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

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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

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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