A Mid-April Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery


Dear Readers, it was a beautiful day for a walk in the cemetery. It’s warmed up a bit, and the dandelions and daisies are open to the sun. When I started this blog, I thought that a dandelion was just a dandelion, but things are much more complicated than that – botanists have identified more than 230 separate microspecies of Taraxacum officinale (the common dandelion) in the UK alone. While some dandelions reproduce in the normal way, by seed, some populations are clones of one another because they spread only asexually. I suspect that the detail is much more complicated than that, but that’s as much as my brain can cope with before it explodes. Let it be said, though, that those butter-yellow flowers are extremely useful for pollinators, and that the dandelion ‘clocks’ that will follow are as much fun now as they were when I was a child.

Incidentally, ‘Taraxacum‘ is thought to come from the Arabic word for a bitter herb, though it might also be related to the Latin word for ‘to disturb’. ‘A bitter herb that grows in disturbed places’ is about as good a description of a dandelion as you’re likely to get. As regular readers will know, whenever a species is designated as ‘officinale‘ it means that it was a highly-regarded medicinal plant, the ‘official’ one to use.

And while we’re on the subject of etymology, on a day like today it’s easy to remember that ‘daisy’ is thought to derive from ‘the day’s eye’. You can almost feel the flowers drinking the sun in on a day like today.


I had to have a quick look at the horse chestnut to see how the leaves and flowers were coming along. Very well, it seems.

And how about this small white butterfly (Pieris rapae), my second of the year? You can tell that it’s a female because of the three spots on the upper wing (males just have one spot), and you can tell it from a large white (Pieris brassicae) because the wing tips are pale grey, rather than black in the bigger species. I suspect it will be off to lay its eggs on the Jack-by-the-hedge (garlic mustard) which seems to have popped up overnight.

Last week I was lamenting that the lesser celandine has already gone over, but I spoke much too soon – in some places it’s blanketing the ground, making a patchwork with the primroses, the daisies and the aforementioned dandelions. Yellow is definitely the colour at the moment.

Lesser celandine

And here was a real treat. I heard a bird call, and spent some time looking for the songster. The call sounded familiar yet strange, as if I was remembering it from a long time ago.


The stubby tail, yellow-green plumage and chunky beak gave it away as a greenfinch (Carduelis chloris). This was an extremely common garden bird, forever bullying the goldfinches away from the seed feeders and more than holding its own on the bird table. Sadly, a parasitic disease called trichomonosis had a devastating effect on populations in Europe – it’s thought that greenfinch numbers might have dropped from 4.3 million birds to 2.8 million during the period to 2006. As there is less food in the countryside for finches due to more efficient harvesting techniques, the decline of hedgerows and increased use of herbicides and pesticides, they have moved into gardens, where the concentration of birds helped to spread disease. However, the numbers seem to be recovering, and it was certainly a pleasure to see this little chap singing his head off.

Further into the woody part of the cemetery I noticed some yellow archangel (Lamiastreum galeobdolon ssp argentum). This is the garden variety, with its variegated silver leaves – the plain green-leaved variety is a native, but I have a suspicion that this variety has more tolerance for shade, and it also flowers earlier. It’s very pretty but doesn’t seem to be as attractive to insects as white and red deadnettle.

And here is the garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), just waiting to pop into flower. The kidney-shaped leaves are not typical for a brassica, but the garlicky smell of the crushed leaves makes me think that maybe this was once a useful addition to an otherwise bland diet: many other wild members of the cabbage family also have interesting flavours, be they peppery like mustard or wild radish, or oniony as with this plant. Plus in addition to the ‘cabbage white’ butterflies, this is a favourite foodplant of the caterpillar of the orange-tip butterfly (Anthrocharis cardamines), who might derive some protection from the flavour of the leaves, which probably make it a pungent little mouthful.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

And I hope you’ll excuse a few more photos of the lesser celandine. It feels as if they are at their absolute height of perfection this week, and it’s such a joy to see them.

And in keeping with our yellow/green theme, the flowers of the field maple are emerging, so new and fresh. I am really hoping that this is a field maple (Acer campestre) rather than a Norway maple (Acer platanoides) but let me know, readers, it’s the only way I learn 🙂

And finally, as I head back past the War Graves part of the cemetery, I pause to look for the stumpery that I’d photographed on previous visits. But it’s gone, along, it appears, with another tree. I imagine that the stump might be the result of honey fungus, though it was a most interesting and varied spot. Still, in its place is a neat pile of logs, and I suppose I’ll have to be content with that. There are plenty of spots in the cemetery that are overgrown and perfect for wildlife, so I shall have to forgive the powers-that-be for their spot of tidying-up.

The stumpery at the end of January

The stumpery today


4 thoughts on “A Mid-April Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

  1. ringg1

    Excellent observations. These snippets are very informative and interesting. My knowledge of flowers and herbs always feels very sketchy. I forget from one year to the next. Trees are much easier as they are there all year round.
    I think your maple flowers are likely to be from a Norway maple. Each spring I look for the blaze of yellow-before-leaves on maples that tells me the tree is a Norway maple, while sycamore and field maple flower and leaf out at the same time. Their flowers are less bright, more greeny than the Norway maple.
    The Norway maple flowering is well under way down here in Dorset.
    Your photo shows the leaves opening as well as the flowers, but the flowers look a bit too yellowy.

  2. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    Yes, yellow is definitely the colour of the moment. I think that’s about all I saw yesterday too – apart from some purple hepatica of course. My books also suggest the length of the sides of the grey tip on the Small White are different too – being longer on the ‘top’ than the side, or outside edge shall we say. (And that the short side stops short of the spot – to distinguish it from a Southern Small White – found in southern Europe) Plus the Large White male has no spot, though the underside spots are vaguely visible. I think you’d be hard pushed to ‘spot’ (😉) the difference though when they are in flight!


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