Common wild flowers to find in the Dorset countryside
Wild flowers commonly found in Dorset
The Dorset countryside is typified by rolling hills, and a beautiful random patchwork appearance produced by small agricultural fields delineated by thick hedgerows.The diverse countryside of Dorset provides a huge range of great habitats including woodlands, copses, coastal areas ranging from rocky beaches to sand dunes, fields, meadows and heathlands, all of which give rise to a vast array of beautiful wild flowers.
It is one of my favourite things to take a walk through the countryside with my camera and a wild flower book in my pocket to see what new flowers I can find. The photographs shown here are my own snapshots taken in and around west Dorset on some of my countryside ramblings.
Flowering plants that grow on the grassy banks along roadsides are many and varied, and easy to find and identify. This article describes and illustrates some of the commonest flowers that can be found throughout the year in and around the Dorset countryside, described by their common names with latin names in brackets for reference.
Early spring, snowdrops and primroses
Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) pop up from the ground from late January into March along roadside banks and in the woods. They grow from a small bulb, have pretty white bell-shaped flowers with slender glossy green leaves. They are often said to be the first sign that spring is on its way,
Primroses (Primula vulgaris) are another herald of spring, with their pretty pale yellow, five-petalled flowers, that can be seen flowering from March to May along roadside verges and in deciduous woodlands.
Native English bluebells (Endymion non-scriptus) are primarily woodland flowers that provide a beautiful splash of blue. They can be found in huge swathes throughout Dorset woodland, on open downs and along the roadside. A large patch of bluebells gives off a lovely delicate scent, similar to that of hyacinths. English bluebells have a limited range, and differ slightly from the cultivated variety or Spanish bluebells. The English variety are slightly smaller, and have a drooping habit as all the "bells" grow more or less along one side of the stem, rather than all around it as in the Spanish variety. There is some concern that cultivated bluebells are hybridising with English bluebells in the wild.
Wild foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) are a tall and striking perennial, with their deep pink spikes of large tubular flowers (see top picture). They can be seen from June to September, and grow almost anywhere from woodlands to field margins and hedgerows. Foxgloves also grow well in gardens and are a wonderful flower for bees and nectar feeding insects.
Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) has broad strongly garlic-scented leaves and typical round allium-type white flowers. It is a very pretty plant that flowers in May and is often seen in woody glades and along shady roadside banks. The leaves are edible and can be used in place of garlic in many recipes, although the flavour is a little milder than that of cultivated garlic.
Red campion (Silene dioica) is often seen growing along roadside banks during spring and early summer, with its lovely deep pink five-petalled flowers standing out against a lush green backdrop.
Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) is one of the most commonly seen flowers along roadsides, it towers above all the others with its large umbelliferous white sprays of flowers from May to June.
Climbing plants that can be seen growing amongst the hedgerow include wild honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), with its sweet scented and very pretty yellow flowers; wild clematis (Clematis vitalba ), which is recognisable by its hairy seed heads that give it the common-name of "old man's beard", and the dog-rose (Rosa canina), a classic pink single-petalled climbing rose.
It is always an exciting moment to find a rare orchid, those found in Dorset include the bee orchid (Ophrys apifera), the spider orchid (Ophrys sphegodes), the early purple orchid (Orchis mascula), the common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) and the pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis). It took me a while to find any orchids to photograph, but eventually I managed to find these lovely flowers on a high chalky Dorset hillside, amongst a host of other beautiful meadow flowers. Orchids have very specialised needs, so you need to know where and when to look for them. The common spotted and pyramidal orchids pictured flower between June and August.
Wild flower reference book
Fitter, R., Fitter, A. and Blamey, M. (1980) The Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe. Collins, London.