Early bloomers

Tuesday 21 January 2014, 18:46

Kate Lewthwaite Kate Lewthwaite Phenology expert

Nature is continuing to respond to the mild weather with records of trees coming into bud burst and snowdrops and hazel flowering.

The early sightings of flowering species conform to a long term trend of spring gradually arriving earlier in the UK, highlighted by data recorded on Nature’s Calendar since 2001. Over the last 25 years flowers have bloomed up to 12 days earlier than previously.

Catkins - Deborah Rigden Catkins by Deborah Rigden

So far we have records from members of the public of snowdrops, lesser celandine and hazel in flower, along with elder trees in bud burst and hawthorn coming into leaf.

Did you know that regarded by many as a wildflower, snowdrops were not recorded as growing wild in the UK until the 1770s? Most colonies are probably garden escapees though it is still thought some may be native, particularly in southwest England. Snowdrops are certainly native to a large part of Europe, as far north as Brittany, where they grow in damp woods and meadows. The average UK flowering date is 27 January, but in eight years out of the past 14, we have had a first sighting in November!

Bright yellow lesser celandines are one of the first woodland flowers of the year. The shiny flowers have eight to twelve petals and glossy dark green heart-shaped leaves. It’s family name in Latin: Ranunculus means 'little frog or tadpole', this might be a reference to the damp conditions that they are commonly found in  or to the fact that the flower buds look like tadpoles.

The poet William Wordsworth wrote in his ode to the celandine: "I have seen thee, high and low, Thirty years or more, and yet T'was a face I did not know."

On average we expect to see celandines appear by 5 March but in several years during the project we have had first sightings before even Christmas has passed.

Anyone can get involved and recording is simple and we need your help. To find out what flowers plants trees and shrubs to record all year round.


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    Comment number 1.

    That is interesting, I didn't know many snowdrops aren't native! I have seen quite a lot of Hazel catkins and the pretty little red female flowers too, as well as a few snowdrops. Did you know in 'The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady' written in 1906, there were many similar nature events occurring: Wild Arum began to appear and Elderberry leaf burst had begun in early January. Hazel, Primroses, Snowdrops, Daisies and Yew were all flowering towards the end of January and by early February, Blackbird, Dunnock and Robin nests were found with eggs in. The author, Edith Holden, was delighted to see the early signs of spring, as I am today!

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    Comment number 2.

    I have a copy of that book: her paintings were amazing, so detailed and it's fascinating to compare what she saw with what we see today. Sad that she died so young (drowned in the river at Kew).

    There are snowdrops in flower in our garden in the Scottish Borders and our deciduous honeysuckle, which had become leafless in November, had new green leaves again by Christmas: it's in full leaf now.

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    Comment number 3.

    They are such beautiful and accurate paintings, and she had such wonderful knowledge of all of the plant species! It is, I wish we still had such an abundance of wildlife like she did back then.

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    Comment number 4.

    Up here in Cumbria, I have had snowdrops flowering in the garden for the last few weeks and crocus leaves are starting to push up through the grass which seems really early. I've also noticed, as I am a terrible sleeper, that the birds are starting to sing at around four a.m. I thought I was imagining things the other morning as it was still dark, though the moon was really bright, but it was definitely bird song which I would usually associate with Spring.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Snowdrops for the last wee k or so in the garden, alongside Grape Hyacinth and a few wallflowers and primula. First daffodil this morning.


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