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November flowers

Other November pages: Leaf fall and autumn coloursBushes, berries and seedsBirds and insectsWeather

Picture: dandelion leaves. Click here for more November shoots photos.

It seems ludicrous that any wildflowers can still be seen in November but amazingly there are still some, albeit usually very isolated examples, often small and looking rather sorry for themselves, and mostly seen in the first half of the month.

These are frequently new growth from seeds dispersed in the summer which have taken advantage of favourable microclimates in a particular spot, though a few are hardy survivors that have carried on flowering through the autumn. Which species appear varies from year to year, with more being seen in milder Novembers. Hard frosts will kill many of them, but not necessarily all.

Species that you may see include hawkweed oxtongue and other dandelion-like flowers such as smooth hawksbeard, nipplewort, catsear, lesser hawkbit, autumn hawkbit and (on downland) rough hawkbit. Also bristly oxtongue which is often though not exclusively found near coastal areas. The occasional true dandelion can crop up on verges or in pasture fields, while smooth sow thistle sometimes flowers as an urban weed.

Other grassland flowers include clover, daisies and yarrow and just occasionally some meadow or creeping buttercups, while field scabious, knapweed and wild carrot may just last into the very early days of the month.

Around the edge of arable fields you might find field speedwell, field pansy, scentless mayweed (or just possibly the visually very similar stinking chamomile), prickly sow thistle, charlock, groundsel, shepherd's purse, chicory, borage or black nightshade.

Sometimes charlock also takes over whole fields, and the same is true of wild radish, which has attractive white flowers. Be careful though as white mustard, similar looking to charlock, is also planted as an autumn cover crop - that is, seeded in arable fields after barley or wheat have been harvested in order to return nutrients to the soil and to protect its micro-organisms.

New shoots of hedge mustard may struggle to flower early in the month. Groundsel and shepherd's purse can also be seen in odd corners in urban environments, where you may additionally find chickweed, though it too mostly seems to be struggling to flower rather than actually doing so. Annual mercury is occasionally seen in the same habitat, as well as on farms, while hairy bittercress may just crop up in urban settings in mild years.

On verges white deadnettle survives into (or even throughout) November in some years, and occasionally you get some red deadnettle on arable margins or on bare path edges. Otherwise there always seems to be the occasional late surviving hogweed, while hedgerow cranesbill, ragwort, red campion and herb robert flowers are much more infrequent.

Equally infrequently, some of the newly emerged alkanet leaves put forward a few tentative blue flowers. Early in the month you may just see black horehound in the last throes of flowering, or a final bloom on large or hedge bindweed.

On railway line clinker (and maybe other bare ground) in cities and towns there can be some Oxford ragwort clinging on, and a very few michaelmas daisy flowers also survive beside rail tracks and in gardens, though they are looking very tired by now.

At the base of garden walls there can be a few remaining flowers of Mexican fleabane (a daisy bush) or yellow corydalis, and the same is true of ivy-leaved toadflax growing out of cracks higher up the wall. Ivy-leaved cyclamen flowers can last into the early part of the month on village verges, and near gardens you may just see a periwinkle flower.

Just occasionally meadowsweet can be found in flower by a river, while by the sea there might be a few flowers struggling to survive or come out on red valerian, and some fading flowers on sea mayweed.

Some fungi can survive into November, even though a hard frost is supposed to kill them off. Particularly hardy seem to be trooping or clouded funnels, which sometimes make rings or long lines on the floors of woodland or clearings and can last till later in the month. Fly agaric (near birch in woodland) and sulphur tuft (on tree stumps) are also possible earlier in the month. Bracket fungi on trees and decaying logs can also sometimes still be seen.

Next year's flowers

Amazingly, in November the plants of next year's flowers are already starting to grow. On verges you can see the new leaves of cow parsley (which really do look like parsley at this time of year), as well as garlic mustard, wood avens (aka herb bennet) and cleavers. Some of these have been there since September, though others join them in November, pushing through the leaf litter.

