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April verge and field flowers

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Picture: stitchwort. Click here for more April verge and field flower photos.

There are plenty of flowers on path, road and field verges in April: indeed, this is the first of two months when country lanes are absolutely awash with them.

Yellow celandines (properly lesser celandines, as the unrelated greater celandine also flowers this month: see below) are still at their height at the start of the month, blooming happily almost everywhere one looks. They tend to fade away or get smothered by other vegetation in the second or third week, but they can be found in places right up to the end of the month. Their leaves shrivel away once they have finished flowering, to leave no trace that they have ever been there, though this does not usually happen until May.

Other survivors from March that can still be found on verges are daffodils, violets (mainly dog violets at this stage) and primroses. Daffodils are past their best in city parks by the start of the month but can survive till the second or third week in rural spots. Like celandines, violets and primroses get smothered by other vegetation as the month goes on, but can be seen in places right up to the end of April.

Of the verge flowers that appear in April, it is cuckoo flower, garlic mustard and stitchwort that make the best displays. Cuckoo flower (otherwise known as lady’s smock) can be seen in force right from the start of the month if March has been mild, and remains prominent all month. At its best it can create dreamy drifts of pink, particularly in roadside ditches. In the east Weald and Chilterns from mid month onward you can also find coralroot, a rare cuckoo flower relative: really a plant of woodland but found also on shady verges.

Stitchwort (correctly greater stitchwort) – a delicate white flower identifiable by its double petals - appears in places in early in April (sometimes even in late March), but it really comes out in force in the second or third week - sometimes even the fourth - and by the end of the month seems to be everywhere.

Garlic mustard (which is neither a garlic nor a mustard but whose leaves are supposed to smell a bit of both when crushed) comes out in the second or third week and lasts into May. Honesty, its more flashy mauve-flowered relative, can sometimes be seen a bit earlier - often, though not always, near houses. It gets its name from its large flat seed pods which become transparent later in the year.

Another common flower of verges and any spare bit of grass in April is the humble dandelion. So familiar it tends to get overlooked, it nevertheless steadily increases in number as the month goes on, forming dense yellow patches, until in the third or fourth week the sheer quantity can be almost overwhelming. By this time some of the flowers are starting to go over, forming their famous spherical fluffy seedheads. (Early in the month, and occasionally as late as the third week, the superficially similiar coltsfoot is also possible, but this is quite a rare flower in the south east.)

Ground ivy appears early in the month, if it has not already done so at the end of March, and though its little purple flowers are not dramatic on their own, it can form great mats as April progresses. The same goes for germander speedwell, a tiny blue flower that appears in the second half of the month, becoming very common by its end.

Some field speedwell may also be seen, especially early in the month, on barer verges and disturbed ground, and in the same habitat you find large mats of the inconspicuous ivy-leaved speedwell, which has very tiny lilac flowers. It is hard to tell if these are bloom: even when they seem to have gone over, there are often still some surviving, and these can last till the end of the month.

You can see white strawberry flowers all through April: in the first half these tend to be barren strawberry (a notch in its petals, which also have a bit of a gap between them, and a blunter end to the leaves) but in the second half the true wild strawberry starts to take over.

From about the third week (not till the very end of the month in colder years) you start to see the pretty blue spikes of bugle, which in the early stages of its flowering is possible to confuse with ground ivy, though its flowers are bluer. Here and there from quite early in the month but more generally towards its end, herb robert dots shadier verges its with small pink flowers.

Flowers normally associated with woodland such as bluebells, wood anemones, ramsons (aka wild garlic), early purple orchids, goldilocks buttercup and (later in the month) yellow archangel can also sometimes be found on verges, usually either escapees from woodland populations nearby or relicts of former ones.

Dog's mercury is another woodland plant that is fairly common on verges: it is flowering in April but its flowers are green and very inconspicuous: the same can be said of wood spurge which finds its way onto shadier verges as well as waysides near houses.

Some cowslips also crop up on verges. and occasionally they interbreed with nearby primroses to produce false oxlips, a delightfully silly mix of the genes of the two plants (usually primrose-sized flowers in cowslip shapes). In addition you get the very occasional oilseed rape flowers, escapees from nearby agricultural fields (see Arable below), or sometimes weeds along rail lines.

You continue to see red and white deadnettles – both of which have usually already appeared in March. The white ones can make quite large displays on verges, particularly later in the month; the red are out in force on broken or bare ground right from the start of the month and usually fading away as it ends.

