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Westonbirt's wildflowers

Wildflowers have been recorded at Westonbirt, The National Arboretum intermittently since the 1880s in various surveys and floras.

To help conserve and develop Westonbirt as a rich wildflower landscape, the Westonbirt Flora Group of staff and volunteers was founded in 2006. They meet once or twice a month to identify, record, plan surveys and work to restore the rich wildflower and grass habitats.

Please do not pick the flowers, but leave them for others to also enjoy. Many of them are also protected by law.

Working with the landscape

Around 450 species, including flowers, grasses, sedges, ferns and aquatic plants, have been recorded across the arboretum in recent years by the group.

Woodland species vary depending on whether an area has been largely left as native, ancient woodland, coppiced or was planted with introduced species during the arboretum’s creation from the 1850s.

Over the last few years, working alongside the Forestry Commission, the Westonbirt Flora Group is helping to restore the historic Downs to a more natural grassland. This work has involved surveying the plants present, helping to restore the old car park site by hay strewing and protecting the rarer plants such as the Orchids.

Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa)A few species to look out for

First signs of spring

The first snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) appear in January or even December.

By late March Moschatel (Adoxa moschatellina) and Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna) are in flower.

In April, the Silk Wood woodland floor turns snowy with Wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa), followed by a sea of native Bluebells (Hyacinthoides Bluebell close upnon-scripta).

These woodland flowers need to flower early before the leaves of the trees block out too much sunlight.

A good place for these is the southern edge of the Silk Wood in squares P14, P15, P16 and Q14, Q15, Q16 and Q17 on the Westonbirt map.

Early orchids

The first of the orchids to appear are the Early Early purple orchid (Orchis mascula)Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula) with its spotted leaves and white to reddish purple flowers.

The orchid can be found on the Downs and in Silk Wood from April to June.

In the cage on the Downs to the east of the Waste Gate, it is joined by the much rarer Green-winged Orchid (Anacamptis morio).

Bee Orchid (Ophys apifera)

Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera)One of the many attractive orchids, the bee orchid, can be found from June onwards.

It resembles a bumble bee to trick pollinators and is a special sight around the Downs and Silk Wood, especially on south and west facing grassy slopes.


In summer, the open grassy areas are the best places for wildflowers.

Greater Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera chlorantha)So try the Downs, the north side of Waste Drive and the hidden meadow in Q11, as well as Palmer Ride and Broad Drive.

Here you will find species ranging from the humble Dandelion (Taraxacum ag.) to the rarer Greater Butterfly-Orchid (Platanthera chlorantha).

These orchids are pollinated by moths so produce their scent at night.

Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor)Also in the grass are Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) and Red Bartsia (Odontites verna), both of which get some of their water and nutrients by ‘hijacking’ the roots of grasses, thus helping to keep the more rampant grasses in check.

Late Summer

Into September, some plants flower in the woodland areas. One is Violet Helleborine (Epipactis purpurata), which uses tree roots to get sustenance so it can live in the shade.

It can usually be found under the trees in J15 by the Link and N20.

Rarer Plants

Yellow Bird’s Nest (Hypopitys monotropa)

This is a strange plant which breaks all the normal rules. It grows in the deep shade under beech trees and conifers where there is no other competition. It has a fawn and cream flowering spike, and no leaves. It gets its nourishment by parasitizing the fungi growing in association with nearby tree roots. 

A Red Data list plant, we have a few colonies in the woods on Waste Bank.

In a recent good year we counted over 600 flowering spikes, but they are very difficult to see without a torch.

Campanula patula - spreading bellflowerSpreading bellflower (Campanula patula)

Perhaps the most important wildflower found at Westonbirt is the endangered Spreading Bellflower, which flowers from July often until Christmas.

A biennial plant of woodland edges, coppice, rides and roadsides, it has been recorded at Westonbirt since the 1840s and is noted on the Red Data list (published by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee) as 'facing a high risk of extinction in the wild'.

Westonbirt is actively trying to conserve this plant in conjunction with the charity Plantlife and the National Botanic Garden of Wales.

Please let us know if you see it!

Wild Plant Walks

On the first Tuesday of each month from April to September, one of the Westonbirt Flora Group will lead a walk around the plants of interest of the season. These walks are free after entry and start at the Welcome Building at 10.30am.

They last about two hours and are about two miles in length. Please wear suitable footwear as the walks never stick to the paths! Sorry no dogs as we may be walking in the Old Arboretum. You will find reading glasses or a hand lens or magnifying glass will add to your appreciation of the plants.

Last updated: 10th July 2017

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OS Grid ref: ST851898
Postcode: GL8 8QS

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Westonbirt Arboretum

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England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.