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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory