Welcome to Prestwood Nature

Plants to look out for in May

by Karen van Oostrum

 Garlicky plants

 Two garlicky but unrelated plants make their presence known in May: Wild Garlic / Ramsons, from the lily family, and Garlic Mustard / Jack-by-the-Hedge, from the cabbage family.

Wild Garlic / Ramsons (Allium ursinum)

People tend to either love or hate the smell of this plant. I am a big fan – I think it reminds me of the fact that spring is well underway, with the promise of warmer days and fresh new plant life just around the corner. Wild Garlic is a shade-loving plant, which can grow in sizeable colonies, swathing the woodland floor in a carpet of long (up to 25cm), broad, elliptical leaves. Each leaf is held on a long stalk, which twists through 180. The white, starry flowers appear between April and June – a little late arriving this year due to the prolonged cold weather. They are held in clusters, at the end of a stalk that is weakly 3-angled. You can tell this if you roll the stalk between your thumb and finger. Ramsons is an ‘Ancient Woodland Indicator’ plant – and the history of its former abundance is recorded in several placenames. Any place with ‘Ram’ in its name (Ramsey on the Isle of Wight, Ramsgate in Kent…) indicates a location where Ramsons once grew prolifically

Garlic Mustard / Jack-by-the-Hedge (Alliaria petiolata)

This upright, unbranched plant of hedgerows, woodland edges and other shady places, grows up to 120cm tall. The leaves are roughly heart-shaped and smell lightly of garlic when crushed. Small, white, 4-petalled flowers appear in clusters at the top of the plant between April and July. The fruits that follow are narrow ‘pods’, up to 6cm long. Caterpillars of the orange-tip butterfly feed on the leaves and developing seedpods of this plant. We can eat the leaves too - in addition to smelling lightly of garlic, they also have a delicate garlic flavour, which is useful if you like garlic, but in moderation. It can be finely chopped and added to salad, or used to make a sauce for roast lamb.    

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Bumblees in Spring - by John Catton

Bumblebee queens are generally the first to emerge from their hibernation - hairy bodies giving them the edge over other insects. The earliest, to be seen in February, is our commonest, the Buff tailed, followed in March by the eponymous White tailed and Red tailed.

In April expect to see the other common species: Garden (she has a second yellow band on her thorax), Common Carder (all over ginger colour) and the Tree (distinctive ginger thorax, black abdomen and white tail).

Solitary Bees in Spring - by John Catton

90% of all bees are “solitary”. Here in the UK we have about 220 species; they don’t live in colonies headed by a queen or produce honey. The earliest species you’ll  see is the distinctive Hairy footed Flower Bee, the female is all black, very hairy and can be easily be mistaken for small bumblebee (The male is larger and brown).

Another, instantly recognisable, is the Tawney Mining Bee, about the size of a honeybee but with lovely foxy red hair.  It’s a mining bee, one of 65 species, the largest genus of bee in the UK.  A third solitary bee, on the wing from April to early June, is the Red Mason Bee. It’s a major pollinator of apple blossom and will definitely be one of the residents in your bee hotel!  

Photos of Garden Bumble and Tawney Mining Bee © Bumble Conservation Trust

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