Bourne Wood seemed to be having an afternoon siesta.
The birds were having a midday doze in the treetops, while the bumblebees buzzed around, a relaxed droning sound which complimented the hour of day, working off their nectar lunches. Even the plants were flopping in the unusually warm spring heat, too chilled to make an effort for the few insects that were energetic enough to make their rounds. Everything seemed to be taking the afternoon off. Hiking had turned into a lazy semi sleepwalk.
I had come to look to see if the bluebells had flowered yet.
I had already noticed that the other spring plants were up and flowering. The celandine buds were unfurling their lemon yellow petals, while some of the ruffs of the leftover winter aconites were still intact. The red dead nettles, the Velcro like goosegrass, violets, anemones and even the easy to miss coltsfoot were up, shooting their stalks and flowers skyward up to the warm sun.
But not the bluebells, that harbinger of the English spring. Their leaves were up and one or two had their buds in the green. No flowers though. Another week or so and that rich, but delicately done, blue will recarpet the glades and rides. The bell flowers, motifs in Art Noveau and Moorcroft pottery, once again perfuming the woodland’s air with their wonderful, deep, rich scent.
I walked back a little disappointed, even though the other flora had been seen.
For me, seeing the bluebells flowering is a yearly marker that warmer weather is here to stay. But a lungwort caught my eye and made me temporarily forget the no show of the Hyacinthoides non – scripta flowers.
I don’t know whether or not you have noticed this small, relatively inconspicuous plant in the wild. It’s not an exceptionally rare plant but at the same time it is uncommon and easy to miss. Its family member, the narrow leaved lungwort, usually is grown to cover the bare soil between the primroses and hyacinths in unimaginative garden layouts. The more robust lungwort or pulmonaria officinalis, to give it it’s proper Latin name, (the officinalis tag referring to plants used medicinally in times gone by - in this case used to treat infections of the lung) is less likely to be found in a garden and more in a hedge or a wood.
Lungwort has a 30cm tall stalk topped with nearly a dozen or so small klaxon like flowers. The leaves in the rosettes are oval but pointed at the ends and covered in spots. Its leaves, I find, are the give away to identifying it.
However it’s the flower colour, or should I say colours, that are the most interesting. If you look at the flowers you will notice some are blue while others are reddish. The lungwort needs to be pollinated by insects but has a relatively short window in which to attract them. In common with most spring woodland floor plants, flowering has to happen when sunlight can shine through the leafless tree canopy and reach the ground that’s usually in shade. Also a lot of bumblebees and other insects come out of winter hibernation and are available to pollinate.
Lungworts produce young red flowers which are rich in nectar. As the insects visit these flowers and then pollinate them, the plant stops producing nectar in that particular flower. The flower then starts to turns to blue. But the plant still uses these pollinated flowers in the display.
Why waste energy keeping these flowers?
Insects, on the whole, prefer plants with clusters of flowers. By using its already pollinated blue flowers in its floral display, helps give the lungwort a bigger “show” to pull in more punters. The insects soon realise only the red flowers are viable for their needs and don’t bother with the old blue ones. Hence the lungwort gets more visits and gets it pollination done more quickly.
The lungwort shares this unusual characteristic with some of its other family members such as forget me nots, comfrey and starflower.
Why not try and spot these lungworts when you are out walking in the woods? You can find a few not too far from the stile near the alleyway off Beech Avenue.
Hopefully by the time you find them, the bluebells should have opened.