Other June pages: Meadow and field flowers • Downland and seaside flowers • Hedgerow, trees and berries • Birds • Butterflies and insects • Weather
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The lovely blooms of May that line country lanes – the stitchworts and garlic mustards – are no more in June and by mid month the path and lane verges that were a riot of colour earlier in spring have reverted to plain green. But there are still a wonderful variety of flowers to be seen if you keep your eyes peeled - perhaps the most species of any month in the year.
Perhaps the most dramatic flowers are oxeye daisies, which favour dry grassy banks and can form large displays along railway lines early in the month. By its end they are past their best, but they can crop up in places right into July.
Other verge flowers include red campion, which can survive in places right through the month, as can white campion and bladder campion: there is also a pink campion, which is a hybrid of red and white. Note also delicate purple spikes of hedge woundwort which can be found throughout the month in shadier places. In the second half it is joined by the pink-flowered black horehound (which is much nicer than its name suggests): both have nettle-like leaves.
This is also the month of the enormous purple spikes of foxgloves, which go over towards the month’s end, and beautiful hedgerow cranesbill. You may also see the larger, showier meadow cranesbill, which often appears to be a garden escapee in the south east, though it grows wild in Wiltshire and Oxfordshire. In addition you see a lot of French cranesbill, which is a sort of pink version of meadow cranesbill and usually has spread from nearby gardens onto wild verges.
Much smaller cranesbills such as dovesfoot cranesbill, cut-leaved cranesbill and small-flowered cranesbill (with pale lilac flowers) are found on verges too, and more rarely you might see round-leaved cranesbill, shiny cranesbill or even pencilled cranesbill. Another much commoner member of this family is herb robert,which tends to have disappeared from the woodland where it thrives earlier in spring, but still survives in places in June on shady road and path edges. Just occasionally on short grass verges on sandy soils you may see common storksbill, which looks a lot like a cranesbill.
Early in the month you may still see May survivors such as white deadnettle, common vetch, bush vetch and wild strawberry (though the latter are also producing their tiny fruits by now). Wood avens (aka herb bennet) is already past its best early in the month but can last in places until late in the month. Also occasionally found until late in June is green alkanet, which generally seems to be growing near houses, as well as tiny-flowered forget-me-nots (usually field forget-me-not, though early forget-me-not is possible). Later in the month the striking blue tufted vetch makes attractive clumps in places.
In woodland sanicle is still in flower in the first half as well as the occasional pignut. Rarer plants you might see in the same habitat include yellow pimpernel and creeping jenny, both ground creepers with yellow flowers, and small balsam, a large leafy plant with small yellow flowers. Purple stinking iris may also crop up occasionally: it has similar leaves to pendulous sedge, a common woodland plant that puts out green seed heads in June. Two of the less noticed woodland plants - dog's mercury and cuckoo pint - have by now produced green berries (poisonous in both cases).
Cow parsley has gone over in late May and in place of its dreamy drifts of white flowers there are only brown seed heads. But you might be fooled into thinking some of it is still out because a range of other similar flowers – from the family known as umbellifers – appear in June. Most similar to cow parsley is rough chervil, which has rough purplish stems (though some start out green) and delicate, separate elements to its flowerheads.
A larger and coarser umbellifer is hogweed, which is ubiquitous by the third week along lane and path verges and which also colonises fields. You might also see giant hogweed, a rather terrifying version of the flower that is as big as a small tree. If you are not sure you are seeing a giant hogweed, then you are not: it is unmistakably bigger than ordinary hogweed in scale, with flowers up to 30 centimetres across and very different leaves. It is an irritant to the skin and should not be touched.
Even more deadly is hemlock water dropwort, a very poisonous umbellifer that is very commonly seen flowering in ditches and streams in June, fading in the second half: it looks far too attractive for such a deadly plant. The same cannot be said of hemlock, which is tall (not infrequently two metres or more) and untidy-looking, with purple blotches on its woody stems. Also poisonous (it was the drug used to execute Socrates in ancient Greece) it can form modest patches on road and stream banks.
A less lethal umbellifer, but a massive irritant to gardeners is ground elder, which has elder-like leaves quite different from others in the family and which can be found on path edges all month. Another flower with a umbellifer-like flat white flower head, but in fact a member of the fleabane family, is yarrow, which appears at the end of the month and then lasts all summer.
Another confusing family of flowers which is often seen on waysides and field edges in June are the various cabbage and mustard family plants including charlock, the rather feeble looking hedge mustard, and black mustard which is almost identical to hoary mustard.
