Wild flowers of the hedgerows, once a widely common sight everywhere in Britain, have now suffered a dramatic decline along with other wild flowers associated with varying habitats. Once common species are now rare or endangered while some have disappeared altogether. Partly to blame are modern farming practices, which include the widespread use of pesticides and fertilisers, hedgerow removal and reduced habitat through large scale drainage operations. Pollution from increasingly heavy traffic, which often runs directly alongside hedgerow locations, also plays a significant part in the equation.
However, it is still possible to find a diverse and colourful range of wild flowers growing along grassy verges, banks and hedges, with the best displays offered in late spring and early summer.
- Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)-
Also known as Jack-by-the-hedge and Hedge Garlic, this mid height (20 to 120 cm) plant presents small white, 4-petalled flowers about 6mm in diameter, in a fairly dense group at each hairy stem end. Basal leaves are often kidney shaped while the stem leaves are deeply toothed and roughly triangular.
The leaves when crushed smell strongly of garlic.
Flowers – April to June
- Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea) -
This small, purple flowered plant can often be seen in great abundance as their creeping stems carpet the lowest level of hedgerows and banks. Flowers are typically about 15mm across and the plant can grow up to 30 cm in height. Leaves are kidney shaped and toothed with long stalks.
Flowers – March to June
- Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea) -
The common name for this white flowering plant comes from the time when it was used to cure a 'stitch' in the side.
Stems are very thin, growing to about 60 cm in height while the leaves are without stalks, shaped like long thin spears and growing in opposite pairs. Flowers are up to 30 mm across, usually with 5 petals, each deeply split which gives it the appearance of petals in greater number.
Flowers – April to June
- Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) -
This tall umbelical plant, which can grow up to 150 cm, is so abundant that at times it can appear that a hedgerow is filled with nothing but this. Each umbel has 4 to 10 rays measuring about 3 to 6 cm across comprised of many tiny 3 to 4 mm, white flowers.
Stems are hollow and furrowed while the leaves are deeply divided two or three times, the resultant leaflets having serrated edges.
Flowers – April to June
- Red Campion (Silene dioica) -
Most typically the flowers of this plant, which can grow to 90 cm, are pink or red/pink but they can also be white which can make it hard to distinguish from White Campion which is a different plant.
The 18 to 25 mm size flowers have 5 deeply divided petals which grow from an obvious bulge at the ends of the stalks.
Leaves are slender and oblong, stalked at the lower stem and base but without stalks higher up the plant. Stems are hairy.
Flowers – May to June but may be found flowering at other times in south west England.
- Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) -
This 30 to 100 cm high plant gives off a fairly unpleasant odour when crushed making it fairly easy to identify. The terminal flowering spikes each hold several small, dark red/wine coloured flowers about 15 mm in size, arranged in whorls around the stem.
The whole plant is covered with short, stiff hairs giving it a bristly feel and the 9 cm, oval leaves are all stalked.
Flowers – July to August
This is only a very small selection of the wild flowers which may be commonly found in the British hedgerow and the likelihood of their occurrence will depend to some extent on location within the British Isles.
It is also worth noting that nearly all British wild flowers have a huge variety of common or dialect names, some of which have survived for centuries. This makes it particularly important for British botanists to use scientific names only, the same being equally true for all but the most casual of wild flower identifier.
Hedgerows are nature's highways. They form an incredibly significant and diverse habitat for birds, insects and small mammals which in turn become a food source for larger birds and animals. The disappearance of Britain's hedgerows is not just sad from an aesthetic point of view but actually has far reaching repercussions for the continued survival of whole eco-systems. As a result, there has been a huge drive in recent years from conservation bodies and even the scientific world to help preserve and recreate these diverse habitats and raise awareness of their significance. Hopefully this effort will help to preserve the presence of abundant wild flower areas for many years to come.