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March flowers

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Picture: wood anemones. Click here for 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.

Daffodils, celandines, primroses, dandelions and daisies

Snowdrops and crocuses are generally fading at the start of March, though a few may last in places into the first week. One doesn’t notice their passing 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 towards the end of the month 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. There are already quite a few in the first week of the month and they then steadily increase in quantity, peaking at the end of March, when they seem to be everywhere, sometimes in intense carpets. You have to be out in the middle of the day to see them 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, making them much less invisible.

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, particularly on chalk or alkaline soils. Bumble bees, honeybees and beetles pollinate them (though they can also self-pollinate), and bee flies, with their long proboscis, are specially adapted to do so. Their seeds have a sticky coating that is food for ants, who then spread them along the bank.

Dandelions also appear on verges or in grassy places – only a few isolated ones in the first half of the month (often very short-stemmed), but then becoming more widespread either from mid month or towards its end. Check you are not looking at coltsfoot, which has a superficially similar flower, but no leaves: not that common, it generally grows in damp, bare places

Daisies also dot mown grass even quite early in the month and increase in number as the weather warms. An old country saying is that spring has arrived when you can cover nine daisies with one foot, the point being that this is not usually till late March or early April. However in a possible sign of climate change, these days you can often do so in early March or even late February.

Woodland specialists

In the woods the chief attraction is wood anemones – white or sometimes 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 (with maybe a few isolated ones in the second week) and can be at their best at the month's end, forming intense carpets in some woods - though in colder years or locations only 20-40 percent of them may be in flower by this time.

Wood anemones were traditionally known as "windflowers" because they flowered when the first spring breezes blew. They are a sign of ancient woodland because although they do produce seed (after being pollinated by hoverflies), they mainly spread by rhizomes, at a rate of about one metre in 50 years. In the past, wild boars would have also spread them by digging up the rhizomes: now badgers do this.

Another plant that carpets woodland floors is dog's mercury, providing a welcome flush of green as it grows to full size during the month. Its flowers, appearing as soon as it is fully grown, are inconspicuous. As the month goes on, the sharp-eyed might also spot mats of the diminutive moschatel, whose square greeny-yellow flowers earn it the nickname of 'town hall clock'. In addition in warmer years you can see golden saxifrage starting to form mats in damper places with its tiny yellowy-green flowers, as well as possibly some wood sorrel on path verges.

Other woodland flowers are still to come, but you can see evidence of them. The spiky foliage of bluebells can be seen all month, while the waxy leaves of wild garlic (ramsons) grow to full size as March progresses, giving off a very powerful garlic smell as they do so. (In a possible sign of climate change, flower buds appeared on both these at the end of the month in 2024, but this is not supposed to happen until April.)

Not also the triangular waxy green leaves of cuckoo pint, the ruffs of woodruff, 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 in April), and shoots of red campion and pignut. There are also mats of ivy-leaved speedwell leaves alongside woodland paths and as the month goes on it puts out tiny pale violet flowers. Foxglove leaves can be seen in great profusion in newly cleared areas.

Two rather rare woodland flowers on lime soils this month are green hellebore (found for example on the Greensand Way between Ightham Mote and One Tree Hill) and stinking hellebore (most often seen as a garden escapee on verges, and also occasionally found on downland). Both have green flowers.

Verge and field

You can also see violets in woodland - including the darker-coloured (or sometimes white) sweet violet right from the start of the month, and the (usually) paler dog violet in the second half. Both also appear on ordinary path and road verges, while dog violets turn up on downland too.

Other verge flowers this month include red deadnettle right from the start of March, forming large patches as the month progresses, and white deadnettle (usually only a bit: it generally does not come out in force until April). Green alkanet (whose flowers are blue: its name refers to the fact that the plant grows all year, ie is "evergreen") may be in flower near habitation.

From mid month, if the weather is warm, barren strawberry and ground ivy can also start to appear, along with some cuckoo flowers (aka lady's smock) and stitchwort. Dog's mercury and wood anemone (see Woodland above) can grow on path and lane verges too, as can ivy-leaved speedwell.

In the second half of the month there is a noticeable increase in other vegetation on verges, the leaves of flowers to come later in the spring. Already during the winter the distinctive shoots of cleavers and the fern-like vegetation of cow parsley have made their appearance, and in the second half both increase in size. You may even see occasional rather straggly-looking flowers on the cow parsley later in the month. Stinging nettles continue to grow too, and are joined by more new shoots, reaching 8-10 centimetres high by the month's end.

Look even closer and you can see many other plants which have been patiently waiting out the winter months but which are not flowering yet, including garlic mustard, herb bennet (aka wood avens), herb robert, mallow, nipplewort and greater celandine on verges, and in grassland creeping buttercup, meadow buttercup, catsear, ribwort plantain, cranesbills, clover, cinquefoil, ragwort, yarrow and spear thistle.

Triangular cuckoo pint leaves are also a common verge sight, and after tentative signs of them appearing here and there all winter, this is the month that ground elder shoots finally seem to appear more widely and to grow to something like their full size. Further dock leaves join any that grew earlier in the winter. There are also new shoots of hogweed, and more rarely giant hogweed, which looks a bit like rhubarb.

