Spring – and all its splendour – has sprung


Last week’s glorious weather has certainly kick-started the spring wildlife frenzy. I had my first swallow on the fifth which is very early for me.

Other migrants are now pouring in and now that the first spring flowers such as snowdrop and coltsfoot have finished, there’s a huge list of others waiting to take their place.

Welcoming the spring sunshine are wood anemones, golden saxifrage and lesser celandines, while clumps of escaped daffodils add flashes of gold to our riverside woodlands.

Trees are still predominantly asleep, but some, like blackthorn, produce blossom before their leaves, unlike the hawthorn, which does it the other way round.

Blackthorn is starting to bloom now, while the hawthorn will live up to its other name of May blossom and wait until next month before flowering.

Another tree which is blooming now is the European larch, but you will have to look closely at it to appreciate the exquisite flower, which is shown here.

It looks an exotic pink pineapple, but this is the female flower. European larch is monoecious, meaning both male and female flowers are found on the same tree. Male flowers form on the underside of shoots, and are globular clusters of creamy yellow anthers. Female flowers are often referred to as ‘larch roses’. After pollination by wind, the female flowers ripen into brown cones 3-4cm long with a hollow top. They gradually open their scales to release the winged seeds within, which are distributed by wind. Larch trees can retain old cones on their stems for many years.

European larch is the only deciduous conifer native to central Europe and was introduced to Britain in the 17th century.

The seeds are eaten by red squirrels and a number of birds, including the siskin and lesser redpoll, while the buds and immature cones are eaten by black grouse. The caterpillars of many moths, such as the larch pug, feed on the foliage. Larch tortrix moth caterpillars eat the cone scales.

The timber of the larch has a pale creamy-brown sapwood and a red-brown heartwood. It is hard and resistant to rot, and is often used for fencing, gates and garden furniture.