The dandelion dilemma

This morning, whilst Brenda took a service at Burnham Market, I had a quick walk at Burnham Norton. At this point in the day it was relatively sunny and though there was nothing unusual about I did see good views of a marsh harrier and there were several chiffchaffs calling.

Once Brenda had finished her service we both headed over to Titchwell and spent a pleasant, though occasionally rainy, couple of hours on the reserve. Brenda found some new flowers – more of which below – and I checked through the black-headed gulls in case there were any Mediterranean gulls….no luck there. We saw a lovely male stonechat, a handful of ringed plovers, and all the “usual suspects”, plus a snipe close to the main hide.

A common snipe bathing at Titchwell today

Brenda writes: “The flower I look forward to seeing as a sign that spring has properly arrived is Coltsfoot. It’s quite choosy about where it grows so I was delighted to find a patch growing on the bank by the dyke path at Titchwell RSPB.


It’s easy to confuse with dandelion unless, of course, you look closer. It has rayed yellow flowers on single stalks and when it goes to seed it forms a white ‘clock’ of seed pods – but that’s where the similarity ends. One of the curious things about coltsfoot is that the flowers appear before the leaves, which are heart-shaped with pointed teeth. I’d never noticed that before – there were no leaves today, only the flower spikes on stalks that are covered in purplish scales. So I’ve learnt something new about one of my all-time favourite plants. Now, let’s compare it with the dandelion further down the path.


The flower ray is much flatter (and in this case bigger) on a completely smooth stalk with the leaves forming a ‘whorl’ (or rosette) from which the stalk grows. The leaves are long, floppy and deeply toothed (the technical term is ‘lobed’), not so easy to see here but very obvious when seen growing in a lawn!

Then, as we were going down the path cut into the bank to the Parrinder Hide, Steve said, ‘What’s this?’ Another yellow dandelion-like flower was growing on the bank wall along with groundsel and some common field speedwell. Out came the book because I can never remember which is which! This one was perennial sow-thistle. The leaves are similar to dandelion, deeply lobed, but they grow singly on the woody stalk which the base of the leaves wrap around. The stalk divides with a single flower on each branch. Interestingly, the flowering period for this species is July onward but I think in this sheltered spot the plant has over-wintered and got to work early!

perennial sow-thistle

New species for March 29th:
Flowers: coltsfoot, perennial sow-thistle