Monday, 2 May 2016

While it lasts

At this time of year, the green alkanet - with its intense blue flowers, each dotted white at the centre, showing against fresh green foliage - is one of our most beautiful plants. (I say 'our', but it's an introduction, probably of long standing, probably grown for the red dye that can be extracted from its roots - its name is a derivative of the Arabic word for henna.) The alkanet has all too short a prime, so enjoy it while it lasts. Once the leaves start growing and the flowers fading, it becomes less attractive and gradually degenerates into a leathery, grey-leaved, gristle-rooted invader that crops up everywhere you don't want it, and stings like a nettle if you try to pull it out with bare hands.
 The short-lived beauty of the alkanet is easily overlooked in the midst of the great spring flowering - the flowering I enjoyed yesterday when the sudden arrival of sunny warm weather had me heading for the Surrey hills. Cowslips and violets everywhere, bluebells and windflowers in the old coppices, lovely pink-white cuckoo flowers showing above the grasses, blackthorn and wild cherry in full bloom...
 And what of the butterflies, I hear you ask? Orange tips, brimstones, a few tortoiseshells and peacocks (still no red admiral), speckled woods, holly blues... I was hoping for a green hairstreak (especially after my hairstreak duck last year), but no such luck (perhaps that long cold spell has held them back). However, my old friend the dingy skipper was flying - I saw three or four - and, a delightful surprise, a grizzled skipper, that little beauty that deserves a better name. As does its dingy cousin. In my book, there are no dingy butterflies.

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