Country diary: goosegrass and the glory of spring

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Crook, County Durham: Every generation of children on a country walk learns how tenaciously a well-aimed handful of goosegrass will stick to coats, hats and gloves

There are many ways to be a plant. Hawthorns take their time, laying down annual growth rings before they flower, producing berries year in, year out, and surviving to a grand old age. But weeds like the goosegrass (Galium aparine) are in a hurry. They complete their ephemeral cycle of life, seed to seed, in just a few months. It is January, and already I see their seedlings shouldering aside the decaying leaves along the bottom of a bare hawthorn hedge. They will have germinated only last autumn, but their vibrant green shoots are stealing a march on their competitors whose seeds are still lying dormant in the soil. And the smell … when I pick and crush a handful of its precocious, sappy shoots, buried last week under a layer of snow, it transports me to the first warm days of April.

When spring finally arrives, this weak-stemmed, well-adapted social climber – which invests little in structural strength – will be threading itself through the hedge. It claws its way upwards with row upon row of tiny hooked hairs along the edges of its stems and whorled leaves, gripping anything they touch.

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