We’re on the upper terrace of Crystal Palace Park scanning the ground beneath a scrappy hedge. “They’ve cut it back too much,” my friend says sadly, “There were lots here last February but perhaps there won’t be any this year”. And it really doesn’t look very hopeful. The turf is quite churned up but we keep looking anyway.
“There’s one!” she says suddenly with evident delight. She’s pointing at a vibrant yellow flower, about 10 cm high, with a chunky scaly stalk and no leaves. This gorgeous thing is Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara. We find one more, but that seems to be it. I’m quite prepared to lie on the muddy grass to get a decent photo.
Arguably Coltsfoot is nothing special. It’s common all over the British Isles but it is one of the earliest dandelion-like flowers to find in spring. If it isn’t successful in attracting a queen bumblebee newly out of hibernation, the plant’s back-up plan is to self-pollinate. As today’s find proves, it has pioneering qualities and can thrive even in very disturbed habitats. The flower stalk is so distinctive I can’t believe I’ve never spotted one before.
I’ve been walking round this neighbourhood for sixteen years now and even more so over the last year so was under the impression I’d found the best botanizing spots. It’s such a joy to be proved wrong and to be shown a plant which is a first for me. That’s pretty special as far as I’m concerned.