Other March pages: Trees and shrubs • Birds, insects, frogs and lambs • Weather
Put your cursor over any photo to see its caption, or click here to see more March flower photos.
March is the start of spring, but it is not quite yet the flower-filled high spring of April and May. Instead, this is a sort of pre-spring, a time of awakening nature. It starts with only tentative signs of new growth but gathers pace as it goes along. By the end of the month plenty of early flowers are out, cheering up parks, path verges and some woodland floors. Fields and trees still generally look drab and tired, however.
(Now and then there is a cold March where little or none of this happens, however: see Cold years at the bottom of this page for details of these exceptions.)
Daffodils, celandines, primroses and daisies
Snowdrops and crocuses fade in the first half of March, but one doesn’t notice because there are plenty of other distractions. In particular, March is daffodil month: the few that came out in February are gradually joined by others, with numbers reaching their maximum around the end of the third week before mostly fading in the first half of April.
The same goes for celandines (properly lesser celandines) which appear on road and path verges and on woodland floors. Once again, one gets a few in the first week of the month and then they gradually gather force, peaking at the end of March. You have to be out in the middle of the day to see celandines at their best, however: they are sensitive to cold, and in the early morning or late in the afternoon (or on cold, grey days) they are tightly closed yellow buds.
Another yellow favourite is the primrose, which crops up on wayside verges and in woodland right from the start of the month, and can cover some road or path verges by its end. Some daisies and dandelions appear in the grass – again only a few early in the month, but becoming much more widespread towards its end. (Check that the dandelion is not coltsfoot, which has a superficially similar flower, but no leaves.)
In the woods the star flower in March is the wood anemone – white or blushed with pink, star-shaped when open by day, demure hanging bells in the early morning or late afternoon (or if the weather is especially cold). They start mid month and are at their best at the month's end, forming intense carpets in some woods (though in both 2015 and 2016 only a very few appeared in March and they were only about 20 percent in flower by the month's end).
Another plant that carpets woodland floors is dog's mercury, which has inconspicuous flowers but which brings a welcome flush of green when full grown at the end of the month. By this time you can also see mats of the diminutive moschatel, whose square greeny-yellow flowers gain it the nickname of 'town hall clock'. You can also see mats of golden saxifrage, with its tiny yellowy-green flowers, as well as possibly some wood sorrel in warmer years.
Other woodland flowers are still to come, but you can see evidence of them. The spiky leaves of bluebells can be seen all month but the flowers are still some weeks away. The same goes for wild garlic (ransoms) whose waxy leaves appear in late February, and which are fully grown (and smelling very garlicky) by the end of March. You may also see the distinctive leaves of woodruff and the silver-striped basal leaves of the argentatum variety of yellow archangel (though not of the ordinary variety which has no basal leaves and seems to grow in a spike straight out of the ground). Ivy-leaved speedwell can form mats alongside woodland paths (also on normal path verges) later in the month and put out buds of its tiny pale violet flowers.
Path and field verges
As well as the celandines, primroses, daffodils and dandelions mentioned above, flowers you can see on path and field verges in March include violets (also a woodland flower), field speedwell and perhaps some white deadnettles and green alkanet (whose flowers are blue: its name refers to the fact that the plant grows all year, ie is "evergreen"). Towards the end of the month, wild strawberry and ground ivy may start to appear if the weather is warm, and maybe some cuckoo flowers. In short grass look out for slender speedwell, a mauve-flowered plant that is a (very pleasant) foreign invader.
In the second half of the month there is also a noticeable increase in other vegetation, the leaves of flowers to come later in the spring. Already during the winter the star-shaped stalks of cleavers (aka goosegrass), the triangular waxy green leaves of cuckoo pint, and the fern-like vegetation of cow parsley have made their appearance, and by the end of the month the cow parsley is starting to increase in size. Stinging nettles also continue to grow (and are joined by more new shoots), though are not yet more than a few inches high.
Look even closer on verges and in grassy fields and you can see many other plants which have been patiently waiting out the winter months but which are not flowering yet, including creeping buttercup, meadow buttercup, ribwort plantain, cranesbills, clover, garlic mustard, mallow, herb bennet (aka wood avens), herb robert, white comfrey, cinquefoil, ragwort, spear thistle, dandelion, catsear, hawkbit and yarrow.
