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July wayside flowers

Other July pages: Downland and seaside flowersHedgerow, fruit and berriesBirdsButterflies and insectsWeather

Put your cursor over any photo to see its caption, or click here to see more July wayside flower photos.

In July the landscape starts to lose its fresh green appearance, with yellowish-brown grass seed now dominant in meadows and arable crops ripening. But there are still plenty of flowers to be seen, particularly on odd bits of wasteground, the edges of paths and roads, and the sides of railway tracks.

The flowers that put on the best display are often those that are regarded as the greatest pests by farmers and gardeners. A good example is common ragwort – poisonous to horses and so pulled up by some landowners, but a lovely golden flower that starts to flower in the first or second week in all sorts of locations, forming large concentrations as the month goes on. You can also get some new growth (and flowers) from Oxford ragwort, originally a native of Mount Etna, on railway lines.

Another July classic is rosebay willowherb – a flower that was rare until the second world war when it suddenly appeared all over bombsites. Its dramatic pink spikes of flowers make a bold impression on the July landscape, coming out early in the month and at their best by the third week or so: some can be starting to look thin by the month’s end, however. The less showy great willowherb appears in the second week and is at its best well into August. You may also see smaller willow herbs, for example broad-leaved willowherb.

Showing that not all invasive foreign species are unwelcome, buddleia puts out a few flowers early in the month and then builds in intensity as the month goes on. This bushy plant, a native of stony deserts in northern China, finds odd bits of urban dereliction and the sides of railway lines the perfect habitat, and produces enormous purple spikes that are beloved of butterflies and bees. Another less noticed flowering shrub of wasteground and wayside is burdock, whose thistle-like flowers always look as if they are only half out: later in the year they produce the burs that stick to your clothing.

There is an enormous list of other flowers that seem to like odd bits of bare ground in July. One is common mallow, which also comes in a delicate pink variety found on grassy verges called musk mallow. Both flowers are related to hollyhocks, a garden plant producing tall spikes of purple or pink flowers which flourishes in and near gardens in July. Another striking plant of bare verges and wasteground is chicory, with its bright blue flowers. On railway lines and in a few other places you get evening primrose which has tall stems of large yellow flowers, and the dramatic yellow spikes of mullein: mainly great mullein, though some dark mullein is also found.

If you see a tall, branched plant with a dandelion-like flower, it is most likely to be a sow thistle, though some kind of hawkweed is also possible - for example hawkweed oxtongue with its bristly stems and long wavy-edged leaves - and early in the month rough or beaked hawksbeard. This is a vastly confusing group of plants and perhaps for most observers the exact identification does not matter. It is worth noting, however, that some have rather lovely flowers - for example the big showy blooms of corn sow thistle (which does not only, or even usually, grow in arable fields and which is at its best this month). Some smooth sow thistle is also found, and very early in the month you may see prickly sow thistle, which looks like a conventional thistle, only yellow-flowered. Near the sea (particularly: though also in other places) you can also see bristly oxtongue, a plant whose rough warty leaves make it rather easier to identify than its relatives.

Much smaller and dantier, with flowers about 10-15mm across, is smooth hawksbeard, a common wayside plant which in turn can easily be confused with nipplewort: the leaves are the clue to telling one from the other. Both look quite different from a true dandelion with its larger, flatter flowers, juicy stems and notched base leaves. You can find a very few isolated examples of these in July but the vast majority of small dandelion-like flowers in July will be common catsear, a plant of grassy verges (and occasionally fields with shorter grass), or one of the hawkbits - perhaps lesser hawkbit or - at the very end of the month - autumn hawkbit.

Also extremely confusing to identify are the various mustards that grow on verges and wasteground in July. Black mustard and hoary mustard, for example, can be told apart only my minor details of their leaves and seeds. Hedge mustard is easier to distinguish because it is a smaller, weedier plant.

