Wildlife Column: Flower that has gone to the dogs

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Well not so much ‘bah humbug’ but more wow, ‘bring on the dog violets’. Many of our special wild flowers are emerging at this time of year and quite a few, to be frank, are under-appreciated.

The humble dog violet is one such pretty flower.

This wild cousin of the showier garden pansy is best experienced on your hands and knees and close up. The effort is worthwhile! Like the equally downbeat lesser celandine, the violet is impressive when en masse, but as individual plants, needs a little effort.

Interestingly, while not strictly an ‘ancient woodland indicator flower’ – i.e. one of the species like the bluebell that evidences the locations of very old woods – the dog violet helps tell a countryside story. We find dog violets in old woods, and its close relative the ‘pale dog violet’ is a good marker of ‘ancient woods’ – they turn up in old meadows, heaths and pastures too.

However, we are discovering that the dog violet is one of a suite of species found in our recently-recognised ‘shadow woods’, and as such is a good ‘indicator’.

This sits alongside patches of bluebells, greater stitchwort, wood sorrel and other markers of ancient countryside.

l Professor Ian D. Rotherham, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues, is contactable on ianonthewildside@ukeconet.org ; follow ‘Ian’s Walk on the Wildside’ blog, www.ukeconet.org for more information.