These are definitely new growth, grabbing their territory for next year's flowering season, but the leaves of other plants remain from this year's growing season and last through the winter to flower in the next. In grassland and on grassy verges these include buttercups - very common - as well as cranesbills, cinquefoil, ribwort plantain, yarrow, clover and daisies, while on downland a distinctive shoot is that of salad burnet.

Dandelion shoots - some quite mature, others obviously new - are also common in grass or on bare ground, and catsear or hawkbit rosettes also crop up from time to time. On verges you can see the new leaves of nipplewort and the foliage of common mallow and greater celandine.

Some forget-me-not shoots may be found near habitation, while in the same kind of places alkanet is also producing new leaves at this time of year. The big rounded leaves you may see on verges near villages (as well as on the cliff tops near Kingsdown in Kent) are those of winter heliotrope, which will flower later in December.

Stinging nettles include this year's plants dying back, but there also new shoots on bare ground. Some of these new shoots may be white deadnettles - if not flowering they look very similar.

As mentioned in the opening section above, in odd urban corners there can be an upsurge in chickweed, a small amount of which may actually flower. The same is true of smooth sow thistle and (much more rarely) hairy bittercress, while field speedwell seems to remain just leaves in urban settings, occasionally flowering in arable fields. The occasional Canadian fleabane rosette also appears in urban corners, and growing out of walls you can still see the foliage of ivy-leaved toadflax.

On rural verges and in grassland, the large rosettes of spear thistles survive, and prickly sow thistle produces a rosette on bare and fallow fields. In grassland creeping thistles are now wilting or shrivelling to brown as they die back, though a few small green leaves can still survive till the end of the month.

Also in grassland you can see the new leaves of ragwort, a plant which is biennial - that is, it grows from seed one year, will flower next year, then die. On bare ground note the warty rosettes of bristly oxtongue, while the more crinkly ones of teasel could be mistaken at a glance for the leaves of primroses (which do not appear until late January).

The remaining dock leaves are generally on the way out, though if the weather is mild you can sometimes see new ones appearing: whether these last the winter, I am not sure. The same applies to the ground elder shoots which one occasionally sees bursting though on road or path-side verges. Any hogweed shoots you still see will be killed by the frost.

On shady verges you can see the silver-streaked "argentatum" variety of yellow archangel, while woodruff can be found in woodland - usually tired old leaves, but sometimes with some new shoots. Also in woodland clearings, though sometimes also in verges, there are the large new leaves of foxglove, but be careful because those of creeping comfrey, generally found on verges near rural houses, can look a bit similar.

Perwinkle leaves sometimes carpet woodland floors and shady verges, often, though not always near houses. Small herb robert shoots can be quite common in shady locations, but probably will not survive the winter (though some do). Very occasionally stitchwort shoots appear in woods, but they are not supposed to do so until December or January.

Some arable fields at this time of year have the green shoots of winter wheat, which at this stage of the year looks just like green grass, albeit in neat straight lines. It stays this short until March, when it starts to grow taller).

If you see an arable field covered in cabbage-like leaves, it is could be oilseed rape: if so, make a note of the location and come back in April to see a glorious sea of yellow flowers. However another possibility is the rather similar stubble turnip, which is a winter crop grown for sheep to eat (if you see them in the act, or turnip tops at the base of the leaf stalks, then this identification is certain).

In chalk streams you can see watercress leaves, while the poisonous fool's watercress has almost identical leaves and occurs in both flowing water and stagnant ditches and ponds. By the sea you can see the luxuriant new foliage of alexanders (one reason it was introduced to this country by the Romans as a winter herb).

Also by the sea - on shingle beaches and seafronts - you can see the plants of silver ragwort, rock samphire, sea beet, red valerian, tree mallow, stonecrop, buckshorn plantain, sea mayweed, hottentot fig and aster (the garden escapee variety).

New shoots of yellow-horned poppy may also be evident on shingle beaches, while rock-sea lavender grows on chalk cliff faces. In addition note wild cabbage on the shores around Folkestone and Dover, and sea purslane in saltmarshes, on the banks of tidal rivers and other odd bits of bare ground by the sea.

For some photos of flower shoots you can see now and later in the winter, click here.

More November pages:

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