Wild Flower Web

The Wild Flower Web website is an online directory of British Wild Flower and tree species. The purpose of this website is to help you identify (and learn about) the flowers in which you are most likely to find around the British countryside and provide you with detailed information about them.

Using this website: You can search for individual wild flowers by clicking on the Find a Flower option from the top menu navigation bar, or you can search for flowers by habitat using the side menu to the left. From these pages, you can navigate to other pages where you can obtain detailed information and photographs on the individual flower species. You can use these pages to help you identify flowers, or simply just for reading about them to satisfy your own interest. Each plant species on this website has a profile page of its own. The information listed on the flower profile pages includes Common and Botanical names, Order and Family of the plant, U.K. flowering months, maximum height of the plant, alternative names for the plant, what habitats the plant grows in, and more.

In Britain and Ireland, there are around 1,500 species of native wild flowers species. The Wild Flower Web website lists around one third of these, most of which are the ones in which you are most likely to encounter.

How to Identify Wild Flowers

The process of identifying wild flowers involves careful observation of the leaves, flowers, fruit and its stems. There are other factors to take into consideration that go beyond its appearance, such as where it grows (its habitat), when it flowers and fruits, the soil type and condition, and where it grows, to name just a few of them. Flowers may be annual and grow and die in the same year. Flowers may be biennial where they grow one year then die the following year, living 2 years in total. Flowers may be perennial where they live longer than 2 years.

There are many characteristics which can be observed that can help you to identify a flower.

The general outline of the plant is an important characteristic to consider too.

Lesser Trefoil vs. Black Medick
Figure 1. Lesser Trefoil (left), Black Medick (right)

Some flower species look identical at first glance and are difficult to tell apart. This can be confusing and easily lead to misidentification. For example, Lesser Trefoil and Black Medick look like the same species to the unknowing novice (figure 1). Lesser Trefoil has a slight indentation at the end of the middle leaflet (much larger than the typical example in this photo) and Black Medick has a minute point at the end of the middle leaflet (which is hard to tell). These two species are only distinguishable through careful observation. Another example is Hairy Bittercress and Wavy Bittercress. To distinguish these two apart with certainty, you need to count the number of stamens. Hairy Bittercress has 4 stamens, yet Wavy Bittercress has 6.

The flowers are the most useful and obvious feature for identification and probably the least ignored by the novice wild flower enthusiast. The main parts of the flower to observe are the petals and sepals (a.k.a. tepals, a collective name for the petals and sepals together), the stamens and ovaries. The number, size, colour and shape of these features are all important to consider. The petals are usually the most noticeable part of the flower. The sepals are usually positioned below the petals and are normally green.

The important thing to remember when identifying a plant is not to rely on just one single observation or feature. Great diligence is necessary in order to be sure that you have correctly identified a particular species.

The Conservation of Wild Flower Habitats

Through human intervention our countryside has developed into a diverse range of habitats. Our influence and activities have shaped our landscape immensely, combining a mixture of natural and man-made habitats. Examples of man-made habitats include canals and meadows, and natural habitats, mountains and sand dunes. The population of Britain is currently growing and has been for years. As a consequence of this, the amount of farmland is increasing in order to cater for human food supplies, towns are expanding and the countryside is diminishing. Not only that but new transport networks and reservoirs are all devouring our countryside.

Many of our habitats are being destroyed by the increase in human intervention. One example of this is the increase in drainage systems across farmland. Bogs, fens and marshes all rely on water and need to stay wet. Draining the land is drying them out and loss of habitat is sadly the end result. Once these habitats have been drained, they no longer will support their original plant and animal life. Also when drainage increases, the rate at which water flows in ditches and streams increases. The biodiversity of plant life in fast-flowing water is lower than that of slow-flowing or still water.

As towns and cities expand, woodland and hedgerows are being cleared. The woods that we are currently planting mainly consist of the faster growing and more lucrative species of coniferous trees. These trees do not support as many plant and animal species as broad-leaved trees do.

The number of meadows has diminished too due to the ploughing of farmland. Meadows support hundreds of species of wild flower. And in addition to that, wild flowers do not have a place on farmland. They are seen as weeds and sprayed with herbicides.

