It is of course half term this week, and with warmer weather forecast this is the perfect time to head out and see if you can find early signs of spring. Birds are singing, elder leaves and bluebell shoots are emerging and some plants are already in flower. It is tonic to the soul and a harbinger of those warmer, lighter and easier days to come.
We have created a spotter sheet to help you identify and tick off your findings.
Catkins bring colour to our otherwise rather drab February woodlands. They are the male flowers of hazel trees, consisting of over 200 individual flowers, one under each yellow scale. When the time is right, they release the pollen which is carried by the wind to tiny female flowers on other hazel trees, resulting in hazelnuts in autumn.
Although some of our trees might not come into leaf until April or May, elder has already started its budburst. Elder is a wonderful tree, surrounded by magical stories and of course the bearer of elderflowers in spring and elderberries in autumn, both of which can easily be turned into cordial; you might want to remember where your tree was so that you can return to pick some later this year.
The most striking sign of spring to come is the bird song that is surrounding us already. Birds use their song for two purposes – to mark their territory against other birds, and to attract a mate. Some of the birds in our garden certainly seem to be getting ready for nesting. If you are not doing so already, it is a good time to feed them, as food sources are sparse and they need all the help they can get to be ready for parenthood.
Every year I am surprised how early the first bluebell shoots make their way through the leaf litter, but it will still be a couple of weeks until they are in full bloom in April. Avoid walking over patches where you can see bluebells emerging as they don’t like being trampled.
The primrose owes its name to the Latin ‘prima rosa’, first rose. Although it is not a rose, it is one of our first native plants to come into flower. Primroses are such delightful dots of colour in our gardens and countryside and an important nectar source for early butterflies and other insects.
Frogs and toads
Many of our amphibian friends overwinter on land under logs and rocks but as soon as it gets warmer they make their way back to the pond to mate and spawn. Frogs lay their spawn in clumps, toads in long strings.
It might come as a surprise, but snowdrops are not actually native to the UK. They were introduced to adorn the gardens and country estates from the 16th Century onwards and have since become naturalised in many places. Snowdrops are a sign of hope at the end of winter – a very fitting imagine for these times.
Lesser celandine is a relative to the buttercup and an early food source for insects. The cheerfully yellow flowers can often be seen forming carpets in woods, parks and gardens, especially where it is damp.
The crocus is not a native plant but originates in the Alps, southern Europe, northern Africa and Asia. It is a firm favourite in parks and gardens, providing a joyful dash of colour in early spring. Saffron are the stamens gathered from a specific type of autumn crocus and is the most expensive spice in the world.
What have you found?
As always, we would love to hear from you. You would be very lucky to tick off all of the items on the spotter sheet in one go, but you might find other signs of spring. What have you found on your walk?