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Flora

Small electric blue Cranesbill flowers on a background of green grass.

Epping Forest is brimming with colour all year round, sporting a palette of hues fit to rouse envy in most painters. Its flora is diverse, with over 650 plant species recorded, and it contributes massively to the beauty and health of the Forest, its creatures, and the landscape around London and Essex.

Wildflowers

Wildflowers are those which are native to the Forest, or have become naturalised over a long period of time. These plants are among the most varied the Forest has, and offer most of its colour through Spring and Summer.

Wanstead Park's Chalet Wood is positively taken over with bluebells in Spring, and that spectacle has become a widely photographed, painted and even poeticised one each year. 2014 saw an entire month long exhibition of bluebell inspired works at The Temple. Elsewhere in the Forest's woodlands you can see the soft cream tones of wood anemones and the piercing magenta of red campions.

In the grasslands other flowers abound, with the bright white of oxeye daisies speckling much of the view, and hills clad with the contrasting greens, blues, reds and purples of various vetches with their spiny leaves and velvety bell-like flowers. A stone's throw away you might find bright golden birds-foot trefoils, rosey knapweeds and restharrows, and the lavender coloured sprays of the colourfully named devil's bit scabious.

And with their abundance in the Forest, even a short walk in summer might feature most of these wildflowers.

Orchids

Not to be confused with their hothouse cousins, Epping Forest has a modest selection of native 'hardy' orchids ranging from common to relatively hard to find.

The easiest to find is the common spotted orchid, which generally blooms in summer throughout grasslands and open woods as a tall, conical spray of plume shaped pink, purple or white flowers; each delicately spotted with darker shades.

The pyramidal orchid is less common, flowering discretely in summer among the grassy banks of the Forest. Its bloom looks almost pinecone shaped when budding, and that tight bulb of petals explodes into pinks and magentas in July and August.

The least common of the Forest's orchids is the broad-leaved helleborine, which is the most diminutive in terms of flare and bright colours as well as frequency of appearance. Its small, downy flowers present thinly in muted deep greens and reds atop stiletto-like stalks with broad, deep green leaves. Its flowers slightly resemble the man eating plants of fantasy film and TV, albeit somewhat smaller!

Scrub

The Forest has a broad variety of scrubs which dwell in its grasslands or beneath its canopy; many of these scrubs are vital to its ecology. The dense and often thorny reaches of scrub are ideal nesting places for birds, protecting them from predators, providing refuge in stormy weather, and providing food as well; both for birds and for mammals.

The most recognisable scrubs in the forest are likely holly and hawthorn. Both thrive in the Forest and provide ample food for birds toward winter in the form of their bright red berries, and their spiny leaves and stems call for caution from walkers!

Blackthorn and buckthorn spread throughout the Forest too, with the former perhaps best known for its sloes and their various medicinal uses. Sloes are, however, vital to birds, voles, bats and other creatures, and so we have byelaws in place to protect them. We ask that visitors please refrain from foraging them.

Gorse and broom, with their bright yellow flowers, proliferate through the Forest as well; in fact doing so a bit too much, and calling for regular thinning and removal by our staff and by the Epping Forest Conservation Volunteers.

Ferns

There are a number of ferns in the Forest, ranging in scale from the large royal fern down to the inch-high common adders-tongue fern. Ferns conjure images of the Jurassic but, as a family, are older still: with fossilised fern having been found that dates to 360 million years ago. Fern is well known for surviving in less hospitable places, which is perhaps its secret for having such a prolonged pedigree. 

Mosses

Epping Forest also has many species of mosses including the nationally rare forster’s knothole moss.

Mosses, whilst often rather plain in appearance, do various important jobs for the Forest and may present the most unsung heroes of the Forest's greenery. The clumps they form help to prevent soil erosion and offer hiding places for small mammals, these in turn attract birds who assist in spreading the seeds of many other plants, and retain water in the soil that helps to germinate those seeds.


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