We've been enjoying sharing details of some of Penwith's flowers on our social media channels, so on this page we have pulled together all of our Penwith flowers to help you to spot them in our living, working landscape. And if you would like to stay up to date with out latest social media posts be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
A sign that spring really is on the way, is the Primrose. This beautiful flower is quite common in Cornwall, but far less abundant than it used to be. The Scientific name is Primula Vulgaris, which translates to the common first rose, a good name but not quite accurate any more. Shakespeare mentions it in The Winters Tale, ‘Pale Primroses that die unmarried’, as a reference to the fact that as it flowers so early, there aren’t many insects around to pollinate it. But if you look closely you can see our primrose is being visited by a fly, so it will be wed!
The sharper eyed among you will have noticed that in our previous image of primroses was another, more yellow flower. This is Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), a member of the buttercup family. It is one of the first flowers out in Penwith, abundant in early spring almost everywhere. To tell it apart from other buttercups, have a look at the more slender petals, and heart shaped leaves. These little hearts can help you remember its name as it is everywhere on valentine’s day, and valentine sounds like celandine. (A bit!)
The Three Cornered Leek is abundant in the hedges and lanes of Penwith in springtime. It is so called because of it’s triangular stem. It is a member of the onion family as reflected by its Latin name Allium Triquetrum which means 'the onion with three sides'! It is an introduced species and can be a little invasive. It’s edible with a delicious garlic flavour, lovely in salads, while the flowers having a sweet nutty flavour.
In folklore, Blackthorn has a negative reputation as it linked to cursing in witchcraft- the wood was used for blasting rods and the thorns used in curse poppets. However, as Blackthorn has the largest thorns of any plant in the UK, they have also been used in sewing needles. Interestingly the flowers of Blackthorn come out before the leaves, the other way round from Hawthorn. The flowers then go on to develop into sloe berries, very bitter but delicious in sloe gin!
Common Dog Violet
The Common Dog Violet (Viola Canina) is a beautiful delicate purple flower that shows its face on the hedges, banks and moors of Penwith in springtime. ‘Dog’ is a derogatory term, referring to the fact that the Common Dog Violet has no scent, unlike the Sweet Violet. However it is a hugely important flower, being the food plant for the caterpillars of several of our rarest butterflies in the UK, including the Pearl-bordered Fritillary and High Brown Fritillary. It’s also important as a nectar source for adult butterflies.
This lovely flower is Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria Holostea). Through April its beautiful delicate white petals and slender leaves appear in our lanes and hedges. The name apparently refers to the use of the plant as a remedy to ease stitches and pains in the side. The Latin name refers to another past herbal medical use, holostea meaning to make bones whole again!
Grey Willow (Pussy Willow)
Grey Willow (Salix Cinerea) or Pussy Willow as it is often called at this time of year, bursts into flower in our Cornish countryside in spring. It is a small gnarly tree, loving the dampest areas. Grey Willow is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers grow on separate trees. The male catkins are grey and oval in shape, becoming yellow when ripe with pollen. The female catkins are longer and green.
In April the hedges and cliffs of West Cornwall come alive with the striking yellow green flowers of Alexanders (Smyrnium Olustatrum). The plant is another Roman introduction. The whole plant is edible and can be prepared for eating in many ways. The common name refers to Alexander the Great, from Macedonia. In the 17th Century the seeds were sold by herbalists as Macedonian Parsley seeds, and apparently can be used like black pepper!
In April, all along the hedges and lanes of Penwith sprays of Cow Parsley are shooting up, telling us that spring is really here. This delicately petalled tall white flower has a folk name of Queen Anne’s Lace, and contrasts beautifully with the blue of Bluebells and the pinks and reds or Red Campion and Sorrell, all through Late April and May. And then it disappears as suddenly as it comes, and summer begins!
This pretty white flower sometimes tinged with pink, is Wood Anemone- one of the first to appear in woodland in spring. It appears early, to take advantage of the spring sun before trees in the woodland canopy cast their shade. It is considered to be an indicator of ancient woodland, Here in Penwith is often found on the heaths and moors, which show that these habitats at some time in their past were woodland. In many areas of Penwith Bracken now acts as the canopy, shading out the later competition for these early woodland flowers.
In later spring many of our fruit trees come into flower, including apple trees, in the UK we have a native apple – the Crab Apple (Malus Sysvestris), but also in the countryside many naturalised cultivated apples (Malus Domestica) known as ‘Wildings’. Distinguishing between the two can be quite tricky, especially as they hybridise. The Crab Apple tends to have smaller leaves, and sometimes thorns. The easiest way to tell them apart is to wait until Autumn and compare the fruit, the Crab Apple’s fruit is small and yellowish green, the domestic apple much larger and a whole range of colours!
This low growing four petalled yellow flower is characteristic of acidic soils such as the Penwith moors. It is a good nectar source for insects such as solitary bees. In the past the root has been ground up to a powder and used for tooth ache and ulcers, and also used as a red dye for colouring clothing. The name Tormentil (the Latin name is is Potentilla Erecta) refers to stomach pains which the plant also supposed to be able to help!
Sweet Vernal Grass
Grasses are flowering plants, but they are pollinated by wind rather than insects, and as such don’t need to have bright petals. Instead, they have flowers designed to disperse their light pollen onto the wind. Sweet Vernal Grass is one of the first to flower, with Vernal in the name referring to spring-time. The ‘Sweet’ part of the name hints at the plant’s unusual quality of tasting like the smell of freshly cut meadows; in the same way that Parma Violets taste of the smell of violets!