Recently disturbed ground can produce large displays of golden melilot, or the near identical ribbed melilot, which have yellow vetch-like flowers. There is also a white melilot that is less often seen. Also on disturbed ground you can see garden escapees such as the showy goat's rue, a member of the pea family which forms large pink-blue clumps, and dame's violet with aromatic pink flowers.

July is also the month for thistles - not a flower that normally inspires admiration, but nevertheless much loved by butterflies and insects. Already in flower at the start of the month are marsh thistle - tall, thin and very spiny and by no means always found on marshes or even on damp ground - and slender thistle, which has small thin flowers. You can also see some musk thistle on downland and grassland, though they tend to go over early in July.

In July these are joined by the very common creeping thistle, whose flowers are pale lilac and surprisingly soft in appearance, and whose stems are not spiny, even though its leaves definitely are. By the end of the month it is going over in many places, producing a mass of seeds that drift off into the air and become the "fairies" beloved of young children. Some continue to flower into August, however. The same is true of spear thistle - the thistle flower with a large globe below it - which appears in force from the second week or so and is very common at the month's end.

Not a thistle (it is actually closely related to scabious), but looking very like one, is teasel, which flowers from mid month, the flower consisting of a pink band around its fearsomely spiky flower head.

Path and lane verges

On path and lane verges, hogweed continues to be found throughout the month: it has a rather unpleasant smell which must be where it gets its name, though in concentrations it can look quite pretty. Another quite different plant of the same family (the umbellifers) is the lovely hedge parsley which graces many a grassy verge, taking over from the rough chervil that occupied this slot in June and the cow parsley of May. Hedge parsley has drifts of small, rather delicate flowers that can turn a bit pink as they go over, and a rough feel to its stems. Just occasionally you can find the even more delicate stone parsley. If you see a yellow plant in this family it could be wild parsnip, but on some verges - especially near the sea - you also find fennel, whose thread-like leaves smell strongly of aniseed when rubbed.

Other verge flowers in July include hedge woundwort – which looks somewhat nettle-like but has maroon flower spikes – and the unfortunately named black horehound which has rings of pink flowers. Both of these can be found throughout the month but hedge woundwort is more common in the first half. In addition there is a marsh woundwort - much prettier, with striking pink flowers - that can be found by riversides and ditches, and sometimes, it seems, in drier places, and which can last well into August.

You might also also still see some meadow cranesbill, whose large blue flowers make it look like a garden escapee, though it is in fact a wild flower: they tend to get scarce as the month goes on. The same goes for French cranesbill, which has large pink flowers and is definitely an escapee. Early in July you may also see one of the smaller cranesbills - cut-leaved or small-flowered cranesbill, for example, and the slightly larger hedgerow cranesbill can occasionally crop up right up to the end of the month.

Another garden escapee is purple toadflax which continues to flower on verges near gardens all month, and it tends to be near gardens that you see the daisy-like feverfew, though properly it belongs in damp places. Another escapee, properly belonging by damp riversides but more normally seen on verges, are cultivated versions of yellow loosestrife, for example dotted loosestrife or whorled loosestrife.

This is also the month when lavender flourishes in gardens, and it is also grown in places as a crop. Growing out of garden walls you can still find ivy-leaved toadflax, the daisy-like mexican fleabane, yellow corydalis and - early in the month - trailing bellflower. Lady's mantle is another garden plant that sometimes escapes onto nearby walls or verges

Also to be seen on verges in July is St John's Wort, along with its semi-wild garden relative rose of sharon. A striking blue-purple flower is tufted vetch which can be seen throughout the month. In addition you get the occasional white campion, red campion or bladder campion (and pink campion, a hybrid of red and white campion) along with and some late foxgloves early in the month.

Not also the pink flowers of field bindweed, occasional outbreaks of white deadnettle, and even more occasional clumps of greater celandine - nothing to do with the lesser celandine that you see in early spring but instead a relative of the poppy. Some green alkanet survives on verges near houses, as does some curled or broad-leaved dock, though as the month they fade from a rusty red (their flowering colour) to rusty brown (signifying they have gone over).

