Spring is in the Air

by Jessica O’Connor

I would firstly like to thank Dr Anne Dubéarnès and John Parnell for their help. Without them, this article would be very sparse! Now onto the good stuff.

Sometimes we find ourselves getting wrapped up in the many items on our to-do lists that we forget to take notice of what is around us. I plan to fix that with this article on the flowers that are to be seen on campus! Over the last few weeks colour in the form of flowers has begun to emerge on our campus. Anyone, whether you are looking or not, will have been greeted by them. There are currently many different plant types in flower, from small understory plants to shrubs and trees.

You will hopefully have noticed the many daffodils around campus. Daffodils mark the beginning of Spring and good weather for most of us. These bright yellow and often cream flowers are throughout campus, planted around the trees by the cricket pitches and dotted throughout some of the garden areas. These plants are part of the amaryllis family and are known botanically as narcissus. They are hardy plants that are not too bothered about soil or the amount of light they receive. This is probably why we see so many of them. Daffodils return year after year during the spring meaning they are perennial. Daffodils emerge in Spring after going dormant during the winter. After they have finished their growth season in Spring, they will use their foliage to accumulate food sources so that they may flower the next year. A tip is to let them die back naturally and when the leaves have lost their green colour cut them down to grass level.

Another yellow flower that may be seen around campus is the dandelion. Some call it a weed but I would have to disagree! Like the daffodil, dandelions are also perennials so they come back yearly. Dandelions are a favourite with pollinators as they provide food early on in the season. For example, they provide both nectar and pollen to many insects including Bombus ruderarius, also known as the red-shanked carder bee or red-shanked bumblebee. We all probably have memories and plucking fluffy headed stems from the ground when we were younger and making a wish as the bits of fluff floated away from us in the wind. This is how dandelion spreads, ensuring pollinators have food and we have a bit of colour the following year.

Primrose is another famous flower we know can be found in the physics garden. Primroses are extremely diverse in both flower shape and colour, ranging from blue to pink to yellow, and are one of the first species to flower in spring. These flowers are also good for our pollinator friends- the bees and maybe lesser-known hawkmoths.
Another common plant throughout campus is the hyacinth. The ones on campus are generally purple and white and can be found surrounding many of the great trees, especially in New Square, where they bring a lovely colour to the otherwise green lawn. They are also in the small garden plot near the Museum Building. Although they are pretty for us to look at and exude a lovely smell, they have little to no pollination value.

Onto some flowering plants that are a little larger! The Japanese cherry tree or as we probably know it the cherry blossom is arguably one of the prettiest flowering trees on campus. The flowers range from pink to white depending on the variety and flowering usually only lasts a short time, around 2 to 3 weeks. After this time the petals begin to float down and the brief beauty is over. The trees on campus are of the ornamental variety and are therefore grown for beauty as opposed to fruit production. Interestingly they are quite short-lived, some only living between 15 to 20 years!

Another stunning flowering tree although lesser known is the Amelanchier. This tree goes through multiple colours in a year. It flowers on bare branches adding colour when little else is in bloom. These star-shaped blooms are followed by orange-coloured leaves which then mature to green before turning a deeper orange or red in Autumn. This tree can be found in the Provost’s Garden.

Another, though much smaller plant you may not have noticed is the purple Anemone, this plant is in the same family as the buttercup. If you want to have a look for these, they can be found in the shaded area that lies between the rugby and cricket pitch. As the name suggests, the flowers are purple in colour. These plants are sometimes called windflowers. This is linked to the frailty of their petals which can easily break and be blown off in the wind.

Another flowering plant in the same family is the Winter Aconite. The flowers are small and yellow with the overall size of the plant rarely going above 10cm. This plant, somewhat like us, is a sun lover! This plant has a short life cycle during the spring. Its flowers bloom when sunlight is at a maximum and dies off completely into an underground tuber after flowering.
Another plant that is in flower at the moment is the Silene dioica, or as you and I can call it Red Campion. This plant can be found in the wilder patches of grass around campus, its flowers range from pink to as the name suggests red. This plant usually flowers in the later Spring so it is somewhat unusual that it is in flower currently. This is likely due to climate change and the warm weather we have experienced recently.

A plant that is growing in the flower patch just before the rugby pitch by the Museum Building that some of you may have noticed is the Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis). This plant is imposing with a large stem that can reach over a metre in perfect conditions, orange bell-shaped flowers, and a tuft of green leaves on the top. You can’t miss it! While pretty to look at it is also a known source of nectar and pollen for bees.

I would like to thank Dr Anne Dubéarnès and John Parnell who were both a great help with this article providing a comprehensive list of the plants on campus. A little extra information for those who are interested: Dr Anne Dubéarnès also mentioned a flower which would be a shame to leave out. Although this is not found on campus, I do feel it is worth mentioning. The scented violet or as it is formally known Viola odorata. Warning this next bit is a bit botanical: Interestingly, (well to me anyway) this flower has an ephemeral scent which means that you can only smell it for a few seconds. This is because the aromatic molecule that gives it its scent, ionone, binds to our smell receptors and blocks them for a moment.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this brief introduction to some of the plants on campus (and one that is not!). Keep an eye out when you are on the way to your next lecture or to the library to catch up!

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