The past few days of warmth and sun has really kick-started spring on Park Downs. The annual blue carpet of Hairy Violet (Viola hirta) has returned and is better than ever, partially as a response to the sheep-grazing this winter but mostly thanks to the Rabbits grazing! Hopefully this is also good news for the Dark Green Fritillary butterfly (Argynnis aglaja) that seems to be increasing at this site and for which the Violet a larval food plant.
Also increasing are the Cowslips (Primula veris), right, that are just starting to flower and as long as the rabbits do not start nibbling the flower stems they should be spectacular over the next few weeks. In some areas there are so many plants it is impossible not to tread on them if walking through the grass. Again they benefit from rabbits grazing the sward and increase prolifically from seed.
The Cowslips are early this year and this means their flowering is overlapping with that of the Primroses (P. vulgaris),left, on the slopes of Park Downs. These are a recent addition to Park Downs flora presumably from seed originating with plants in Banstead Woods where they are increasing nicely.
This coincidence of flower which does not happen every year, holds out the hope that over the next few years we may be lucky enough to get some plants of the hybrid between the two, the False Oxlip (P.x polyantha), right, the flowers of which are usually similar to those of Primrose but held in an a multi-flowered umbel similar to Cowslip. This picture was taken yesterday in "The Hazels" coppice, in Norbury Park, where there is currently the most spectacular display of Primroses as well as a few plants of False Oxlip.
For completion it should be pointed out that False Oxlip is so-named bacause of it's resemblence to Oxlip, a much rarer species of Primula (P.elatior), found mostly in the woods of East Anglia. I took the picture on the left in March 2014 in Bradfield Woods, Suffolk.