Ordinary stinging nettles rapidly grow taller during the month – from 10 centimetres or so high at the start of the month to as much as half a metre by its end. Cleavers - the plant that sticks to your clothes - attain a similar height. Along with new blades of grass growing straight and tall, all these contribute to the growing lushness of verges. For now, however, this does not look straggly or unkempt, just fresh and optimistic.

Other wayside flowers in April include forget-me-not and its large-leaved relative alkanet, both of which are usually found near to houses, and both of which can form large patches. It is the garden forget-me-not, a version of wood forget-me-not, that you are seeing here. There are also smaller-flowered wild species such as field forget-me-not and early forget-me-not, which may appear later in April but are more usually seen in May.

In the second half of April the occasional red campion may just be seen, and the same is true of bush vetch and, right at the end of the month, possibly common vetch. A rarer member of this family is bitter vetchling which occasionally makes good displays on roadside banks in April.

Towards the end of the month you start to see some bulbous buttercups on verges. Now and then you also spot the yellow-flowered greater celandine - nothing to do with the lesser celandine mentioned above but in fact a relative of the poppy.

The curious flowers of cuckoo pint are found in shady places in the second half (its name has a sexual connotation, as does the alternative lords and ladies), though they seem nothing like as common as the leaves were earlier in the year. It is also quite hard to find the spikes open, revealing the spadix, the central cylinder to which the plant's names refer. This produces a rotten smell to attract insects, which then get trapped overnight in a lower chamber, inadvertently fertilising the plant.

While we are on odd plants, spikes of horsetail appear in April, sometimes early in the month (or even in late March) but sometimes not till the second half, their bulbous tips looking a bit like asparagus. These emit pollen (horsetail having evolved before there was such a thing as a flowering plant) and then later in the month produce green rings which will open up into the familiar fly-whisk leaves in May.

Also distinctly strange is the parasitic toothwort, a pale pink plant that grows on the roots of hazel. Meanwhile, spring beauty, a rarity found on sandy soils, has tiny white flowers in the middle of large round leaves.

Among the smaller (and less noticed) flowers is tiny white chickweed - found on verges, on odd bits of wasteground and also in grassy fields. It is also common in urban settings, as is bittercress. There are two species here - hairy bittercress which has been around since February or March and is generally gone by mid April, and the more luxuriant wavy bittercress, which appears this month and is at its best in the second half: it is technically found on damper verges, though sometimes seems to be in dry places too.

Other urban verge weeds include shepherd's purse (distinctive due to its heart-shaped seed pods, the purse of its name), groundsel (an unromantic weed that can go from seed to flower to seed again in as little as six weeks and which some botanists reckon is the commonest British flower), and thale cress (for which this is the best month); also sometimes the very tiny white flowers of common whitlowgrass.

Yellow wintercress can also appear on wasteground (sometimes even in urban corners) later in the month, and Oxford ragwort, originally a railway line plant (see below), may pop up in other built environments too. Near houses you may come across shining cranesbill and cornsalad (aka lamb's lettuce).

A few straggly flowers of cow parsley may be seen right from the start of the month, and in the second half it can start to come out in force in places, producing lovely drifts of white. Looking like a yellowy-green cow parsley is alexanders, a plant more common in coastal areas but sometimes found inland, which is in flower all month.

In urban corners sow thistle plants (which look prickly but are in fact soft to the touch) are seen widely and if it is mild, some may even flower. In addition, the practised eye can pick out the growing leaves of rosebay willowherb and great willowherb, as well as the large leaves of hogweed and giant hogweed, the latter an irritant to the skin and looking a bit like rhubarb.

Also rhubarb-sized are the enormous leaves of burdock, while if you see a frizzy-looking version of cow parsley leaves, then that is hemlock. Greater plantain leaves increase in size on bare muddy paths and tracks, and silverweed foliage is very noticeable on short grass verges.

Arable margins

As they do most of the year, the bare margins of arable fields have a good crop of smaller flowers in April. Red deadnettle, already mentioned above in verges, is one example. Others are shepherd's purse, groundsel, and more rarely chickweed, hairy bittercress or wavy bittercress.

You can also continue to see field speedwell in arable fields, and possibly some field pansy or, at the end of the month, pretty pink common fumitory. There are occasional examples of charlock, once a very common arable weed but squeezed out by modern farming methods. The somewhat similar-looking wintercress (very occasionally early wintercress, but mostly the main species), seems to do a bit better, popping up in arable corners and occasionally flourishing along the edge of oilseed rape fields.

The leaves of mayweed are evident but not yet in flower: the same is true of cut-leaved cranesbill, which seems particularly fond of the margins of oilseed rape fields. In the same habitat look out for the white (or sometimes pale mauve or yellow) flowers of wild radish. Very occasionally you also come across field pepperwort, or (on non-chalk soils) corn spurrey.

