How to identify spring hedgerow species

Hedgerows across the country are about to burst into life - here is our identification guide to 12 species to spot that herald the arrival of spring.

Hawthorn hedge in bloom. © Dan Rosenholm/Getty

Learn how to identify common British hedgerow species that can be spotted in spring with our handy identification guide.

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1

Hawthorn, Crataegus

Hawthorn leaves. © Felicity Rose Cole

Height usually under 8m. Fresh leaves (edible) open in March, earliest in south or sheltered areas. Frothy blossom in late April and May.

2

Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa

Blackthorn blossom. © Felicity Rose Cole

Height usually under 4m. Masses of white flowers on thorny twigs. One of the first hedgerow and woodland-edge trees to blossom.

3

Early dog violet, Viola reichenbachiana

Early dog violet. Felicity Rose Cole

Height up to 15cm. Lilac flowers. Woods and hedgerows. Spur behind each flower is dark (pale in similar common dog violet).

4

Elder, Sambucus nigra

Elder budburst. © Felicity Rose Cole

Height up to 10m. Leaflets unfurl in March or even February. Tree with a weed-like ability to thrive on waste ground and verges.


5

Opposite-leaved golden saxifrage

Opposite leaved golden saxifrage. Felicity Rose Cole

Height up to 10cm. Creeping plant forming mats in wet woodland; tiny yellow flower clusters.

6

Sweet violet, Viola odorata

Sweet violet. © Felicity Rose Cole

Height up to 15cm. Scented purple or white flowers. Woods and hedgerows. Grows from creeping runners, unlike dog violet.

7

Wych elm, Ulmus glabra

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Height up to 30m. Bunches of purple-pink flowers in February–March. Woodland and old hedgerows, especially in hills.

Also known as Scots elm.

8

Wood sorrel, Oxalis acetosella

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Height up to 10cm. Delicate, drooping white flowers. Leaves in threes, like clover; taste acidic and lemony. Mossy woodland.

9

Marsh marigold, Caltha palustris

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Height up to 30cm. Golden flowers like giant buttercups. Glossy green leaves. Water margins, ditches and damp or flooded woods.

10

Primrose, Primula vulgaris

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Height up to 15cm. Yellow flowers in rosette of wrinkled leaves. Early-flowering or pink blooms may be garden polyanthus crosses.

11

Herb Robert, Geranium robertianum

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Height usually under 30cm. Abundant ‘weed’ with pretty pink flowers; fern-like leaves redden with age. Whole plant smells mousy.

12

Germander speedwell, Veronica chamaedrys

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Height up to 20cm. Brilliant azure flowers. One of the first flowers in pasture and grassy clearings and rides; also on banks.


All illustrations by Felicity Rose Cole

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Main image: Hawthorn hedge in bloom. © Dan Rosenholm/Getty