Yet another group of flowers has dandelion-like flowers, though dandelions themselves have nearly all gone over in May - if you think you see a dandelion on a grassy verge, it is very likely to be a catsear. Taller, straggly plants with dandelion-like flowers that can be found on verges in June include beaked hawksbeard, rough hawksbeard and the unfortunately named nipplewort. The latter can look quite similar to the very common smooth hawksbeard, which has small dandelion-like flowers on a many branched stem: as so often with these flowers, the leaves are the clue to their identify. Hawkweeds are also occasionally seen.
Another plant family with dandelion-like flowers are the sow thistles. Smooth sow thistle is the most common variety in June, a plant that looks like it will be spiny but is in fact not. Completely different in appearance is the prickly sow thistle, which looks like a thistle with yellow flowers.
Very common on odd bits of wasteground throughout June (and indeed, the whole summer) is mallow, which forms clumps of attractive pink flowers. It has a rarer, more delicate variety called musk mallow. If anyone notices, cleavers (aka goosegrass: the plant that sticks to your clothes) also has miniscule white flowers. Curled and broad-leaved dock flowers have a rusty look that makes them look as if they are already over.
Early in the month one can still find crosswort – which has green flowers in spikes that look quite attractive en masse, and some germander speedwell. Other grassland flowers on verges during June include ribwort plantain, black medick and cinquefoil. In mown or grazed grass daisies are still seen. Silverweed can be found in flower at any time of the month, but is easily overlooked as its flowers look very similar at a casual glance to creeping buttercup, which also crops up occasionally on verges till late in the month. (Silverweed has very distinctive leaves, but the flowers often look a bit detached from them).
In the second half of the month, some flowers appear on verges that are also found on downland. An example is agrimony – a small spike delicately splashed with yellow flowers. Others include self-heal, hedge bedstraw and mignonette, as well as common spotted and pyramidal orchids. Meadow vetchling and lesser stitchwort - more normally meadow flowers - can also crop up on verges in June.
Stinging nettles have reached waist or even neck height in June, and along with other vegetation, can block paths that were perfectly clear earlier in the year. Another unloved group of plants – thistles – can be seen growing throughout the month, the new leaves of creeping thistle looking pale and lettuce-like to begin with. Marsh, slender and musk thistles flower in June, while creeping thistle and spear thistle may perhaps be seen in bloom at the very end of the month. By this time the plants of teasel, with its large oval flower heads, appear, though they do not flower yet.
A prettier pest, much hated by gardeners, is bindweed. Its huge white trumpets (large or hedge bindweed), or small pink ones (field bindweed), cover hedgerows, verges or wasteground from around mid month. Broomrapes - strange pale organisms that live as parasites on the roots of particular plants - also can sometimes be seen
Towards the end of the month you may just see the striking purple spikes of rosebay willowherb or the much less showy great willowherb though early July is a more normal time for them to appear. There are also a confusing number of smaller members of this family, such as broad-leaved willowherb. Two tall yellow relatives of the pea family - ribbed melilot or golden melilot - can appear on disturbed ground at this time. (Telling ribbed and golden melilot apart is not easy, but ribbed is taller and has shorter lower petals to its flower, whereas on golden they are equal.) There is a white version of this plant - white melilot.
In addition, the end of June is when bright orange common ragwort can start to appear on fields, verges and downland, as well as along railway lines. Poisonous to horses and so persecuted by some landowners, it is nevertheless a very pretty plant. It needs to be distinguished from Oxford ragwort, which appears as early as May on railway lines and is generally over by early June, though can hang on later in a few places. This is a separate species from the slopes of Mount Etna that escaped in the 19th century from a botanical garden. Also found on the sides of railway lines early in the month (as well as growing out of garden walls) is red valerian or its white variant and towards the end of the month you may see the huge yellow-flowered spikes of great mullein.
Sticking with this part of the colour pallet, the pretty yellow flowers of St John’s wort (used to treat depression) appear at the end of June, along with their large flashy garden relative, rose of sharon. On railway lines or gravel tracks you can find evening primrose in huge yellow spikes, but one never seems to see them anywhere else. On verges there are occasional welsh or atlantic poppies (the one yellow and the other orange-coloured) that have escaped from gardens, as well as isolated clumps of greater celandine - nothing to do with the lesser celandine that flowers in early spring, but another relative of the poppy.
On bare ground, such as muddy paths and tracks, greater plantain puts up its flower spikes from mid month. You have to look very carefully indeed to see them in bloom, however, as all that is produced is a slight purple haze that is only evident at very close quarters. Another plant of such habitats that you may see but will probably overlook is common orache, but it is not flowering yet. The same is true of knotgrass - a common but little regarded weed which colonises bare ground at this time. Neither looks at all conspicuous when they do flower in any case. Much prettier is scarlet pimpernel whose orangey-red flowers may crop up on bare ground at any time in the month.
