At the height of early spring it is possible to see a fascinating plethora of daffodil varieties gracing our gardens neighbourhood verges, all the work of enthusiastic horticulturists down the ages. But there is one daffodil, an original native of the British flora, which is a comparatively rare wild flower in Surrey. It is shorter in stature and decidedly more delicate than most, having narrow blue-grey leaves and a distinctive bi-coloured flower, with paler outer petals than those forming the inner trumpet. This is Narcissus pseudonarcissus, the wild daffodil.
Being an early favourite with floral admirers, both this plant and various relatives from abroad were quickly adopted by gardeners for artificial propagation, cross-breeding and later planting, which will forever confuse the pattern of its authentic native distribution.
There are still some clear national hotspots however: Wales and her border counties and perhaps most famously the Lake District, whose wild daffodils have been embodied in English literature through William Wordsworth’s best known poem. The grounds of scheduled ancient monuments can often host strong populations of wild daffodils, or ‘Lent lilies’ as they were also known historically. Medieval and Tudor ruins especially, including Lesnes Abbey in southeast London and Woking Palace here in Surrey are two such examples. There is every chance that at such places the plants were either introduced or their abundance artificially boosted by those early groundsmen, however.
In Surrey there are a mere dozen or so sites where wild daffodil populations are generally accepted as likely to be true natural components of their habitats. Most are in the southern half of the county, from the lofty Greensand ridge down to the clay of the Low Weald.
Our Wallis Wood nature reserve near Ewhurst is one of the best known, where an old pasture bordering woodland hosts several thousand at least. Further east the Trust’s Vann Lake reserve is believed to be another native site, while several old churchyards, such as those at Peaslake and Holmbury St. Mary are still further places.
Many of these sites are small in size with limited access, remnants of what once existed across large areas of the Surrey Hills.
Next spring, when we are all more free to explore beyond our doorstep and mingle with those other than our immediate family, why not visit if you are passing by one of these sites or plan a walk into a larger route?
This article was originally written by Living Landscapes, Policy & Research Manager Mike Waite for Surrey Life magazine in March 2016 and has been edited.