From mid month greater plantain leaves may appear on muddy paths or field margins, and towards the end of the month you may start to see new creeping thistle leaves in fields and on verges, though early April is a more normal time for this. For photos of many of the shoots mentioned in this section click here.

Note also the asparagus-like stalks of horsetail, which can start to appear at the end of March and whose swollen heads produce pollen. They go on to open most unexpectedly in April into the familiar green 'fly whisk' plants. Another unconventional plant that might just crop up at in the second half is the pink toothwort, a parasite on the roots of hazel and other trees.

Wasteground and arable

Back with plants that are actually flowering, 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, or on bare verges. These include shepherd's purse, the unloved groundsel and field speedwell.

Chickweed is both an urban weed and a plant of grasslands and pasture fields, as well as very occasionally cropping up on arable field edges: some years it is very abundant in March. Red deadnettle can form attractive patches on arable fields and bare ground in all sorts of places.

Hairy bittercress is found as an urban weed and on other bare ground (including occasionally arable field edges) throughout the month, and in some warm years you may come across the leafier wavy bittercress towards the end of March. (Be careful, though, as some hairy bittercresses may also become luxuriant later in the month: the shape of the leaves and height of the seeds are two differentiators between the two species).

Annual mercury sometimes crops up, mostly in urban corners though sometimes in agricultural settings. Very inconspicuous weeds (both white-flowered) that you might also find in suburban corners include common whitlowgrass (mostly in the second half) and thale cress (towards the end of the month)

Note also the plants of smooth sow thistle (which may even flower occasionally in milder years) and the leaves of Canadian fleabane in urban habitats, along with the rosettes of prickly sow thistle and bristly oxtongue on arable fields and other bare ground. Just occasionally you also come across teasel rosettes, easy to confuse with primrose leaves at this time of year.

Late in the month you may find 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, thinking it is on the clinker of its native Mount Etna.

The frizzy leaves of mayweed are visible on arable fields as they have been all winter. The cabbage-like crop growing in arable fields is oilseed rape - in 2014 and 2024 it was in lovely yellow flower at the month's end, while in 2017, 2020 and 2022 there were some tentative blooms at this time, but this is usually delayed until April.

Very occasionally charlock or wild radish can turn up as arable weeds in March. Wheat at this time of year appears like thick-bladed grass: planted back in the autumn and much the same height (7-8cm) throughout the winter, it can start to grow taller towards the end of the month.

By water

In boggy areas you can see marsh marigold flowering in the second half, and by rivers you may be lucky enough to see the weird pink spikes of butterbur. In the same habitat, as well as in damp ditches, the (very poisonous) foliage of hemlock water dropwort is evident, while in ponds the straight green leaves of yellow flag iris are evident. You also see new green shoots growing out of the brown wastes of last year's reeds and bulrushes.

The double circle basal leaves of himalayan balsam can carpet the ground in damp places near rivers, while the foliage of watercress can be seen in shallow chalk streams. The very similar fool's watercress grows in both flowing water and stagnant ditches and ponds. A plant that can look like a water plant starting to grow, since it often appears in ditches, is great willowherb: it is also found on ordinary verges and arable edges.

Mostly by the sea but also sometimes inland, alexanders – a sort of yellow-green cow parsley - can be tentatively starting to flower quite early in the month, but is more common towards its end. Scurvygrass can also flower on seafronts at this time.

Otherwise on shingle beaches and other bare spots near the sea you can see the plants (though not the flowers) of sea beet, silver ragwort, red valerian, yellow-horned poppy, tree mallow, wild cabbage, stonecrop, sea mayweed, buckshorn plantain, hottentot fig and aster (the garden escapee version). Note also rock sea-lavender and rock samphire on chalk cliffs, and sea purslane in marshy areas (also sometimes at the base of cliffs and in other rough spots along seafronts).


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 even areas in woods, and lungwort, which sometimes escapes onto verges.

As early as the second week you can see the bobble-headed grape hyacinth, a relative of the bluebell, while towards the end of the month forget-me-nots start to appear, mainly in or near 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, latter in the month you may see three-cornered leek (or three-cornered garlic: both names are used), looking a bit like white bluebells. A much rarer plant from the same family - few-flowered garlic - may also be found at this time in the wild (it is not a garden plant), usually growing on damp shady verges.

Back in gardens, summer snowflake is very common, looking like a large snowdrop, though with delicate green triangles at the end of its white petals, while in the second half of the month comfrey may may start to flower on verges near houses. The easiest species to identify here is white comfrey - medium tall and with pure white flowers. The banks of shorter comfreys growing by or near gardens are either creeping comfrey (cream flowers), or hybrids between it and Russian comfrey with blue or red elements to their flowers.

Ivy-leaved toadflax leaves trail down garden and urban walls and it may put out a few flowers later in the month, but usually does not do so until April; the same is true of yellow corydalis. Wallflower is an attractive orange-flowered plant that sometimes grows out of ancient walls, railway cuttings, or chalk cliffs.

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.

More March pages:

© Peter Conway 2006-2024 • All Rights Reserved

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