Signs of spring: Plants along our waterways

A walk along your local waterway this month should deliver some welcoming signs that winter is in retreat and spring is marching forwards. Ecologist Paul Wilkinson tells us more.

Lesser celandineLesser celandine

On a sunny day, the delicate but common lesser celandine opens its golden yellow rays to the sunshine. This little plants likes to be near shade and is one of the first yellow flowers of the year.


Another shrub that can often be covering in pollinators is the Goat or Pussy willow, its round catkins laden with pollen can often yield a small tortoiseshell butterfly too.

White deadnettleWhite deadnettle

Another early flowering plant but perhaps even more common is the white deadnettle, so called because it resemble a small stout nettle, but with white snapdragon type flowers that are rich in nectar – and edible. This plant is welcomed by the queen bees emerging from winter hibernation.


If your walk takes you past woodland, you may be lucky enough to see the wonderful Primrose, its flowers are edible but surely too precious to pick on such a lovely spring day.


As you approach the hard standings of Lock landings, don’t discount them, take a closer look, you might find the delicate little white flowers of the Whitlowgrass, a small plant with a rosette of leaves and gentle, nodding white flowers.


Along canal banks, especially where a river or stream runs alongside the canal, you might find the tassel flowers of Butterbur, these flower spikes appear before the huge leaves appear and dominate the canal bank. The leaves were once thought to be used to wrap butter, a bio-degradable sustainable packaging, however, research is suggesting that although the leaves do seem to be a herbal remedy for migraines and maybe even hay fever, there are other compounds within the leaves that may cause harm if eaten.

Last date edited: 30 March 2016

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The environment team

The Canal & River Trust has top team of committed experts and enthusiasts, who help to protect our waterway environment and improve it for both people and nature. Follow this blog to find out more about the hugely varied work they carry out.

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