Other February pages: Trees & shrubs • Birds and insects • Weather
Put your cursor over any photo to see its caption, or click here see more February flower photos.
February is a month when the countryside can seem brown and drab, the mud unending, and winter reluctant to loosen its grip. Yet the weather can sometimes have hints of spring and if you keep your eyes peeled you can see signs of life returning.
Though more often found in parks and gardens than in the wild, crocuses are the star attraction this month. Around the last week of January (or as early as mid January some years) they suddenly decide to pop their heads out of the ground and grow frantically upwards. They are usually starting to flower at the beginning of February and then last for the rest of the month. When a sunny day tempts them to open into delicate stars, it feels as if spring has arrived. (Crocuses did not appear till the second week of February in 2009 and 2017, and the third week in 2010. In 2016 some came out in late December and they were fading from mid February onwards).
Snowdrops also continue to flower in their demure little clusters, though some are going over as the month ends, the first poignant die back of the year. Gardens, churchyards and village verges are the most likely place you will see them, though they can also crop up in woods. Don't confuse snowdrops, incidentally, with spring snowflake, a similar-looking garden plant that sometimes escapes onto village verges.
As February progresses you might also see some lesser celandines, primroses or daffodils in flower on path and road verges but these are mostly isolated examples in sheltered spots: in cold years they may not appear at all. (In 2016 there were good numbers of all three throughout February, but these had come out in late December and early January due to a very mild December). Likewise, some daisies and even the odd dandelion appear, and towards the end of the month maybe some tiny purple violets. None of these are yet flowering en masse, however. As the old adage says, spring has not come until you can cover nine daisies with your foot - something that doesn’t happen till late March or early April.
Other flowers you might also see in mild years include red deadnettle, chickweed, shepherd's purse, groundsel and field speedwell. All of these can be found on verges or the edges of arable field, and also as urban weeds, a location where they are joined by hairy bittercress. Very occasionally white deadnettle may also flower on verges.
Other flowers you may notice are really garden plants, though they can escape into semi-wild situations. One is periwinkle, which produces lots of foliage and a few purple flowers. In churchyards you sometimes find aconites, yellow flowers with a ruff of green leaves. On village verges you can still see some winter heliotrope - an odd plant with large rounded leaves and stalks of pink flowers.
In fields, on verges and on woodland floor there is plenty of evidence of other flowers to come later in the spring, with many green shoots in evidence. You need some botanical skills to identify exactly what is growing, but even the casual observer can see an increase in activity during February. (For photos of many of the shoots mentioned below, click here.)
The most obvious and easiest to identify is cow parsley, whose leaves can be seen in clumps everywhere. At this time of year the plant really does look like parsley, though it is not: its name means “fool’s parsley”. This plant has in fact been growing since October, but will not flower until May.
Tiny shoots of cleavers (also known as goosegrass) and the curving waxy leaves of cuckoo pint (aka lords and ladies) are also very common - the latter appear during January (or sometimes not till early February), standing out starkly from banks and bare earth. From early in the month the leaves - initially very tiny - of bluebells also start to be seen everywhere in the woods where they will bloom, and though some have been around all winter, there is definitely an increase in the saw-toothed leaves of dandelions. Some catsear and hawkbit leaves are also evident. Young stinging nettles shoots, some of which have been around since November, also increase in number (though some of these may be the shoots of white deadnettles, which are also growing at this time).
Back in woodland, as the month goes on you find the leaves of ramsons (aka wild garlic), which have a strong garlic smell. You may also come across the foliage of woodruff, as well as shoots of dog's mercury, an inconspicuous plant that nevertheless brings swathes of green to the floors of some woodland. In places the silver-streaked leaves of the "argentatum" variety of yellow archangel can be seen, as well as new shoots of red campion.
In addition, the shovel-shaped leaves of lesser celandine are everywhere by now, both on verges and in woodland, and also on verges you can see the large rough foliage of alkanet (which are similar to those of white comfrey, which is also occasionally found), along with the leaves of primrose, garlic mustard and wood avens (aka herb bennet), herb robert, nipplewort and maybe common mallow, greater celandine (not to be confused with lesser celandine, to which it is unrelated), foxglove, forget-me-not, ground elder and dock.
In grassland there are the leaves of various perennial plants that have been there all winter, including cranesbill, clover, daisy, cinquefoil, ribwort plantain, spear thistle, ragwort, yarrow, creeping buttercup and meadow buttercup.
In boggy areas later in the month you get the distinctive heart-shaped leaves of marsh marigold starting to appear, along with the foliage of the very poisonous hemlock water dropwort. Out of cracks in walls ivy-leaved toadflax puts out new shoots. By the sea the foliage of alexanders is abundant (in 2016 some even flowered) and you can see the leafy stumps of tree mallow. The leaves of sea beet, wild cabbage, rock sea-lavender, rock samphire, red valerian, silver ragwort, bristly oxtongue and stonecrops can also be seen.
In arable fields winter crops such as the grass-like new shoots of wheat add a welcome splash of green to the landscape (they remain as short as they were back in October: it is not until March that they start to grow). The cabbage-like leaves you see in some fields are the young shoots of oilseed rape. On arable margins you can see the frizzy leaves of mayweed, and in bare spots generally groundsel, chickweed, bittercress, shepherd's purse and field speedwell. All except mayweed may even be in flower (see top of page) and are also found as found as urban weeds.
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