Throughout the month one can see the fly whisk plants of horsetail (an authentic survivor from the age of the dinosaurs). At the very end of the month you may also see some July flowers starting on wasteground and verges, including hemp agrimony, mugwort and enchanter's nightshade.
In gardens (and as a crop on some farms) lavender appears in about the second week. Feverfew with its daisy-like plants, also lurks near gardens, often at the bottom of a wall. If you see blue star-shaped flowers trailing down walls in June, it is trailing bellflower. Mexican fleabane (a type of daisy), ivy-leaved toadflax and yellow corydalis also grow out of the most unlikely cracks in stonework.
Looking like the garden escapees they are, showy and aromatic clumps of dame's violet can be found in odd field corners or roadside verges in June, and the pretty upside-down purple flowers of columbine can still be seen in places too early in the month. Other naturalised escapees include yellow loosestrife - or more usually the garden variant whorled loosestrife with orange centres to its flowers - and the cheerful purple-pink flowers of goats rue. Very occasionally you still see some periwinkle flowers
Broad-leaved everlasting pea and hollyhocks also fall into the escapee category - both appear towards the end of June (the very end in the case of hollyhocks) - while the tall attractive spikes of purple toadflax can be found right at the start of the month. The same is also true of yellowy-green flowered lady's mantle. A plant that looks like it has escaped from a garden but has not is common toadflax, which is more common in late summer but appears in places on verges this month.
In wet meadows and on the edges of streams and ditches, the most attractive June flower is meadowsweet, which produces drifts of white flowers. Particularly at the start of the month you may also see common valerian (not to be confused with the red or white valerian found on railway lines or at the seaside) in such places. Comfrey also flowers throughout the month: unlike earlier in the year, when garden varieties that have gone wild abound, it usually seems to be the native common comfrey in June, with its cream or dull purple flowers and leaves that seem to creep a bit down the stem.
In streams on chalk you can see water crowfoot growing - a pretty white flower with a yellow centre - and this is also a good month for water lilies - both yellow and white ones: often seen on ornamental ponds but also sometimes in the wild. Early in June by ponds and in marshy places you see yellow flag (aka yellow iris). More rarely, water forget-me-not and water chickweed may be seen beside rivers.
Arable fields can look rather attractive in June, with the still green wheat rippling in hypnotic patterns in the breeze. Towards the end of the month some may be beginning to turn golden, especially barley which is the earliest to ripen.
On arable edges scented mayweed can be seen, which has smaller flowers than scentless mayweed common later in the summer) and which smells faintly of chamomile if you rub its flowers; it is almost impossible to distinguish from stinking chamomile. The frizzy leaves and yellow heads of pineapple weed (like a daisy without its petals, which does actually smell of pineapple if rubbed) can look like one of these about to flower, but it is in fact a separate species and increasingly common on disturbed ground as the month goes on. Groundsel is also a possible weed in such locations.
The edge of arable fields is also the place to see the delicate purple flowers of common fumitory, tiny white field pansies, delicate pink stars of field madder, and the red flowers of scarlet pimpernel. Cut-leaved cranesbill are fond of crop edges too, and you can find field speedwell here, distinguishable from the germander speedwell found in grassland by having one whitened petal. Shepherd's purse, with its distinctive heart-shaped seeds can also be found. Very rarely (and usually to the west of London, in Wiltshire or Oxfordshire) one can see the striking blue borage, which looks like an escaped garden flower.
The most striking arable weed in June is undoubtedly the poppy, however. It can appear in ones or twos or can take over whole fields, but just where it does this is unpredictable from year to year. That being said the South Downs and the area around Luddesdown in Kent are usually good places to see them.
Another striking sight in some places are blue fields of flax, which are at their height in early June. Wild flax flowers can also sometimes be found on short grassland. Lucerne is another commercial crop that sometimes escapes into the wild. The oilseed rape fields that were such a sea of yellow flowers just a few weeks ago are now acres of green seeds, which can be starting to go brown at the month's end. Wild radish - identified by the particular bulbous shape of its petals, which can be white, yellowish or purple and are veined with delicate purple lines - can pop up in the middle of this crop, and on the edges of other arable fields.
Traditionally haymeadows were cut in late June or early July and you may still see this happening. The hay is then gathered into circular bales as winter feed for cattle. And talking of livestock, by June those cute lambs of early spring are almost fully grown. They no longer look so adorable and are presumably not long for this world. Later in the month it is made even more obvious which ones are destined for the abattoir, since the ewes are shorn and the lambs are not....
More June pages:
- Meadow and field flowers
- Downland and seaside flowers
- Hedgerow, trees and berries
- Butterflies and insects
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