This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
In this section we have a group of shade-loving plants or Hylo-phytes. Each plant is influenced by the juxtaposition of other plants, and so the woodland plants are bound together. In extended form a wood with scattered trees tends to assume the character of a meadow of the type included in Section II. The hedgerows which divide fields and roadways give shelter to a few such woodland plants. The woodland plants are Mesophytes with regard to water requirements.
Several alterations in the surrounding conditions are brought about by the association of trees, which influence Light (woods are shaded and dark), Warmth (woods are cold and dank), Moisture (woods are moist and attract moisture).
In a wood, moreover, plants are exposed to greater enemies, such as: (I) Fungi.
(2) Animal pests.
There are several types of woodland which may be briefly referred to.
First of all there is what we may call bushland. This is not the result of a low temperature, as in Polar tracts, but of cultivation. There are numerous districts where the borders of virgin forest are repeatedly cut down and treated as plantations with saplings, which are meso-phytic bushland.
Then wherever fox coverts as in the shires are planted, or coverts for game are made, there is usually a mixture of bush, deciduous wood, and coniferous woodland put down artificially which may answer to this type. Here we find Sloe, Hawthorn, Brier, Dogwood, Barberry, Bramble, etc, which sometimes form locally a distinct feature. They may also be the normal result, as in Blackthorn coverts, of leaving country to return to a wild state. There is a characteristic ground flora of meadow or pratal species depending on altitude.
True forests in the Temperate regions (excluding conifers) are mainly made up of deciduous trees, the regions of winter following the fall of the leaf. The leaves, their texture, form, and position are all adapted to meet the necessary conditions of light. Below the tall trees are shrubs and bush, and below these a characteristic ground flora of plants with broad, flat, smooth leaves, as in Wood Sorrel, Wood Anemone, Wood Balsam, Enchanter's Nightshade, Moschatel, Dog's Mercury, Lily-of-the-Valley, etc.
Woods are especially characterized by the predominance of some one species which grows there at its best, e.g. Beech, Cak, and Birch. The Beech wood forms a dark wood where the ground is bare or strewn with leaves, and the soil may be mild humus or sour humus. In the first one finds Woodruff, Wood Sorrel, Wood Anemone, Sweet Violet, Dog's Mercury, Melic Grass, Millet, Ivy, Great Stitchwort, Lungwort, Sedges, Poa nemoralis, Winter Aconite, Moschatel, Woundwort, Enchanter's Nightshade, Herb Paris, Lily-of-the-Valley, Solomon's Seal, Helleborines, Twayblade, Bird's Nest Orchid, also Coral Root, Monotropa, Epipogiim, etc, Gagea, etc. On a sour humus one finds Deschampsia flexttosa, Trientalis, May Flower, Cow Wheat, Ling, Whortleberry, and so on.
The Oak forest or wood lets in more light between its branches and neighbouring trunks. Amongst the oaks are found Lime, Maple, Aspen, Elm, Ash, and Hornbeam. The ground flora is abundant, and there are numerous shrubs forming a bush of Hazel, Hawthorn, Maple, Sloe, Hornbeam, Spindle Tree, Willow, Guelder Rose, Bramble, Honeysuckle. Amongst the ground flora are the Wood Anemone, Violets, Vetches, Meadow Vetchling, St. John's Wort, Cinquefoil, Bluebell, Milfoil. The Common Brake Fern forms dense brakes here (hence the name).
True Birch forests are not prevalent in Britain, being found in higher latitudes, and they are often planted here. Ashwoods occur on limestone and chalk soils.
The Sylvestral, or Septal plants as they are also called, are a large section of the British flora numbering some 300, including some dry-soil heath plants which survive from a former woodland association.
We have included some 42 of the woodland plants here, some of which are common to Beech, some to Oak woods, some found on ordinary humus, some on sour humus, and so on.
In the shaded depths and open clearings amongst hazels and sallows the shy and delicate Wind Flower finds a shelter in the woods. Here, too, Goldielocks lurks in the shade, seldom having all its petals intact. In hazel copses in the south we shall find with good fortune the Green Hellebore. An oak wood carpeted with Bluebells in spring, and clad in a rich russet coat of bracken in autumn, where rocky knolls abound, is the place for the Columbine. A shade-lover, the Sweet Violet adds richly to the heavy perfume of the woods, aromatic already with the smell of humus, leaf-mould, and resin, perchance, from the pines. A new setting is conveyed by the bright pink masses of Red Campion blooms which give a bright colour to the green depths around. The Linden, when summer is at its zenith, is like attar of roses to the bees which hover amid its boughs on honey intent. Wood Sorrel is here the sensitive plant of the woods, by some called Shamrock. It luxuriates in the sides of a mossy leafy dell.
Photo. L. R. T. Horn
Woodland, With Hazel Coppice
Holly makes thick coverts for the pheasants on stony banks. The Wild Cherry dangles its "whitehearts" in the wooded seclusion, fit treasures for the birds. Open banks in the glades are spread with luscious fruits of the Wild Strawberry by Midsummer Eve. The grey undersides of the leaves in the well-roofed shelters of White Beam flicker in the breeze, thus revealing themselves. Close by Mountain Ash spreads wide mealy panicles of white flowers, ready for the autumn's promise of a rich red feast for the woodland tribes.
On the open rocky slopes in the woods the rose-purple clumps of bloom of the Rosebay enliven the grey-clad stony banks. Beneath the dripping oaks the lowly Enchanter's Nightshade and Sanicle hide with retiring modesty. Along the pathways through the woods rise the noble umbels of Angelica, with spreading foliage. Ivy clings to the Oak like a parasite upon some scion of a noble house. Wayfaring Tree fills the damp hollows forming dense coverts by the decoys. Clambering up the stem of Hawthorn, or bole of Oak or Ash, the Honeysuckle or Sweet Eglantine disperses sweet perfume in the night. Woodruff, too, in the daytime makes the air heavy with the odour of new-mown hay.
A sulphur hue is lent by the sweet-tinted Primrose, which finds shade and safety in the woodland depths. Wood Loosestrife or Yellow Pimpernel trails delicately over the damper soil. The Small Periwinkle brings again to the woods the colours of the deep-blue skies, and the versicolorous Lungwort is as gay here as in the long borders in the garden. In sheltered, open glades a wide patch of Wood Forget-me-not makes the woods blue, and so choice a beauty is not so soon forgot.
The tall spikes, with spotted blooms of the Foxglove into which the humble bees come and take their toll, stand gracefully on the stony slopes of the valleys, and Marjoram gives a rich perfume to the downs in the south and elsewhere. Wood Betony lingers by the sides of the pathways or out on the open heaths. Under the deep shades of the hazels in early May the yellow helmets spotted with crimson of the Archangel make wide patches over which bees linger lovingly. Rich-scented the Wood Sage covers the rubbly flanks of the hillsides. In the south the Wood Spurge hides in the undergrowth or below the hedge.
Everywhere in the shade are beds of Dog's Mercury, so common in woods. Tall monarchs of the forest rise here and there in the shape of the Wych Elm, Oak, Birch, and now and again the shivering Aspen. Under the ash-trees the Twayblade hides, and rarely the Snowdrop, Bee Orchis, Lily-of-the-Valley, and Ramsoms are found amid the sylvan depths.