Yellow Rattle Springwatch 2018

Yellow rattle emergence in our meadows has been delayed this spring by cold weather bought to us by the  "Beast from the East".

The very first signs of germination were observed at the beginning of March, as usual close to the start of meteorological spring.  Progress was then interrupted by cold winds and frosts for two weeks. The main flush of seedlings then emerged around the spring equinox after soil temperatures returned to the seasonal norm.  Seedlings which had tried to emerge during the icy blast are now looking somewhat stressed and tinged purple, but hopefully should soon recover.


Seeds that were either sown last autumn, or shaken from hay in summer, have spent the winter lying on the wet soil surface exposed to winter weather. Rather than being an endurance test, as one might imagine, this is just the stimulus yellow rattle seeds require: 3 or 4 months of prolonged chilling release yellow rattle seeds from their enforced dormancy. In this primed condition the seeds are set to germinate at the first sign of spring.

As with bumblebee queens, frog-spawn and other indicators of spring the first appearance of yellow rattle varies from year to year: the first week of March is in our experience typical for eastern England.

This synchronised early emergence of yellow rattle is critical: the seedlings must grow quickly to grab space before the surrounding spring flush of grass closes in and denies them light.  In parts of our meadow the grass looks healthy, poised to grow a way strongly as spring takes hold. If it does we will top the meadow to keep this lush grass back and help the rattle seedlings grow through.

If successful, the young plants will soon attach themselves, via their roots, to nearby grasses and other plants to extract nutrients from them. Yellow rattle will flower in early summer and complete its life cycle when its seeds ‘rattle' out to fall back to the ground in July.

Posted on 21 March 2018,
Category: News