Despite all of this said, not all loss of plant species has to be blamed on land owners and property development. A number of wild flower species are now rare because of wild flower collectors, such as in Victorian times. For example, the Lady's Slipper Orchid is one flower which has suffered because of this.

Monarch Butterfly
Figure 2. Monarch Butterfly

You may be asking yourself by now, why it's important to conserve wild flowers? Well there are several reasons. One reason is that, wild flowers are at the end of the food chain so when one species is lost, the whole chain is lost. Herbivores eat wild flowers and carnivores eat herbivores. Some species of herbivore feed on a variety of plants and some exclusively on one type of plant. For example, Monarch caterpillars eat only the leaves of the Milkweed plant. So if Milkweed was to be eradicated, Monarch caterpillars would disappear too and so would the Monarch butterflies in which they turn into (figure 2). It is an established fact that lack of biodiversity in one ecosystem can cause imbalances that may result in the extinction of some species and an explosion in the population of other species. For example, if the number of predators feeding on aphids decreases, the number of aphids increases, and when their numbers increase, the number of predators feeding on them also increases because more food becomes available to them. This causes fluctuations in population sizes amongst the different species and occasionally one species may drop so low in numbers that they become threatened and extinct.

Another reason we conserve wild flowers is to keep them available for use by mankind, if ever we find a use for them in the future. Currently, we have found relatively low use out of the existing species known to man. There is much potential remaining in how much we think is left to be discovered. We already know that many of our plants are edible, and so many of them are very nutritious and carry valuable medicinal properties. The plants in which we have already found uses for contain compounds which can be used in drugs. For example, Snowdrops contain Galantamine, a chemical used in the treatment of Alzheimer's Disease, and Foxglove contains the chemical Digitoxin which can rapidly increase the heart rate. These are just a couple of examples that we currently know about.

In order to conserve wild flowers, first we must know which flowers require protection. We do this by means of categorisation and creating lists of endangered species. Once we know which species are endangered and require protection, we then create National Nature Reserves (NNR's) to protect them. According to the Telegraph newspaper (in 2012), 'Around of one third of the total 1,346 plant species in Britain are endangered.' If a flower becomes close to extinction then an alternative approach is to protect them by growing them in botanical gardens. Once the plants eventually become more established again, they are released back into the wild.

The problem with setting up a nature reserve to conserve one single species is that they are often close to extinction by the time the Nature Reserve becomes fully established. The reason why a species normally declines is usually down to a change in its habitat. The habitat needs to be quickly restored back to normal in order to give the species its best chance of survival in the long term.

Wild Flowers and Man

Wild flowers have many uses to man such as providing us with food, herbs and medicines, and the manufacturing of fibres and dyes. Many of our drugs today are made from the plants around us and the foods we eat are made from these plants.

The British countryside has a surprising number of wild flowers to which most people are unaware that so many of them are edible. These flowers cost nothing to eat and are very nutritious but great care is needed when identifying them and a certain degree of expertise is required. Some of these flowers you might purchase with your meal at a restaurant, or purchase at your local supermarket, yet you may be unaware that they are growing in a field next to your home. Good examples of such flowers are Watercress and Rock Samphire (figure 3). However, you do need to be absolutely certain that you are not eating something poisonous. Some wild flowers in our countryside are deadly poisonous, for example, Hemlock Water Dropwort may possibly be the most deadly of them all. This plant has previously been known to cause deaths following consumption! Not only that but Hemlock Water Dropwort looks similar to many other common edible plants, such as Cow Parsley.

Rock Samphire
Figure 3. Rock Samphire

A surprising number of the flowers we see around us have herbal, or medicinal properties and are used by doctors for curing common ailments. For example, Feverfew has herbal properties and contains parthenolide. This is a chemical that is said to help migraine sufferers.

Fibres can be made from many of our flowers in the countryside. Examples include Nettle, Hemp and Flax. Dyes can also be made. Some examples of these include Bog Asphodel, Bramble, Dyer's Greenweed, Dyer's Rocket, Gipsywort, Heather, Indigo, Lady's Bedstraw, Tansy and Woad. The fibres and dyes can be used together for the manufacturing of cloths and the clothing we wear.

All photographs and content on the Wild Flower Web website is our own work and is protected by copyright and other protective laws.