are long and stalked and the flowers are white with 5 petals. The way this plant grows is very unusual, making it easy to identify. It is a relatively short growing plant, growing to around ankle height or a bit taller.
Spring Beauty is a common plant, well-established along coasts and dunes. It can also be found on sandy soil, on wastelands and gardens - I have even found it growing in the centre of Manchester.
The leaves are wonderfully succulent and again make a wonderful addition to a salad. I often eat them whilst walking along the coast and they really are something I look forward to in the spring.
This plant usually flowers between April-July but in recent years I have often seen them in flower in March. Naturally the leaves are out well before this, but if you are new to this species then you could wait until it flowers to confirm the ID.
As I have mentioned in earlier articles, when plants grow in urban, brownfield sites etc., always make sure the soil is not contaminated (there should be notices up).
Wood Spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides)
As most gardeners will be aware, the Euphorbia genus contains some plants that should not be handled too often (some shouldn’t be touched without gloves at all) and certainly should not be consumed.
A few years ago I knew of a couple near to Bristol who were very close to eating Wood Spurge as they were only looking at the flowers to ID the plant they had found, thinking it may have been the edible Spring Beauty (see above). The flowers are very different and the plant is around 80cm taller with totally different leaves, but I will include an identification so that everyone can familiarize themselves with it so as to avoid eating it.
Like many Euphorbias it is a pretty plant, but compared to the small Spring Beauty this is a tall plant, growing in some cases to around 80-100cm. The flowers are a citrus yellow-green colour atop a long stem which has very narrow matte green leaves that are often tinged purple/red.
A native species to old woodlands (usually slightly acid woods), Wood Spurge is a perennial which is more common in the south and becomes more scattered further north. The subspecies robbiae has been cultivated and is often planted in gardens and occurs as a garden escape in the wild.
As usual only ever pick and eat something from the wild when YOU know 100% what it is and that it is safe to do so.