Spring Flora and Water!

DWT Botany Group Blog 

Our planned trip to walk along the River Tees downstream from Gainford Spa in search of spring flowers was set against a poor weather forecast that seemed to be a little pessimistic when we arrived, but…


Slowly making our way down to the river we were passing banks carpeted with freshly emerging leaves, bright green and full of promise. Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) was almost ‘going over’ but some double flowered variety was still in full bloom. Woodruff (Galium odoratum) leaves were conspicuous with a pale greenish yellow shade and a very faint smell of vanilla. Hairy St John’s-wort (Hypericum hirsutum) was in leaf only – hairy, as is the stem. Keith pointed out Hard Shield-fern (Polystichum aculeatum) with its prominent ‘thumb’ at the base of each pinna. Other ferns seen were Hart’s-tongue (Asplenium scolopendrium) and Broad Buckler-fern (Dryopteris dilatata) and no sign of bracken – there shouldn’t be.


Lords-and-Ladies (Arum maculatum) was common and will be even more obvious when in flower over the coming weeks, its peculiar spathe well worth investigating. Both Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca) and Barren Strawberry (Potentilla sterilis) were present, the latter in flower and identified by the different arrangement of terminal teeth on its leaves.

Ivy-leaved Speedwell (Veronica hederifolia)

Two species of speedwell were identified – small blue flowers that are unevenly spread (not symmetric, ‘zygomorphic’) and easy to distinguish from forget-me-nots by the ‘V’ – only two stamens per flower – so remember the ‘V’ for two and Veronica. Ivy-leaved Speedwell (Veronica hederifolia subsp. lucorum) and Wood Speedwell (Veronica montana) were looking good.

Early Dog Violet (Viola reichenbachiana)

Staying at the end of the alphabet, we were looking for violets and were not disappointed by the wonderful, widespread  display of Early Dog-violet (Viola reichenbachiana)

and smaller patches of Sweet Violet (Viola odorata). Common dog violet (Viola riviniana) also grows along the way but was not yet in flower – a pity because it closely resembles the Early dog violet. The flower of latter differs in several ways, the most noticeable from a distance being its spreading arrangement of top petals – ‘rabbit ears’. Sweet violet spreads by runners (stolons), so forms patches with lager white flowers that have a distinctive odour (aka ‘odorata’). A purpled flowered subspecies was also found nearby.

Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem (Gagea lutea)

On this occasion, the heavy overnight rainfall had strengthened the flow of the Tees which was well up and submerging many of the star attraction of out visit – Yellow star of Bethlehem (Gagea lutea). However, we were not to be disappointed as individual plants were soon spotted and admired. This is a wonderful spring tonic, delicate and attractive in so many ways.


As is Moschatel (Adoxa moschatellina), commonly known as the ‘town hall clock’. The names refers to the flower – four sides arranged as a town hall clock and another on top. The tiny flowers were just appearing from pale cream buds – another plant that grows in patches and is relatively common, so look out for it on your walks.

Creeping Comfrey (Symphytum Grandiflorum)

Lunch time came, along with the impending rain as was forecast and we headed downstream to the back of Gainford church where we picked up more of the same, with a good stand of Gagea lutea as well as large carpets of uncommon introduced species – Creeping Comfrey (Symphytum grandiflorum) and Abraham-Isaac-Jacob (Trachystemon orientalis). These would not look out of place at any garden centre – probably where they came from anyway!

Abraham-Isaac-Jacob (Trachystemon orientalis)

By now the rain was starting to fall with a bit of intent, which was fine (?) as we had come to the end of a great trip. We were left with some homework though – several plants whose identity we were unsure of.  Keith had the nous to find a 2018 seed head of a set of leaves that was puzzling the rest of us, trying our best to identify on vegetative features alone – Dame’s-violet (Hesperis matronalis) . But we were stuck on the others – go to the DWT botany group facebook pages and please help us out!

Over a long morning we had recorded 100 species, a list that included  4 new species recorded since 2000 and 3 re-found since 2000 – all records that will inform the upcoming BSBI Atlas project. Thank you to Brian for images, Keith for recording, Richard and Carole for their expertise.

Species list for Durham Wildlife Trust Botany Group visit to Gainford (Mar-2019)

If you are interested in wild plants of all sorts and want to know more email botany@durhamwt.co.uk. There is a varied programme of visits and events over 2019, open to anyone – experience and expertise doesn’t matter and we are all learning more every time we meet.

Steve Gater