There is also the occasional buttercup on verges in July - probably a creeping buttercup, but take a closer look because silverweed is also possible. Its flowers are very similar to those of the buttercup but its leaves are very different, with distinctive silver undersides. Also somewhat buttercup-like in appearance is cinquefoil, which sprawls over some verges, producing a lot of foliage and relatively few flowers. Looking very similar, but four-petaled and found on acid soils, is tormentil.

Various other flowers more normally associated with downland can be found on verges as well, including the yellow spikes of agrimony (not to be confused with hemp agrimony), marjoram, self-heal, wild basil, mignonette, wild carrot and field scabious, while yarrow is the reverse - a common verge flower that is also sometimes found on downland. You also see some white clover and, early in the month, perhaps some black medick or hedge bedstraw. Towards the months end you may see knapweed or vervain. Lesser stitchwort and meadow vetchling - normally meadow plants - can also crop up as verge flowers in July.

On bare ground - for instance the dried mud of footpaths - a number of overlooked plants appear, including common orache, fat hen, knotgrass and greater plantain. All produce very inconspicuous flowers during the month: in the case of greater plantain the flower spikes are visible enough but the flowers are a faint purple fuzz that you have to be looking very closely to see. Mugwort also has hard-to-see flowers. It is a large metallic green plant that is very common and conspicuous, but its flowers consist of a dun-coloured centre to its white flower buds that you will only notice if you are paying close attention.

Other bare ground plants you may spot include the occasional shepherd's purse, field speedwell and scarlet pimpernel, plus pineapple weed, which looks like a daisy flower without petals and which is a common coloniser of earth paths. (It does indeed smell of pineapple if rubbed.) Now and again on mud paths - and also on urban verges - you see redleg. Throughout the month one can see the fly-whisk plants of horsetail, a relic of the age of the dinosaurs.

On heathland some heather flowers towards the end of the month and you can also find yellowish spikes of wood sage.

Towards the end of July there is another set of new arrivals - the last new flowerings of the year. The second half of the month is the time for hemp agrimony, with its fuzzy pink flowers, and you also see lovely blue nettle-leaved bellflowers at this time. You get some common toadflax and common fleabane earlier in the month, but they become much more common towards its end. Both flowers are much more attractive than their names suggest - common toadflax having yellow flowers a bit like butter curls and common fleabane orange daisy-like blooms.

Right at the end of the month you see tansy (which looks like a daisy without petals), and Canadian goldenrod (often just called goldenrod, but there is a different native flower of that name) which produces a mass of showy yellow tassels. Some michelmas daisies may appear along railway lines at the end of July, though normally they are seen from mid August.

Large and hedge bindweed, broad-leaved everlasting pea, travellers joy and other hedgerow climbers are covered this month on the July hedgerow, fruit and berries page.

Meadows and rough pasture

The fine meadow flower displays of June are only a distant memory in July. Instead tall grass rules and its seeds turn golden. But some flowers can still be found amongst them in the first half of the month, for example the (usually closed) buds of goatsbeard, a yellow flower with grass-like leaves that only opens in the early morning, and which is more usually identified by its fluffy dandelion-like seedheads. Some lesser stitchwort can also still lurk in grassy fields, as can clumps of yellow meadow vetchling and some tufted vetch. Ribwort plantain can also occasionally be seen in flower, as can smooth or hairy tare.

In short mown grass (mostly in parks and on suburban verges, though also on grassy footpaths) one can still see some daisies. In similar habitats, as well as in pasture fields, some white clover survives. Yarrow can also be seen on in pasture and on urban grassland.

In rougher or more unkempt fields, docks premoninate. There are various species but curled dock and broad-leaved dock are most common. Early in the month they still have spikes of red flowers: later in the month these go over and leave the plants looking rusty brown. But the transition between these two states is hard to spot - even in flower docks can still look fairly rusty. Other flowers that can take over rough fields include hogweed - though they tend to be going over as the month ends - and common ragwort - which lasts into August. Thistles are also common - for example creeping or marsh thistle.

