Three flowering plants to look out for
Despite wind and heavy rain my garden flowers are lovely – roses, peonies, clematis and, most colourful of all, a border full of geraniums. These are not the bright red blooms of city parks and French doorsteps but the single flowered variety in an assortment of subtle blues, purples and mauve-pinks. In fact some are the wonderful large blue variety you can now see adding great splodges of colour to roadside banks. Meadow cranesbills are part of the geranium family along with the dainty pink herb Robert, the smaller dusky and shining cranesbills and the less common wood cranesbill that you can find in Strid Woods. They get their name from the beak-shaped seedhead.
Much as I love the wild cranesbills, there are other, rarer flowering plants that I like to check out at this time of the year. The first is toothwort, a pale pinky-white stem bearing arrangements of similarly pallid, bell shaped flowers. I generally find it in Strid Woods where there are plenty of hazel bushes. It has no green colouring so cannot photosynthesise and therefore has to steal its food by latching onto the roots of other plants, and its favourite? Hazel! Yes – it’s a parasite.
My second quarry is a real limestone lover so I must look further up the Dale to find it. It’s herb Paris, unmistakable even when not in flower, for the oval leaves encircle the stems – usually in sets of four – like a kind of generous collar. The star-shaped flowers are modest, each set mid-collar – 4-6 greeny-yellow petals and a dark rusty red centre with prominent stamens. I’m always delighted to find it at the site I know best, near Barden, as it is thought to be an indicator of ancient woodland.
My third plant is more elusive – you never quite know where it will turn up. It’s a member of the orchid family and quite a showy plant – the broad-leaved helleborine. The WNS botanists collected records of it in Ilkley as it popped up here and there over several years: it seemed to occur on the same contour around the town. However, subsequently it’s extended its range, once even appearing on the back lawn of our Honorary Vice-President and former botany recorder. Of course she recognised it very early and preserved it from the lawnmower. It thrived, grew to produce 2 foot spikes bearing pale pink and green bell-shaped flowers. A much visited, admired and photographed celebrity.