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28 Mar 2024

The PLANTS project: 8 plants to look out for this Easter

Written by The PLANTS project team
A collage of 8 different plants, flowering in Scotland in springtime
A collage of the PLANTS Project Team’s favourite Easter plants | Images: Shutterstock
A huge variety of plants are making themselves known as spring sweeps through Scotland. The PLANTS project team have selected some of their favourites to look out for this Easter.

Primula elatior (oxlip)

Primula elatior, commonly known as oxlip, is a calcium-loving native plant now mostly confined to East Anglia but can be found in abundance at Branklyn Garden from mid-March. Not to be confused with the similar and more prolific Primula veris (cowslip) which adorns the countryside come spring, Primula elatior was introduced to Branklyn in 1930 by the garden’s creators, John and Dorothy Renton. The lemon-yellow flowers carpet the beds throughout the garden creating a beautiful spring blanket. At Branklyn, Primula elatior eventually dies down, only to be replaced with a fresh sea of orange candelabra primulas (Primula chungensis), amongst other primulas found in the garden from spring onwards.

Charlotte Bottone, East Inventory Officer

A group of small yellow flowers
Primula elatior (oxlip) | Image: Shutterstock

Cassiope (Arctic bell-heather)

Branklyn Garden is home to three national collections. One of the most fascinating is their collection of the stunning spring-flowering genus Cassiope. Named after the figure of Cassiopeia from Greek mythology, it has long been a favourite on alpine show benches for its sheer flower power.

Cassiopes are very hardy, coming from the Himalayas and the Arctic. Indeed, climate scientists use this plant to monitor climate change in the Arctic. The collection at Branklyn forms the oldest national collection in Tayside. The first record of them being grown in the garden dates from 1928. A form unique to Branklyn is currently being registered under the name Cassiope ‘Thomas Erlend’.

Alistair W Chalmers, East Team Manager

A group of small bell-like flowers
Cassiope (Arctic bell-heather) | Image: Shutterstock

Fritillaria meleagris (snake’s head fritillary)

A beautiful spring-flowering bulb in the Lily family with nodding cup-shaped flowers that hang from slender stems. Their tepals have an intricate chequered pattern, usually in shades of purple or pink, but are sometimes pure white.

There are over 150 species of Fritillaria, but the snake’s head fritillary is one of the few that is happy to naturalise in damp lawns. It may also be grown in pots, troughs or rock gardens in free-draining soil.

Native to many parts of Europe and West Siberia, they grow in seasonally wet meadows, floodplains and woodland openings. However, their numbers are declining and becoming rarer in the wild.

The West Team were at Threave Garden last Easter and saw a beautiful display of snake’s head fritillaries growing in the lawn between the visitor centre and Threave House.

Fran Culverhouse, West Inventory Officer

A small group of purple low growing flowers that appear bell-like. Pictured amongst grass.
Fritillaria meleagris (snake’s head fritillary) | Image: Shutterstock

Camellia × williamsii (camellia)

A large, evergreen shrub with luxuriant foliage and a floriferous reputation.

The first of the Camellia × williamsii hybrids were bred by J C Williams. He was sent Camellia saluensis seed by George Forrest, the famous Scottish plant hunter who came across the plant growing in a volcanic mountainous region of Yunnan, China, in 1918. Williams cross-pollinated this with the more tender and smaller-flowered Camellia japonica, which had been introduced to Britain several decades previously.

As the Camellia × williamsii hybrids have proved to be amongst the hardiest of the camellias, they can be found growing happily at numerous Trust gardens across Scotland. One of the most floriferous of this type of hybrid is said to be Camellia × williamsii ‘Donation’ – it flowers its socks off in early spring from a young age, with saucer-shaped, soft pink blossoms that fall delicately from the plant carpeting the ground below the glossy green foliage.

Nicola Douglas, North Inventory Officer

A close-up of a large pink Camellia flower with yellow stamen.
Camellia × williamsii (camellia) | Image: Shutterstock

Pulmonaria officinalis (lungwort)

As woodlands and herbaceous borders wake up at this time of year, the colours appear for all to enjoy. The spotty leaves form a cheerful part of the understorey, and the flowers open red-pink, which is a good contrast with other flowering things at this time.