Shady spots and woodland

In shadier spots and woodland, enchanter’s nightshade, which puts out spikes of tiny white flowers with dainty seedpods, is very common, and you sometimes still see the tiny pink flowers of herb robert (yet another cranesbill). Early in the month you might just come across the astonishing flowers of stinking iris - despite its name it has wonderful purple or yellow blooms. Red campion can sometimes be seen in shady spots, as can some wood avens (aka herb bennet). Also wood sage along wood edges.

Rarer woodland plants include small balsam, a plant with small yellow flowers and large leaves, or balm, with its white flowers and lemon-smelling leaves. You may also spot the tiny yellow flowers of yellow pimpernel or creeping jenny.

The enormous (and rather alien-looking) spikes of orange-red berries that you can see on shady verges (they ripen as the month goes along) belong to cuckoo pint.

In arable fields

July sees arable crops come to golden ripeness - barley first, and then wheat. From mid month one can start seeing barley harvested, though wheat is usually left till later in the month or early August. For the farmer this is a delicate decision – leaving the crop longer helps it to dry, but leave it too long and a summer downpour could ruin everything. Meadows are also cut (if they were not cut in late June) and you start to see rounded hay bales in the fields (usually wrapped in black plastic these days). One depressing sight is the wastes of dried up oilseed rape, which in May were such a riot of yellow but which turn from green to brown as the month progresses.

Most poppies have gone over, but some can survive well into July. On arable field edges scentless mayweed (a large daisy) can be seen, as can scented mayweed, which has smaller flowers than scentless mayweed and smells faintly of chamomile if you rub its flowers: it is almost impossible to distinguish from stinking chamomile (which has a sickly aroma and thicker leaves). 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 common on disturbed ground.

Smaller arable field edge weeds include field speedwell, common fumitory, scarlet pimpernel, cut-leaved cranesbill, and field pansy. Once wheat has been cut they can also spring up amongst the stubble, though this is more a phenomenum of August. Very rarely (and usually to the west of London, in Wiltshire or Oxfordshire) one can see the striking blue borage, which looks like a garden escapee.

On bare ground knotgrass creates untidy mats, producing inconspicuous flowers mid month, and the same is true of fat hen, a weed of disturbed ground with triangular leaves. Greater plantain seems to like muddy farm tracks and field corners: it produces impressive spikes which flower later in the month but they have such a faint fuzz of purple that you barely notice they are out. Redleg occasionally crops up as an arable weed, as does groundsel.

Waterside and damp places

Near ditches and rivers you can see the white frizzy flowers of meadowsweet throughout the month, while the wonderful spikes of purple loosestrife appear from around the second week. Common from mid month onwards is himalayan balsam, an invasive pest that is nevertheless very beautiful to look at and popular with insects. There is also a much rarer orange balsam.

Superficially similar to purple loosestrife, but smaller and less showy, is marsh woundwort, which is also found on ordinary verges from around mid month. Comfrey continues to flower on riversides and in other damp spots but it is hard to distinguish the true native common comfrey (cream or dull purple flowers, with leaves spreading down the step) from Russian comfrey or its variants (bright blue or various shades of purple or even pink).

Towards the end of the month angelica appears - easy to confuse with hogweed, but with more normal-looking leaves. Rarer waterside flowers include the attractive pink-flowered common valerian, which looks a bit cow parsley but is from a different family, and water forget-me-not - a summer version of the woodland/verge plant which grows on the edges of rivers or in boggy places. In the same habitat you may just see water chickweed, a straggling version of the familiar field plant.

July is also the month when bulrushes and reeds are grown to their full extent. Stagnant water can become green with pondweed but more prettily it is a good month for water lily flowers (both yellow and white ones).

Right at the end of the month wild mints may appear, though August is a more normal time for them. The first to flower is often water mint, with its distinctive double pink globes: it is found both by streams and in wet grassy places. For other mint species see August flowers.

More July pages:

© Peter Conway 2006-2016 • All Rights Reserved

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