Spring's early battle

The race for survival has begun in the countryside. The winter aconite hastened to flower under our hedge. You can see the bright yellow blobs from our window, pushing up through the dead leaves. Nothing deters them – even snow and wind will not stop their lamp-like glow. They seize the opportunity before other ruthless spring plants grow and crowd them out.

You don’t see many aconites these days, do you? When I was a little girl in Yorkshire, I remember peering into the rectory grounds to see the hundreds of the little yellow lamps running wild, making a golden carpet. But the old rectory has been bulldozed down long ago and replaced by a smart housing estate with not an aconite in sight.

One warm morning last week I saw a yawning bumble bee queen grateful for very early nectar from our aconites. Unwittingly she took pollen from flower to flower so that soon there will be little purses of black seeds.
The seeds could eventually settle on the ground and if they race the new choking spring hedgerow plants, they can grow into aconite seedlings.

Where did my aconites come from? Well, I will tell you a secret I have not told anyone before. Years ago, my grandmother, on seeing the bulldozer in the rectory grounds, waited for dusk. Then she took a paper bag and a trowel and, in the shadow of the great trees, dug up some aconite tubers. The flowers had died back already, and the round lobed leaves were still strong.
She crept away with her loot. I suppose you could say that she stole them, but she also saved them. You see, she planted them in her own garden and the next year they flowered. Then they seeded and the seedlings spread and made another golden carpet. The following year my grandmother gave me some little black seeds in a paper bag.

I sowed my seeds under our hedge and here they are now. The ‘Grandchildren’ of stolen aconites, from a Yorkshire rectory garden, are growing here in Shropshire.

The bleary-eyed bumble bee, I saw last week, didn’t mind at all where they came from or even if they were stolen goods. She just seized the opportunity to feed, nothing else mattered to her. Wildlife will stop at nothing to win the survival stakes.

(Adapted from my Nature Notes column)


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