Oilseed rape itself turns whole fields an intense yellow when it comes into flower. It is a variable crop and can start at the end of March in places, but more normally comes out in force in April: at the start of the month in 2007, 2012, 2017, 2019 and 2024; in the second week in 2020, 2022 and 2023; in the third week in 2018 and 2021; the fourth week in 2016; and not till early May in 2006 and 2010. Once out, it lasts two to three weeks.

Winter wheat, having looked like rather heavy, thick-bladed 7-8 centimetres high grass all winter, starts to grow in April, if it has not already done so in late March, and reaches about 20 centimetres high by the month's end. It is called winter wheat because it is planted in the autumn, not because it grows significantly over winter: early planting gives it a growth advantage in the spring. Barley looks even more like a field of ordinary grass, at least in the first half of the month.

April is a good time to see lambs. When first in the fields they may baa a lot, seeking reassurance from their mothers, though as they get used to their territory and become more independent, this largely stops. Sometimes there just seem to be random outbreaks, however. In their very early days they frolic and gambol too (practising the moves they would need in the wild to evade predators apparently), though they also spend around 12 hours a day asleep, which can give their fields a rather tranquil air on a sunny day.

If you see a field of sheep without lambs in April, they are quite likely to be still pregnant ewes, as some farms delay lambing until the weather is warmer and allow the ewes to give birth in the fields. You can sometimes even see just-born lambs, somewhat unsteady on their feet with their umbilical chords still trailing from their bellies, their mother spending a bit of time licking them, but mostly getting on with that all-important task of eating grass.

Cattle also return to the fields during the month, one factor being when the fields dry out sufficiently for their hooves not to churn them up. Beef cattle - not infrequently cows and calves, but sometimes more mature males - the ones you are most likely to see. Dairy cows (who never have calves with them) are quite rare in the south east, but when they are let out after a long winter eating hay in a barn they can apparently be endearingly frisky.

Damp places, roads and railway lines

In boggy places you can see clumps of lovely yellow marsh marigolds throughout the month, while on the edge of streams what looks like an innocent clump of parsley is the foliage of hemlock water dropwort, which is poisonous to both humans and cattle. In still or slow-moving water the leaves of yellow flag iris continue to grow as do those of reeds and bulrushes.

Very occasionally in marshy spots you encounter skunk cabbage - an aptly-named American invader which is related to cuckoo pint. (It has an enormous yellow spadix: its name refers to the unpleasant smell it is supposed to produce.) You also may just see the weird pink spikes of butterbur by riversides, while golden saxifrage forms yellowy-green mats in ditches and other damp spots.

Along main roads there are dense white mats of scurvygrass, which flowers throughout the month. It is originally a coastal plant but increasingly flourishes inland by the side of roads that are salted in winter. The same is true of hoary cress, whose greyish foliage is visible from early in April, and which may be starting to put forth white flowers in the second half of the month.

Along railway lines you can see Oxford ragwort for whom the trackbed clinker is a perfect substitute for its natural home on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. It tends to appear first early in the month in inner city areas such as at the main London termini, before spreading out in the second half to the suburbs and beyond. Herb robert is another plant that sometimes flowers in some profusion on railway clinker in the second half of the month, but it is less drought-resistant than Oxford ragwort, so its foliage soon turns red if there is no rain.

Towards the end of the month oxeye daisy may appear on railway embankments and by major roads - for some reason it seems to come out a bit earlier in these habitats. At the same time you see might see red valerian starting on railway lines, as well as out of garden walls and in coastal areas.


The best wildflower displays on downland are in summer, but you can see cowslips there from quite early in April and sometimes in great numbers towards its end. There are also primroses, these tending to be earlier in the month, and as mentioned above the two may interbreed to make false oxlips.

Violets and ground ivy can also be found, as can wild strawberry in the second half (and just possibly barren strawberry in the first week or two). Other second half flowers include bugle, germander speedwell, wild strawberry and early purple orchid.

You see both stunted (ie very short-stemmed) versions of ordinary dandelions and a variant with a much smaller flower that looks a lot like mouse-ear hawkweed, but is easily distinguished from it by its (tiny) saw-toothed leaves.

Also in the second half there are tiny clusters of blue (more rarely mauve, pink or white) milkwort, while at the same time you may just see the dimunitive yellow frizz of spring sedge. Daisies appear on trodden paths or their margins, and wood spurge can crop up in some places. At the very end of the month bulbous buttercup and crosswort may be starting to flower.

