Britain in bloom: how spring is the new summer as May blossoms early

A A A

Since the Middle Ages, it's been known as May blossom. But should its name now be changed to April?

The flowering of the hawthorn bush has, for centuries, been an infallible sign in England that the month of May has arrived. But, this year, in our warm spring, its scented creamy-white flowers are appearing in many places a good three weeks earlier than normal.

It's not a one-off, according to the Woodland Trust, the green charity which is specialising in recording the signs that spring is getting earlier and earlier because of climate change.

So many things are happening, the trust says, that April is, in effect, becoming the new May. Swifts, which in the past returned from their winter migration and started to zip through British skies on about 10 May on average, are already here, the trust points out.

Those are only two of many signs of a massive change in the seasons that have been recorded in the past decade-and-a-half. In the past 30 years of steadily rising average temperatures, spring seems to have got about 10 days earlier in many ways - with the unfolding of the leaves of oak trees, for example, and the egg-laying of woodland birds.

But this year's early hawthorn is a particularly significant sign. "One of the most famous vernacular names for the hawthorn is the May-tree and culturally and historically it is seen as signifying the start of summer," said the trust's Dr Kate Lewthwaite.

"But thanks to the exceptionally mild start to the year we are experiencing, this summer signal is arriving three weeks earlier than the 11 May average."

Hawthorn has much mysticism surrounding it and, according to Celtic mythology, is the most likely plant to be inhabited by fairies. During May Day festivities, the flowers were used in garlands and branches were cut, set in the ground outside houses and decorated with wild flowers. Its purpose was to protect from evil spirits.

But the plant also has a doubly powerful Christian tradition. One part of it is the legend that the tree was the source of Jesus's crown of thorns. The other is the famous hawthorn in Glastonbury, Somerset, sprang from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, the man who had Christ's body buried after the crucifixion.

The Glastonbury hawthorn, which has been written about for centuries, is certainly a special plant as it flowers twice a year - once in spring but also in midwinter, just after Christmas, regarded as miraculous in the Middle Ages. The original tree is no more but it has been widely propagated by graftings and cuttings.

Butterflies and bluebells: our changing seasons

* Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta

Bluebells, usually thought of as a flower of early May to mid-May are now in full flower in southern Britain. The "Roman candle" blossoms on horse chestnuts are similarly out very early.

* Speckled wood butterfly Pararge aegeria

Several butterfly species have been seen in January and February this year.

* Squashed hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus

Hedgehogs have always hibernated or been dormant in the British winter, but unusually there have been squashed hedgehogs seen on British roads in February this year.

* Common frog tadpoles Rana temporaria

Frogspawn, usually laid in March, can now be seen in January - and on Christmas Day in Cornwall.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower