Natural Living – Flowering February
by Ruth Lawrence
As one season draws to an end and spring is around the corner, flowers can serve as a remedy to the chilly gloom of the last throws of winter.
February can seem like neither winter nor spring and if cold weather lingers, it can feel drab before colour starts to emerge with lengthening days. However, some hardy flowers are beginning to blossom; one enchanting white flower belongs to the cherry plum, a small tree growing in hedges or woodland. First planted in the 1500’s it wasn’t noted in the wild until four centuries later, it stands out in hedgerows early because it flowers before blackthorn.
Complementing the plum and a welcome sight beside roads and footpaths, the primrose’s delicate lemon flowers form patches of native colour from February to May. Its name derives from the Latin prima rosa meaning ‘first rose of the year’ despite it not being a member of the rose family. In different parts of the country it is known as ‘butter rose’, The vivid yellow lesser celandine blankets the ground in February with attractive golden stars and glossy heart shaped leaves ‘golden rose’ and ‘early rose’.
The snowdrop still lingers in February and although they are considered native, they are actually fairly recent arrivals. Their first known cultivation was in 1597 and they were first recorded in the wild in 1778 and although they grow from bulbs, they do produce seeds if there are pollinators around. Early emerging queen bumblebees will help to spread them if the weather proves dry and warm enough.
The vivid yellow lesser celandine blankets the ground in February with attractive golden stars and glossy heart shaped leaves, growing on hedge banks, meadows and stream edges. This plant is the floral equivalent of the swallow; both appear around the same time and the word ‘celandine’ derives from the Greek chelidon meaning ‘swallow’. Local names include ‘butter and cheese’, ‘golden guineas’ and ‘brighteye’. Although Wordworth’s favourite flower was assumed to be the daffodil, he wrote no less than three poems about the lesser celandine; perhaps its name didn’t lend itself so readily to the line ‘a host of golden daffodils’ in his famous I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.
Another flower, so common it is often overlooked emerges at this bare time of year – the red deadnettle, introduced in Britain with early agriculture in the Bronze Age. Hugely useful in traditional medicine, all parts of the plant can treat various ailments as it is diuretic, purgative and astringent. Its vernacular name ‘archangel’ may refer to its virtue of being sting free although its generic name stems from a Greek word meaning ‘devouring monster’ referring to the shape of the flower which resemble open jaws. Bees love this flower. In Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire it was traditionally known as the ‘bumblebee flower’ and it has an extremely long flowering season which can last until November.
Look out for these harbingers of Spring; they bring hope of warmer weather and a welcome flush of colour in a sea of green.