Cover photo credit: Don Morris

Take a walk into your nearest local woodland during spring and you’ll start to see the woodland floor reawakening with new growth and colour.

The pretty wood anemone is one of the first wildflowers to bloom in March, taking advantage of warmer temperatures and the light streaming in through the leafless canopy above. The star-like flower is held on thin stems above deep green leaves.  

When the sun shines, the delicate blooms open fully. Look closely and you’ll see an explosion of golden yellow stamens in the centre, surrounded by pure white petals that are often tinged with pink. If the weather turns cloudy or the rain arrives, the flowers will close up. According to folklore, fairies would jump inside the flower and close it up to shelter from the rain!

Wood anemones spread very slowly, so if you discover them growing in a woodland you could be standing in a very special habitat: ancient woodland. In England, ancient woodland is classed as an area that has been wooded since 1600. Ancient woodlands cover only 2.4 per cent of the UK, and because they have been left relatively undisturbed by humans, they are home to a huge range of wildlife, from insects that rely on decaying wood to specialist woodland bird species.

The delicate wood sorrel is another wildflower of ancient woodlands, flowering a little later than the wood anemone in April. Look for it growing within cushions of moss on fallen logs. The small white flowers are veined with pink, while the vibrant green leaves are trefoil shaped, comprising three heart-shaped leaflets.

A favourite of wild food foragers, the leaves have a refreshing citrus taste and are said to be good for quenching a thirst while out walking.

Wild garlic is another staple on the forager’s calendar – its long, smooth leaves being a tasty addition to salads or the base for a wild pesto.

It grows in abundance on the the floors of damp, shady woodlands and in spring its pungent, garlicky scent is unmistakeable. A member of the onion family, its attractive starry flowers appear in rounded clusters from around April and like wood anemone, the presence of wild garlic indicates an ancient woodland habitat.

As well as providing a bountiful source of wild food for us, wild garlic is also valuable for pollinating insects, including bees and hoverflies.

As spring marches on, and the early woodland flowers begin to die back, other blooms start to take centre stage. From late April, beautiful seas of bluebells will begin to carpet the woodland floor, filling the air with a sweet, subtle scent. Although the bluebell is familiar to everyone and needs no introduction, it is really worth crouching down and taking a really close look at these stunning little flowers. In each nodding bell you’ll see many nuances of colour from blue to deep violet.

Bluebells are slow to colonise a woodland – it can take more than five years for a seed to grow into a bulb. As a result of their slow growth, the presence of drifts of bluebells is again an indicator that an area has been wooded for hundreds of years.

Growing in amongst bluebells, you’ll often encounter other wildflowers which add a splash of colour to the spring palette. The blooms of red campion bring a vivid pink which contrasts beautifully with the violet-blue haze of bluebells. As well as being attractive to our eyes, red campion is a favoured nectar source of many insects including the orange-tip butterfly and the longer-tongued bumblebees, who are able to reach down into its long-tubed flowers.

After what feels like a long winter, it is a treat for all the senses to head into a woodland and see the bare branches gradually becoming greener and new life and colour emerging on forest floor. This spring, make sure you immerse yourself in this sensual spectacle and fully appreciate all that a woodland in springtime has to offer!

Important: Please remember when out exploring our woodlands to stick to the footpaths, as trampling on a wildflower can damage its leaves and seriously affect its chances of survival. Also, if out foraging, make sure you gather responsibly and only consume if you are 100 per cent sure of a plant’s identity.