‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where the oxlips and the nodding violet grows’ .
A Midsummer Night’s Dream. William Shakespeare.
Shakespeare was very knowledgeable about wild flowers but he got it wrong about the oxlip, because it is confined to the eastern counties in England, and even here it is increasingly rare. It would never be on a dry bank with thyme because it likes moist meadows or woodland.
Like everything else, the beautiful oxlip is really early this year, it usually blooms in April. So I set off with a complaining Pianist to find it. He was convinced it was going to rain which it did, but I wasn’t going to let a little thing like that stop me. We are very lucky in Suffolk to have the remnants of ancient woodlands where this beautiful, but rare flower can still be found. It used to be common in woods and meadows but like so many wild flowers it has become rare with the loss of so much habitat. 97% of our meadows have been lost since the last war. Half of our ancient woodlands have disappeared. Fortunately, we have the Woodland Trust, and in Suffolk we have The Suffolk Wildlife Trust to care for our pitifully few, remaining fragments of meadows and ancient woodlands.
On the way I was delighted to see this huge area of violets growing on the verge.
Further on there were some white ones.
We spotted a pink one; there were no houses around so it can’t have been the result of hybridisation with garden varieties.
Further on we found a bank of cowslips: Primula veris.
This orange one was presumably a result of cross pollination with primroses in a nearby garden.
Sometimes primroses cross with cowslips and the resulting plants are known as Primula veris x vulgaris: The False Oxlip. In areas where this happens the true oxlips disappear.
Finally we arrived at our destination: Bulls’s Wood.
This is one of the few woods where the oxlip thrives and can be found in abundance. There are no primroses or cowslips in this wood for it to hybridise with. The Suffolk Wildlife Trust carries out the centuries- old coppice management which allows light to reach the spring flowers. In the nearby Bradfield Woods this kind of wood management has been carried out since 1252. These are very ancient woodlands which have always been a valuable resource.
We came across a little pond on the way in.
It has a long stalk like the cowslip but the flowers are primrose colour like those of the primrose rather than deep yellow like those of the cowslip. You can see that the umbel of flowers drops to one side only, unlike those of the false oxlip.
It used to be thought that the oxlip was a hybrid between cowslips and primroses until the botanist and scientist; Henry Doubleday studied it in 1842. He was convinced that it was not a hybrid. He sent some seeds to Charles Darwin who tested it and wrote a paper confirming that it is a true species.
It is a beautiful plant and so rare that it is classified as ‘near threatened’ in the Red Data List for plants. We are very lucky in Suffolk that we still have a few woods where it flourishes.
Today I am joining with Gail at clayandlimestone for her monthly wild flower meme. Thanks to Gail for hosting this meme which is on the fourth Wednesday of every month.