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Wild Flowers in Spring

Judi Darley

Bluebells

Bluebells in the Copse

Committee member Judi Darley asked ecology enthusiast Dr Mike Perry of the Chichester Natural History Society for his top 6 spring flowers to be seen in Brandy Hole Copse. Mike said “it’s a bit like selecting records for Desert Island Discs”! After some careful thought Mike came up with the following 6 wild flowers to look for in the Copse this spring:

Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) voted Britain’s most popular wild flower in a recent Plantlife poll. The Natural History Society recently made a count of about 250,000 flowering stems in the main body of the Copse. Mike is concerned that these native bluebells are protected from the Spanish Bluebell, a species often planted in gardens and now seen along Brandy Hole Lane and by the west end entrances. Mike said “it appears to hybridise freely with the native bluebell … I’d like to see the Spanish Bluebell removed from the Copse”.

Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa) low growing, with white flowers sometimes flushed with pink. It does very well in the sweet chestnut coppiced area, where the trees have been cut down to let the light in before they grow to maturity again.

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) a stunning display of shiny bright yellow flowers, found around the edges of the ponds and in the damp area between Brandy Hole Pond and Centurion Way.

Common Dog Violet (Viola riviniana) low growing with violet flowers, like the sweet violet but it has no scent. This plant is important because it is the food plant for the caterpillars of the uncommon Silver-washed Fritillary butterfly.

Wild Arum (Arum maculatum) also known as Cuckoo Pint and Lords and Ladies. The large fleshy leaves appear in December and January and tiny flowers appear, surrounded by a green ‘hood’, in April-May time.

Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) Bright blue flowers with a pure white ‘eye’, they are small but spectacular in large numbers. Mike said “I’ve included this one because it is one of my all time favourite flowers”.

Do you agree with Mike’s list? Do let us know which are your favourite spring flowers in the Copse!

Which bluebell is ‘right’ for the Copse?

What is your favourite time of year to walk through Brandy Hole Copse? For me, it would be May – when the bluebells are flowering. A walk through a bluebell wood on a warm, sunny spring day can be an almost magical experience. It certainly raises spirits to see the blue carpet and breathe the sweet rich scent of a bluebell wood.

As might be expected of such evocative flowers, bluebells have a rich folklore with many associations with fairies. Don’t listen too hard, though, for folklore suggests that hearing a bluebell ring presages illness or worse!

The native bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta was voted Britain’s favourite flower in a survey carried out by Plantlife in 2002. They are found in many damp habitats, but grow best in shady broad-leaved woodland. In 2003, as part of Plantlife’s national bluebell survey, the Chichester Natural History Society counted the bluebells in Brandy Hole Copse. There were about 250,000 flowering stems found through the Copse, largely under the sweet chestnut coppice.

Half the world’s population of non-scripta grows in the UK, placing an obligation on Britain to protect it. Yet even in an LNR such as Brandy Hole Copse it is under threat. It is illegal to collect bluebells from the wild for commercial purposes.

There is, however, a more insidious and real threat to Brandy Hole’s bluebells – competition from and hybridisation with the non-native Spanish bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica. This was introduced to Britain by the horticultural trade and now grows in many gardens. It is more vigorous than the native species and will out compete it. It also breeds freely with the native species producing a vigorous hybrid that is now common in gardens and in the wild.

How can you tell a native bluebell from a Spanish bluebell? This is easy using the criteria after the following photographs:

Native bluebell Spanish bluebell
Leaf width 7 – 15mm 20 – 35mm
Flower colour Deep violet-blue Pale blue (sometimes white or pink)
Flower shape Narrow straight-sided bells Open, cone-shaped bell
Petal tips Curve back onto the petal tube Flare outwards slightly
Pollen colour Pale cream Deep blue
Shape of flower stem Droops to one side Stiff and upright
Arrangement of flowers On one side of stem only All round the stem
Are the flowers scented? Yes strong sweet scent No scent

The CNHS survey in 2003 established that almost all the bluebells in the Copse were native ones. However, there were Spanish bluebells at the entrances to the Copse and close to Brandy Hole Lane. Since these pose a threat to the native bluebells in the Copse they will be removed.

Mike Perry

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