Wednesday, 3 April 2013

How to recognise perennial meadow plant species when they are not in flower - part 2

For all who liked part one of our "How to recognise perennial meadow plant species when not in flower" ( here comes part two.

Bird's-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)


Bird`s-foot trefoil growing together with Wild carrot

Bird`s-foot trefoil has clover-like pinnate leaves with 5 leaflets (instead of 3 as in clovers), the lowest two at the base of the leaf axis. Leaves are glabrous to sparsely hairy. The plants are very small at the moment and a bit of searching is needed to find them.

White and Red clover (Trifolium repens and T. pratense)

White clover (Trifolium repens

Red clover (Trifolium pratense)

White clover has the typical clover leaves with 3 leaflets (the scientific name "Trifolium" means "three leaves"). The leaves are hairless and have a white marking. The plant has a creeping growing habit with roots forming at the nodes. Red clover looks similar, but leaves are hairy and a bit more elliptic and plants are not creeping. 

Red and White campion (Silene dioica and S. latifolia)

White Campion (Silene latifolia)

Red and White Campion have hairy often glandular leaves which are elongated and simple. Both plants look very similar when not in flower so it is best to wait and see until the flower appears to distinguish both. Red and White campion can be confused with Black knapweed (Centaurea nigra) when not in flower but can be distinguished on the basis of the venation of the leaves. Also if the plants are a bit bigger, look for the position of the leaves along the stem. Campions have opposite leaves and Knapweeds have alternate leaves.

Common mouse-ear (Cerastium fontanum)

Common mouse-ear is a tufted or matted perennial with small, hairy leaves which are always opposite each other along the stalk. Quite a common plant in meadows but relatively small and inconspicuous.

Meadow buttercup and Creeping buttercup (Ranunculus acris and R. repens)

Meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris)
Creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens)

Meadow buttercup is an erect perennial with deeply palmately lobed leaves. Creeping buttercup has triangular-ovate hairy leaves with 3 main segments which are not as deeply lobed as the leaves of meadow buttercup. Creeping buttercup also has strong creeping stems rooting at the notes (Meadow buttercup always without creeping stems). The leaves of Bulbous buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus) look similar to Creeping buttercup leaves but Bulbous buttercup has a swollen corm-like stem base which distinguishes it from Creeping buttercup (it has also no creeping stems).

 Dove's-foot and Small-flowered Cranesbill (Geranium molle and G. pusillum)

Dove's-foot and Small-flowered Cranesbill have rounded leaves with 7-9 lobes. Stems are downy to hairy and sometimes reddish in colour. Both species are quite common but can only be distinguished from each other if you look at the seeds. 

Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa)


Common sorrel has rounded simple leaves which will develop very acute backward-directed basal lobes when older. Leave stalks are often reddish in colour. The taste of the leaves is very acidic (so if you want have a taste test). Common sorrel is not sown in our meadows but you can easily find it in most species-rich grasslands.

Common self-heal (Prunella vulgaris)

Common self-heal has entire or sometimes shallowly toothed slightly hairy leaves which are opposite along the stem. Once established it is spreading with creeping stems. Stems sometimes have a purplish colour (as the plant in the picture above). Common self-heal is fairly common in our meadows and can also be found in short grassland and lawns.

Daisy (Bellis perennis)

Most of you will recognise daisy when it is in flower and it often flowers throughout the year if the winter is not too cold. The plants form a rosette with simple, toothed light-green leaves which are slightly hairy. Very common in short grassland and also to be found in our perennial meadows. 

Greater knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa)

At first the leaves look very similar to Black knapweed (Centaurea nigra) but soon the plant will get the characteristic deeply lobed leaves which distinguishes it from Black knapweed, which has mostly entire leaves. Normally found mainly on calcareous soils (grasslands, waysides, cliffs and rough ground) it is not as common as Black knapweed in our meadows but you should find it with a bit of searching. 

Salad burnet (Poterium sanguisorba)

Salad burnet has hairless pinnate leaves with rounded but deeply toothed leaflets. The leaves smell of cucumber when crushed and can be used in salads. Salad burnet is not sown in our meadows but can be found in calcareous and sometimes neutral grasslands and rocky places.


  1. Superb photography and descriptions :)

  2. More please! I'm growing scabious from seed given by a friend who was unable to tell me if it is Field scabious (knautia arvensis) or small scabious (scabious columbaria). Any pictures of early (basal) leaves so I can identify? Planted a couple of weeks ago and already coming up.

    1. I don`t have a photo of Scabiosa columbaria when not in flower but Knautia should be much more robust with bigger leaves than the Scabiosa. If you want you can send me a picture of your plant and I can try to identify it. My email is n.mitschunas at(replace with @)