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At the start of June it is still high spring – with big swathes of cheerful flowers and blossom, and grass and foliage a verdant green. But as the month progresses, things go to seed: meadows become overgrown, and the countryside starts to take on a frowsy summer air. However, this is actually the time of the year with the biggest variety of wild flowers – you just have to look harder to spot them.
Meadows go to seed
In the early part of June meadow buttercups can still make intense yellow displays in meadows, but these don't last much beyond the second week. You can still find some buttercups right till the end of the month, but in general in the second half they are being smothered by tall grasses. In the first half of the month there is a wavy attractiveness to such meadows of sighing grasses, but later they start to look ragged, with the seeds heads dominating. Traditionally late June or early July was when meadows were cut for hay and one can see this practice continuing on some farms (the hay is used as winter fodder for livestock). 22 June is also "hay day" - statistically the time of peak grass pollen.
Early in the month ragged ears of common sorrel give meadows a pleasing reddish tinge but they are largely over by mid month. Grasses such as purple moor grass or Yorkshire fog can give meadows a purple haze on acid soils.
Look closer and you can see smaller flowers. Examples include lesser stitchwort (a diminutive version of the flowers that decorate verges so prettily in April and May). This looks quite similar to mouse-ear, also sometimes found in meadows, but the latter is hairy and has smaller flowers, whereas lesser stitchwort has a delicate look to it and thinner stems with smaller leaves. Lesser stitchwort petals are also evenly spaced, whereas those of mouse-ear are grouped in twos (actually one petal deeply notched).
You can also see the tiny mauve flowers and pea-like tendrils of hairy tare and smooth tare, and - if you are lucky - the single bright red pea flowers of grass vetchling. Pignut may survive early in the month. The tiny pink flowers of common vetch may also last into June, as can some ribwort plantain.
Pink and red clover also can be seen in meadows early in the month but get smothered by tall grasses as the month goes on. In the second half purple tufted vetch and yellow meadow vetchling can both form sizeable clumps amidst the long grass. Oxeye daisies occasionally make patches in meadows, though they are more usually verge flowers.
One rather mysterious flower from the dandelion family that can quite often be seen in meadows in June is goatsbeard. Or rather it is usually not seen. Its beautiful yellow flowers open only in the early morning closing down around as the sun gets high to leave very distinctive ribbed heads that look as if they are about to bloom or about to go to seed. It is most easily identified by its large fluffy seed heads, which are like those of dandelions, only about twice as big. It is the only dandelion family plant with grass-like leaves.
Rougher fields and pasture
One flower that can achieve a meadow-like effect in unkempt fields is rough hawksbeard, a tall plant with dandelion-like flowers. Another flower of in this category is hogweed, a chunky (and rather strange-smelling) relative of cow parsley, which is normally a verge flower but sometimes spreads across June fields to not unattractive effect. Thistles also spring up in rougher fields - particularly creeping thistle, though it does not flower until the very end of the month, if then. The tall and very spiny marsh thistle may bloom from quite early in the month, however.
Common sorrel can also be found in such fields, but from mid month it is giving away the not-dissimilar dock, the two most common species being curled dock and broad-leaved dock. In both cases the flowers give the plant a rusty look, as if its blooms have already gone over.
In grazed pasture and other shorter grass there can still be intense mats of creeping buttercup early in the month, but they tend to have faded the end of the second week. Some still survive until late in the month however. Black medick can also form large mats. Clover - usually white clover for some reason - may also carpet such fields and mouse-ear can be found in places, at least early in the month. On paths and in mown or closely-cropped grass daisies may still be seen in some quantities. On acid soils or heathland tiny sheep's sorrel can form reddish patches.
More June pages:
- Wayside flowers
- Downland and seaside flowers
- Hedgerow, trees and berries
- Butterflies and insects
© Peter Conway 2006-2016 • All Rights Reserved