Garden identifier to British wildflowers

Garden identifier to British wildflowers

Use this handy identification guide on some of the commonest British wildflowers.

Walking along country lanes, or even while driving, you’re bound to spot lots of wildflowers – this guide will help you put a name to them.

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Interestingly, many of our wildflowers aren’t native, but are actually archaeophytes – plants that were introduced to the British Isles prior to 1500 CE and have since become naturalised. Many were introduced by our Neolithic ancestors. Examples of this include field poppies (Papaver rhoeas) and corn cockles (Agrostemma githago).

There are lots of benefits to growing wildflowers. Not only do they look beautiful, particularly combinations of wildflowers and wildflower turfs, but they benefit wildlife, too.

Use this handy garden identifier to British wildflowers.

Many of our wildflowers aren't native, but are actually archaeophytes.

Field poppy (Papaver rhoeas)

Field poppy (Papaver rhoeas) in flower
Field poppy (Papaver rhoeas) in flower

Names: Papaver rhoeas. Field poppy, corn poppy, common poppy, Flanders poppy.

Description: a cornfield annual, commonly found growing in cultivated arable land and roadside verges. The foliage and stems are distinctly hairy, and the leaves are deeply lobed with toothed edges. Flowers are single and scarlet red. Each petal is marked with a black blotch at its base. An archaeophyte.

Height x spread: 90cm x 30cm.


Ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)

Ox-eye daisies in flower (Leucanthemum vulgare)
Ox-eye daisies in flower (Leucanthemum vulgare)

Names: Leucanthemum vulgare. Ox-eye daisy, marguerite, bull daisy, field daisy.

Description: a clump-forming native perennial. Often seen growing on roadside verges, grassland and wildflower meadows. Can colonise open ground if left to its own devices. Leaves are spoon-shaped with roughly serrated edges. Single flowerheads are held on tall stems, with white ray florets and a bright yellow centre.

H x S: 40cm x 30cm


Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor)

Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) growing with plantains
Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) growing with plantains

Names: Rhinanthus minor. Yellow rattle, hay rattle, cockscomb.

Description: gets its name after the rattling sound of the seeds in the capsules. A partial parasite that gains nutrients from grasses, reducing their vigour and promoting biodiversity of wildflowers. Bright yellow flowers emerge from light green calyces. Leaves are thin, serrated and have no stalk. Native.

H x S: 45cm x 10cm


Field scabious (Knautia arvensis)

Field scabious (Knautia arvensis) with painted lady butterfly
Field scabious (Knautia arvensis) with painted lady butterfly

Names: Knautia arvensis. Field scabious, bachelor’s buttons, lady’s cushion, gypsy rose.

Description: a native perennial commonly found growing in dry, well-drained soils including meadows, hedgerows, roadside verges and alkaline soils. The pale lilac flowerheads are extremely attractive to pollinators and are usually held singly on tall stems. The foliage is hairy and the leaves are deeply lobed.

H x S: 1.5m x 30cm.


Red campion (Silene dioica)

Red campion (Silene dioica) with white foxglove flower
Red campion (Silene dioica) with white foxglove flower

Names: Silene dioica. Red campion, red catchfly, cuckoo flower, adder’s flower, Robin Hood.

Description: a native perennial, often found growing roadside verges, woodlands and hedgerows. The flowers are red-pink, though paler pink and white variants can arise, and are borne in small clusters of 2-3 atop the stems. The foliage is hairy and slightly sticky to the touch. Leaves are oval-shaped with a pointed tip.

H x S: 80cm x 45cm.


Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)

Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)
Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)

Names: Centaurea cyanus. Cornflower, bachelor’s buttons, blue bonnets.

Description: a distinctive annual that is an archaeophyte in the UK. Once common, now very scarce and but can be found growing on roadside verges and waste ground. Flowers are the distinctive cornflower blue and held singly on the stems. Grass-like foliage with very thin leaves that taper to a point.

H x S: 70cm x 30cm.


Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris)

Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) with peonies
Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) with peonies

Names: Anthriscus sylvestris. Cow parsley, wild chervil, Queen Anne’s lace, keck.

Description: very common native perennial, usually found growing in meadows, ditches and hedgerows. Many tiny white flowers make up the umbel flower clusters, which are held on tall, branching stems. Flowers have a malty scent. Fern-like foliage.

H x S: 100cm x 30cm.


Meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris)

Meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris)
Meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris)

Names: Ranunculus acris. Meadow buttercup, tall buttercup, blisterflower, butter daisy.

Description: a widespread, native perennial commonly found growing in hedgerows, damp meadows and pastures. Favours alkaline soils. The bright yellow flowers have a shiny upper surface, and are held on loosely branched stems. Leaves are lobed and deeply dissected, with toothed edges.

H x S: 80cm x 30cm.


Common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)

Common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)
Common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)

Names: Dactylorhiza fuchsii. Common spotted orchid.

Description: one of our native orchids, it’s a perennial species with spotted, sword-shaped leaves. Bears large spikes of flowers that have spotted or dashed petals. Flower colour can vary from white to purple. Favours damp, alkaline soils.

H x S: 75cm x 25cm.


Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Names: Achillea millefolium. Yarrow, arrowroot, milfoil, death flower.

Description: a common, native perennial wildflower, usually found growing on grassland, roadside verges and waste ground. Flat white flowerheads and feathery, aromatic foliage.

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H x S: 60cm x 60cm.


Starting a native garden

If you’d like your garden to be made up of some or all native species, take a look at these native trees and shrubs to grow, and for ponds, these native aquatic plants. Being native, they’re guaranteed to grow well in the British climate.

Spade with wooden handle