Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)
Oak woodland inclosures are carpeted with bluebells during May and a good way to appreciate them is to use the Forestry Commission’s cycle tracks. The cycle route between New Park, Brockenhurst and Bank will give you a real treat at this time of the year, and Broomy Inclosure is also very popular with those looking for bluebells.
Bugle (Ajuga reptans)
The bugle grows in sunny, damp sites and is very common in the New Forest. The flowers are blue in colour and provide an important source of nectar for butterflies.
Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) - see picture
Foxgloves like the edge of disturbed areas of woodlands, especially areas that have been recently felled. They have been used for medicinal purposes for years and the drug ‘digitalis’ (named after its Latin title – Digitalis purpurea) used for heart conditions originally came from foxgloves. They can grow up to 1.5 metres in height and their pinky purple bell-like flowers grow down the stem. Foxgloves are poisonous and should not be eaten.
Common Dog Violet (Viola riviniana)
Common dog violets grow in sunny sites and like other small plants that grow in the woodland areas, are helped by hungry ponies grazing on the competing vegetation. This means that the violet can bloom and set seed, which is good news for the rare pearl-bordered fritillary whose caterpillar feeds only on the leaves of violets.
Bog Asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum) See Picture
The bog asphodel flowers are a very bright yellow and bloom during the summer at the same time as the cotton grass. The Latin name for this plant means ‘bone breaker’. They were given this name as farmers used to think that if their cows ate this plant, their legs would break. The truth is that the boggy area they grow in lacks important nutrients, such as calcium, causing the cows’ bones to weaken.
Bog Orchid (Hammarbya paludosa)
The bog orchid is incredibly rare and only grows in a few of the New Forest’s bogs. It is green in colour and at about 2" in height, it is also very small and very difficult to see.
Strangely the common butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) which is widespread throughout the UK is quite rare in the New Forest. Conversely the pale butterwort (Pinguicula lusitanica), which is rare elsewhere in the UK, is the more common of the two species here. Both grow in bogs and the leaves form rosettes on the surface of the surrounding vegetation. A single flower grows at the end of each leaf-less stem, and the commo butterwort displays a purple and white bloom, whilst the pale butterwort's flower is lilac and white.
The New Forest is home to a very rare type of cotton grass called slender cotton grass (Eriophorum gracile), but the one you are most likely to see here is the common cotton grass (Eriophorum angustifolium). It grows in the wetland areas and the characteristic white tufts of the plant disperse the seeds in the surrounding areas. Its local name of "bog cotton" gives a clue as where you might find it growing.
Marsh Gentian (Gentiana pneumonanthe)
This plant is locally common in the New Forest but only grows in wetland areas. It is in bloom at the end of summer and the flowers are an intense blue colour.
Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia)
Sundews live in nutrient-poor wet soils. The sticky scarlet hairs that cover the leaves are a perfect trap for small insects, the bodies of which provide the nutrients that the plant is missing. They bloom in the summer months, displaying a spike of white flowers.
Coral Necklace (Illecebrum verticellatum)
This delightful little plant grows in bare, damp patches within the heaths. Because it grows very close to the ground it would be quickly swamped by other more vigorous plants if it were not for the grazing of the New Forest ponies. The flowers are very tiny and white, and grow in whirls around the stem of the plant, making it look like a necklace made of coral. The New Forest is one of its strongholds in the UK.
There are three species of gorse in the Forest – common gorse (Ulex europaeus), which is very common and widespread over the heathlands, western gorse (Ulex gallii) which has a rather restricted distribution and grows on exposed dry areas and dwarf gorse (Ulex minor) which is much more widely distributed and also grows in dry areas. Common gorse is in bloom throughout the year, and its yellow flowers smell of coconut. The plant’s spiky foliage helps protect it from hungry mouths, but not from the ponies. They seem to ignore the spikes and find the foliage really tasty, especially through the winter months when other food is scarce. In the past, it was cut and ground down by commoners to feed to their stock. These days it is regularly cut and burned by the Forestry Commission to encourage fresh young growth.
There are four different types of heather growing in the New Forest. Most widespread is the true heather or ling (Calluna vulgaris), which carpets the Open Forest with pale purple blooms in August and September. Earlier on in the summer you can see the larger reddish-purple flowers of bell heather (Erica cinerea), and over on damp sites you can find its pink-flowered cousin, the cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix). All three are favourite sources of nectar for bees and local people have long made use of this by putting beehives out on the Open Forest when the heathers are in flower. You can buy local heather honey from farmers’ markets and gift shops around the region. The fourth and rarest of the heather species is the Dorset heath (Erica ciliaris) and those with a very keen eye might spot it in a very few wet places.
Two of the New Forest’s orchids grow on the edge of the heath – the common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) and the heath spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza maculata). The southern marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa) grows in the areas where heathland turns into wetland areas. All three orchids look very similar and are quite common.
Wild Gladiolus (Gladiolus illyricus) - see picture
The New Forest is the only place in Britain where the wild gladiolus grows. Its tall spikes of vivid magenta blooms thrive on the Open Forest. Despite their strong colour, they can be hard to spot as they grow among the bracken on the edge of the forest’s ancient pasture woodlands. This plant is very rare and flowers for only a short time during the summer.
Do not pick or remove any of the forest's wild flowers - leave them for everyone to enjoy.