These are joined in March by new shoots of red campion, stitchwort, dock, bush vetch, ground elder, foxglove, silverweed, hogweed, and more rarely giant hogweed, which looks almost like rhubarb. You may also see greater celandine leaves (no relation to the lesser celandine mentioned above: it is in fact a kind of poppy), while greater plantain leaves appear on muddy paths or field margins and ivy-leaved toadflax sprouts out of walls. Note also the asparagus-like stalks of horsetail, which you may just see at the end of March and whose heads produce pollen. They go on to open most unexpectedly in April into the familiar green 'fly whisk' plants. For photos of many of these plants click here.
Wasteground and arable
Back with flowers, there are a number of smaller species that crop up commonly as urban weeds in March, as well as being found in their more natural habitat of arable field margins and other disturbed ground. These include chickweed, field speedwell, shepherd's purse and the unloved groundsel. Hairy bittercress is also a common urban weed throughout the month and is found on grassy verges as well. You may also see the plants (though not yet the flowers) of smooth sow thistle and nipplewort in urban habitats. Late in the month you may find Danish scurvygrass - a white flowered plant - growing along the edges of salted main roads, while on railway tracks in urban areas there may be some Oxford ragwort flowering.
Red deadnettle can form attractive patches on arable fields and bare ground in all sorts of places. The frizzy leaves of mayweed are also visible on arable fields but they do not flower yet. The cabbage-like crop growing in arable fields is oilseed rape - in 2014 (and to a lesser extent in 2017) it was even in flower at the month's end, but this is usually delayed until April. Wheat at this time of year appears like thick-bladed grass: planted back in the autumn and much the same height over the winter, it finally starts to grow taller in March, rising from around 10cm to maybe 25cm by the month's end.
In boggy areas you can see marsh marigold by the second half, and by rivers you may see the weird pink spikes of butterbur. In the same habitat the (very poisonous) foliage of hemlock water dropwort is evident, while in ponds yellow flag iris starts to grow.
By the sea, wallflower (an orange-flowered garden escapee) may be blooming on chalk cliff faces (it also sometimes crops up on chalk railway cuttings), and by the end of the month alexanders – a sort of yellow-green cow parsley - flowers on path verges, mostly near the sea but sometimes also inland.
On shingle beaches the plants (though not the flowers) of sea beet, silver ragwort, red valerian, tree mallow, wild cabbage and stonecrops can also be seen, along with those of rock sea-lavender and rock samphire on chalk cliffs. On bare ground and verges near the sea you may also see the leaf rosettes of bristly oxtongue, which could be mistaken for the rather similar ones of teasel.
Several flowers that are mainly found in gardens but just about qualify as wild flowers can be seen in March – for example, purple periwinkle, which can colonise roadside verges or corners of woods, and lungwort, which also escapes onto verges. As early as the second week you can see the bobble-headed grape hyacinth and towards the end of the month forget-me-nots start to appear, mainly in gardens, but also sometimes in the wild. (There are some wild forget-me-not species later in the spring, but the ones you see in March are almost always garden escapees, a cultivated version of wood forget-me-not.)
In addition you may see three-cornered leek (or three-cornered garlic: both names are used), looking a bit like white bluebells, and - very occasionally - another exotic plant from the garlic family - few-flowered garlic - growing in semi-wild situations. If you see what looks like a large snowdrop with delicate green triangles at the end of its white petals, it is a snowflake. There are two species here - the spring snowflake, more likely early in the month, and the (misnamed) summer snowflake, more likely later in the month. The first has only one or two flowers per stem, the other more: but the difference is fairly academic as any you see outside gardens are almost certainly escapees from cultivation.
March is also when grass starts to grow again, meaning gardeners and park keepers get their mowers out, something that often happens around the middle of the month.
The most notorious exception to everything described above was 2013, when after a reasonable first week, bitterly cold easterly winds set in for the rest of the month (see March weather) putting spring competely on hold. With the exception of a few daffodils and a few primroses, there was no change at all to plant life during the month, including no increase in greenery on path verges, and birdsong died away completely. By the end of March (and indeed into the first week in April) the countryside still looked the same as it had in late February, an effect heightened by the fact that both crocuses and snowdrops lasted all month in many places.
2006 was a similarly bleak March, with cold weather lasting till the 23rd and again only a few tentative daffodils and primroses. In the last week flowers started to appear, however. The same was true in 2010, even though temperatures rose into the mid teens by mid month: in this case, a very cold winter seems to have delayed spring growth.
More March pages:
© Peter Conway 2006-2017 • All Rights Reserved