They are an interesting plant to keep an eye on because the colour of the flowers will alter owing to changes in the pH of the petals. You will see the flowers passing through shades of pink to blue. Gradually, the plant will display a mixture of these shades, and you should be able to see that the bees will be busy on the younger flowers, which are nectar-rich, whereas the blue ones are getting on with the business of setting seed instead. Find them in shady corners of Drum Castle Pond Garden, Castle Fraser Walled Garden and woodland areas at Inverewe.

Philippa Holdsworth, North Team Manager

Three pink, blue and purple coloured flowers with green foliage are pictured against greenery.
Pulmonaria officinalis (lungwort) | Image: Shutterstock

Prunus (ornamental cherry)

Cherry blossoms bring a brief but beautiful display to our gardens around Easter time. They are famously celebrated in Japan during ‘Hanami’ gatherings to view the fleeting beauty of the flowers. Native to regions across the northern hemisphere, cherry trees are reliably hardy in Scotland and can be seen in most Trust gardens.

The double pink flowers of Prunus ‘Shōgetsu,’ ‘Kanzan’ and ‘Accolade’ can be enjoyed together on the Hill Lawn at Threave. In the walled garden at Greenbank, the central path is dominated by a mature Prunus sargentii – planted in 1963, its spreading branches still bear pink flowers and provide bright red leaves in the autumn. Another mature cherry tree can be found in Broughton House and Garden. The variety is unknown, but it is thought to have been planted in the early 20th century by the artist E A Hornel.

Jennifer Hollywood, West Team Manager

Pink cherry blossom pictured against a blue sky.
Prunus (ornamental cherry) | Image: Shutterstock

Forsythia (forsythia)

Forsythia is a genus of flowering plants belonging to the olive family Oleaceae. Within the genus, there are about 12 species, mostly native to eastern Asia, except for one: Forsythia europaea, which, as the name suggests, is native to Europe. These plants are named after the Scottish botanist William Forsyth, a founding member of the Royal Horticultural Society.

The Forsythia at Threave Garden dazzles visitors with its beautiful yellow flowers, which appear even more visible due to the absence of leaves that tend to emerge later in the season. Forsythia are renowned for their yellow blossoms, which open in early spring at the same time as many spring bulbs and thus help convey a sense of warmth to the garden after the cold winter months.

These hardy and adaptable plants can be found in many Trust gardens, including Greenbank Garden and Culzean. If you’re out for a walk in one of our gardens this spring and notice a splash of vibrant yellow, you might well be looking at a Forsythia!

Lucrezia Rossi, West Inventory Officer

Small yellow flowers covering the branches of a shrub are pictured against a pale blue sky.
Forsythia (forsythia) | Image: Shutterstock

Pulsatilla vulgaris (Easter flower)

Pulsatilla vulgaris is a delightful floral gem blooming in the Easter season. Its common name, ‘pasqueflower,’ is derived from the old French word for Easter, ‘Pasque.’

This perennial herb belongs to the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae, and is native to chalk grasslands of central and northern continental Europe and the British Isles. It boasts finely divided leaves adorned with silky hairs when in its youthful stage. Hairy purple flowers appear before the leaves unfurl completely.

Despite being a common garden plant, the pasqueflower has become a rare sight in the wild across Britain. The decline can be attributed to the destruction and degradation of its natural habitat, mainly due to agricultural intensification and urbanisation. Additionally, reduced grazing has increased competition among plants, further threatening the pasqueflower’s survival.

For those eager to witness Pulsatilla vulgaris, the Rock Garden at Leith Hall offers the opportunity to observe different cultivars of this fascinating species.

Valeria Soddu, North Inventory Officer

A small hairy, purple, low growing flower is pictured in a field of dried grass with fir trees and a mountain blurred in the background.
Pulsatilla vulgaris (Easter flower) | Image: Shutterstock