Austria: Spring Flowers

The common beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) with its smooth, high silvery trunk often forms entire forests of its own, but also occurs together with sycamore, fir, spruce, hornbeam, oak and other trees. Its habitat is moist well ventilated and well drained basic to acid soils. With its flat roots, it can gain a hold on shallow soil, and is home to a wide variety of herbs and shrubs.

The warm days of early spring bring the first blossoms, the flowers getting their blooms out before the trees and bushes develop their foliage and deny them the light they need. Christmas rose, wind rose, wood spurge, dog's mercury, periwinkle and many more species appear in sequence alongside the flowers described below.

The Liverwort, Hepatica nobilis MILL., a member of the ranunculaceae family, thrives on lime, with its blue stars making a delightful contrast to the brown leaves on the beech forest floor. It is an old popular medicinal plant, and although it is no longer used for liver and gall bladder complaints (signature theory), the fresh poisonous leaves that appear after the plant has flowered are occasionally used in OTC remedies homeopathic medicine to treat catarrh and bronchitis.

The Tall cowslip, Primula elatior (L.) HILL., a primulacea with a pale yellow blossom, like the rarer fragrant and egg-yellow true cowslip, prefers moist meadows, thin deciduous woodland and grassland with higher shrubs. The saponin content of the diuretic root allows it to be used as an expectorant with illnesses of the respiratory system and against rheumatic complaints.

Daphne, Daphne mezereum L., grows to a height of 1.5 metre, and is a protected fragrant plant from the thymelaeaceae family. It can flower from as early as the end of February into April, before the trees develop their foliage. After the leaves have unfolded, the green fruit gradually ripens from June to August into pea-sized scarlet berries. A few varieties can be obtained from nurseries for the private garden.

All parts of the plant, especially the berries and the bark, are poisonous. 10 to 12 berries are regarded as fatal. The alkaloid daphnetoxin tastes hot, and causes inflammation of the skin and ulcerous decay. Daphne is used in homeopathy for skin complaints, herpes and nervous pain. It is forbidden to pick the branches of plants in the wild. Indoors, the fragrance can become unbearable.

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