Look more closely and there are plenty of signs of flowers to come, including the pale-backed leaves of silverweed, the distinctive whorls of hedge bedstraw and the leaves of rough hawkbit, salad burnet and ragwort. Also the rosettes of dwarf thistle (a downland specialist, whose presence you usually detect when you try to sit down on the grass), plus the leaves of creeping and spear thistle.

Meadows and grassy fields

April is not a great time for meadows – they still look like ordinary grassy fields this month, and you would never suspect the richness of plants that is to come. It is not till May that they start to grow upwards.

However, damper ones can have pink drifts of cuckoo flowers in April, and tall meadow buttercups may start to appear at the end of the month. The tendrils, though not yet the flowers, of meadow vetchling can also be seen. As early as mid month you may see seedheads on meadow foxtail, a species of grass

Otherwise the main field and grassland flower in April is the dandelion, which is around all month, but in the second half achieves high concentrations in pasture and mown grass. In the last week of the month some may be starting to go to seed, producing their characteristic spherical "clocks".

As the dandelions go over, buttercups are starting to get into their stride - as well as the occasional meadow buttercup as mentioned above, bulbous buttercup is very common at this time of year in ordinary grassland, distinguished by its turned-down sepals (the flaps under the flowers). Cowslips can crop up in fields in chalky, downland areas, while their relative primrose can make intense mats in churchyards and other tended grassy areas.

Mown grass also sees great numbers of daisies build up (where they are allowed to), and they are found in the wild on well-trodden grassy paths and in closely-cropped pasture fields. These are also habitats in which you might just see some dovesfoot cranesbill or the superficially very similar common storksbill.

Look out also for germander speedwell, whose dark blue flowers are quite common in grassy fields in the second half. There can be quite considerable concentrations of bugle and ground ivy at the same time, usually around field edges, while stitchwort (ie greater stitchwort) sometimes spreads from field margins to form patches in the middle of lush grass.

Smaller flowers include chickweed throughout the month, and in the second half common mouse ear, which has flowers like chickweed but with less foliage and on longer hairy stalks. Throughout the month in pasture you also see sticky mouse ear, which has dense clusters of (usually closed) at the end of its stalks.

Also in the second half, look out too for spikes of the very tiny thyme-leaved speedwell, which might be mistaken at a casual glance for eyebright. Right at the end of the month ribwort plantain appears, its flowers looking more like a grass seed.

Evidence of flowers to come include dock and creeping thistle leaves, which become increasingly prominent in rougher pastures, while spear thistle rosettes that have been there over the winter become more bushy. Marsh thistle rosettes may appear later in the month/


Several flowers in gardens brighten up early spring and manage to cross the boundary to become semi-wild species. The most obvious are forget-me-nots, already mentioned above, which achieve great concentrations in many flowerbeds as well as on nearby verges. Another blue favourite is grape hyacinth with its bobble-heads, which started to flower in March and which fades by the third week.

In cracks in walls ivy-leaved toadflax with its dainty purple flowers can be in flower right from the start of the month, though is more common towards its end. The same is true of yellow corydalis, a relative of common fumitory. In the same habitat, Mexican fleabane, which has clumps of daisy-like flowers, may start to flower in the second half.

Summer snowflake, which looks like an oversized snowdrop, is common in gardens in the first half and sometime hops the fence, and so does three-cornered leek (also called three-cornered garlic), which looks a bit like a white bluebell and which flowers throughout the month.

A much less common wild relative is the weird few-flowered garlic, which has one enormous leaf and individual flowers on stalks from a central hub. It grows in damp shady spots and fades in the second half of the month.

You can also see lungwort, a plant with spotted leaves and pink and blue flowers that hang in curling clusters: it starts in March and lasts until around mid month, perhaps a little longer in places, and can be found on verges near houses as well as in gardens. Clumps of wallflower, with its cheerful orange flowers, can be seen all month, mostly in gardens but sometimes growing out of ancient walls, or escaping onto chalk sea cliffs or the sides of railway cuttings.

From early in the month white comfrey is in flower, as well as the somewhat shorter creeping comfrey which forms big patches on verges near gardens - and sometimes in wilder spots. In its natural state the latter has cream flowers, but is quite often seen in a hybrid form with Russian comfrey which produces blooms with blue or red elements to them. True Russian comfrey - as tall as white comfrey and with blue or purple flowers - may also be starting to flower by the month's end, but this is a wayside plant rather than a garden one.

Periwinkle is another garden common escapee, with its distinctively shaped purple flowers. It usually forms large colonies on verges near houses but sometimes carpets areas of woodland.

More April pages:

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