A "tender green" begins to peep from the hedge-row Elder in sheltered nooks, "And the dark pine-wood's boughs are seen Fringed tenderly with living green."
The sword-like leaves of the Blue-bell are peeping up through the russet leaves of the autumn which yet remain. There will be no difficulty in marking the Lesser Celandine (Ficaria ranunculoides), with its bright star-like golden flowers, dark heart-shaped green leaves, which are sometimes spotted with black, but are generally distinguished by growing in clusters, out of which the flowers rise in the early spring. This variety of the Ranunculus tribe - for it is not a true member of the family - was a favourite of Wordsworth's. He sung the praises of its "varnished golden flowers, "Telling tales about the sun When we've little warmth or none."
In country districts it is better known under the common name of pilewort - a name given to it from the peculiar tuberous root, which was thought to be useful in a painful disease. It is no longer considered a " herb of grace," and its absence is sometimes wished for by the farmer. Old Gerarde thus describes the plant: "It cometh forth about the calends of March, and floureth a little after; it beginneth to fade away in Aprill; it is quite gone in May, and afterwards it is hard to be found, yea, scarcely the root." This plant is totally distinct from the True Celandine (Chel donium), which belongs to the Poppy family and delights in old ruins.
The white-flowered Dead Nettle (Lamium album) may be seen lifting its sturdy head and presenting its whorl of labiate flowers to the early bee and the truant schoolboy, who sucks the flowers equally with the insect, and also makes a musical pipe of its square stem, which distinguishes it from the True Nettle (Urticd) which grows beside it. Where the bank slopes we shall see the leaves of the "Wild Strawberry peeping forth, and the Wild Docks (Rumex) are beginning to assert their presence. Early in the year we shall find the black catkins of the Alder (Alnus glu-tinosa) on the foot-path where it diverges to the riverside or runs near the tributary brooklet. The long drooping catkins are barren, and the oval-shaped, similar to a fir-cone, produce the seed. The wood of the alder, though light, has the peculiar property of remaining sound for a long period under water.
As the days grow longer, the foliage of the Early Speedwell grows larger and larger, and the sturdy stem of the Bladder Campion, with its grey hairy leaves, shoots upwards side by side with the deeply crimsoned stems and young shoots of the Robert-leaved Crane's-bill - the Herb Robert which we shall find lingering in the shady nooks until the early frost comes again. The five-fingered leaves of the creeping Cinquefoil are clothing their long and naked stems, and the humble Silverweed begins to show itself close to the foot-path. Higher in the hedge we may notice the purple-tinged leaves of the Honeysuckle, which, early in March, are pretty well covered. The flowers of the Ash (Fraxinus) are coming out on its leafless boughs, and the spiry branches of the Poplar look quite green. The resinous buds of the Chestnut (Castanea) have opened their sturdy sheaths, and permitted the green leaflets to appear. On the banks the Ferns are uncurling their croaier-like fronds from their grey, brown, and dark scales; and the grass begins to shoot upwards with a delicious greenness.
Near at hand in every hedge, and straggling on to the waste ground, the snow-white flowers of the common Sloe, the well-known Blackthorn (Prunus spi-nosa), begin to appear, heralding the spring. The elliptical leaves do not appear until after the fragrant flowers and their orange-coloured anthers have departed. The shining polished black boughs are much used for walking-sticks; the bark has been used as a febrifuge, the leaves to adulterate beer, and the fruit has a questionable reputation in connection with port wine of a cheap quality, and is not unknown as a rural preserve. As a hedge fruit, and indeed as a wayside flower of spring, the "white blossomed sloe" must give way to the Bullace (P. insititia), the flowers of which are produced in pairs, not solitary like the sloe. The leaves, when they appear, are narrower, and the fruit much larger and of a better quality. Bullaces are common in Rutlandshire, where a yellow-fruited variety is known under the name of "White Damsons. They are frequently met with in the London market under this name.
At the latter end of April the two broad, heart-shaped, strongly-veined leaves which have remained in sheltered corners during the winter, send up a cluster of white flowers on a stem about a foot high. This is "Jack-by-the-hedge," "Sauce alone," the Garlic Treacle-Mustard (Sisymbrium alliaria). There is no difficulty in distinguishing this plant, for on its leaves being bruised it gives out a strong and unmistakable odour of garlic. It has been used as a salad herb, boiled as a table vegetable, and made into sauce in the same manner as mint; but it is only tolerable in the absence of all other vegetables. There are two other varieties found in Britain - the Wormseed Treacle-Mustard (Erysimum cheiranthodes), the leaves of which are narrow and slightly toothed. Its yellow flowers do not appear until the summer, and may generally be found in the neighbourhood of osiers and willows. The Hare's-ear Treacle-Mustard (E. Orientate) is more rare, and frequents the cliffs and fields near the sea, principally in the South-eastern counties.
Along southern hedgerows the small Periwinkles (Vinca minor), with their starry blue flowers, shining myrtle-like leaves, garland the bushes. Its larger relative (Vinca major) will appear later in the year.
In a close shady nook or near a damp wood we may find the Moschatel (Adoxa moschatellina) unfolding its pale green flowers and leaves. It was once known as Bulbous Fumitory, but now its unassuming appearance has given it the name of Adoxa, or "without glory." Early in the spring we may see the large greenish-yellow blossoms of the two species of the Wild Hellebore under the hedgerows. They stand out boldly and defiantly, regardless, like their relative, the Christmas rose, of the winter's storms. There is but little difficulty in distinguishing the Green Hellebore (Hellelorus viridus) from the Stinking Hellebore (JET. foetidus), for the latter has a purple tinge at the edge of its green cup. The large leathery leaves easily distinguish it from other wayside plants at this season. It haunts the woodland sides as well as the hedgerows.