Speedwells

Germander Speedwell Spiked Speedwell Spring Speedwell Thyme-leaved Speedwell

What are they?

Annuals or perennials, mostly mat-forming or low/short species with bright blue flowers. The speedwells were for a long time part of the large and cumbersome Scrophulariaceae family, but recent research has placed them into the Plantaginaceae. The genus Veronica has once again been broadened to also include the woody Hebes from the Southern Hemisphere, but these are covered on a separate page. Flowers are quite distinctive in being four-petalled and with the lower petal clearly smaller than the other three. Leaves opposite, flowers carried either singly in the leaf axils, in small spikes in the leaf axils, or in a terminal spike.

Where are they found?

A relatively large genus in our region, with most species either annual weeds of disturbed ground, or perennials of grassy places. Habitat can be useful in identification.

Identification

Take careful note of stem hairiness, leaf shape (especially the presence absence of lobes and how deeply cut they are) and, for some groups, precise details of flower bracts and seed capsules. Simple flower colour can also help to narrow the possibilities.



Thyme-leaved Speedwell      Veronica seryllifolia

Native. Common throughout much of the region in grassy places, especially woodland rides, lawns and churchyards. Flowers March to October. A patch-forming perennial with smooth, broad leaves and upright spikes of off white flowers with lilac-blue veins.

Thyme-leaved Speedwell Thyme-leaved Speedwell Thyme-leaved Speedwell Thyme-leaved Speedwell
Habit
Flower
Leaves
Seed capsule


Heath Speedwell      Veronica officinalis

Native. Widespread in grassy places and shady woodlands on acid soils. Flowers May to August. A patch-forming perennial with downy stems and leaves and upright spikes of pale blue or pink flowers.

Heath Speedwell Heath Speedwell Heath Speedwell Heath Speedwell
Habit
Flower
Flowers
Leaf


Germander Speedwell      Veronica chamaedrys

Native. Widespread in grassy places, especially roadsides, churchyards and old meadows. Flowers April to July. Flowers rich, deep blue, usually with a small white eye; carried in loose spikes in the upper leaf axils. Superficially similar to Wood Speedwell but leaves deep green and stems hairs arranged in two distinct lines on the stem (be wary of plants in shade that can have more evenly distributed hairs).

Germander Speedwell Germander Speedwell Germander Speedwell Germander Speedwell
Flowers
Flower
Leaf
Stem hairs


Wood Speedwell      Veronica montana

Native. Widespread, though often rather local along paths and rides in woodland and shady places, especially if a little damp. Flowers April to July. Flowers pale lilac-blue, carried in loose spikes in the upper leaf axils. Superficially similar to Germander Speedwell but leaves yellowish-green and stems hairs evenly spread around the stem.

Wood Speedwell Wood Speedwell Wood Speedwell Wood Speedwell
Habit
Flower
Leaf
Stem hairs


Purslane Speedwell      Veronica peregrina

Introduced from North America. A garden weed which was recorded from Cambridgeshire in 1958. Flowers April to June. Flowers small, white, with long, narrow sepals, carried singly in the axils of leafy bracts. A hairless species that looks very different to our native speedwells.

Purslane Speedwell Purslane Speedwell Purslane Speedwell Purslane Speedwell
Habit
Flower
Leaf
Seed capsule


Brooklime      Veronica beccabunga

Native. Widespread in wet places both on damp mud and in permanent, often flowing, water. Flowers May to September. Flowers bright blue in spikes in the upper leaf axils. Whole plant hairless, the stems creeping and readily rooting at the nodes to form low, sprawling mats. Leaves broadly rounded.

Brooklime Brooklime
Habit
Flower


Hybrid Water Speedwell      Veronica x lackschewitzii

Native. The hybrid between Blue and Pink Water Speedwells. Occasionally found by permanent waterways. Flowers June to August. Flowers pinkish-blue with darker veins usually being a mixture of both long and short. Most seed capsules sterile but one or two swelling and carrying a few seeds.

Hybrid Water Speedwell Hybrid Water Speedwell Hybrid Water Speedwell Hybrid Water Speedwell
Habit
Flower
Leaf
Single seed capsule developing


Wall Speedwell      Veronica arvensis

Native. An annual of all kinds of open, disturbed ground as well as growing commonly as an urban plant on walls and in pavement cracks. Flowers mostly March to October but occasionally throughout the year. Flowers tiny, bright blue (occasionally pink) in terminal clusters. Technically told from Breckland Speedwell by the fruiting stalks being shorter than their attendant bracts. A very variable species, depending on growing conditions. Can be rather lush and forming branched mounds, but equally may be tiny - just a pair of leaves, a few bracts and a single flower! Leaves oval with only shallowly notched edges.

Wall Speedwell Wall Speedwell Wall Speedwell Wall Speedwell
Habit
Flower
Leaf
Seed capsules on short pedicels


Breckland Speedwell      Veronica praecox

Very rare in the UK and considered to be a Red Data Book species, but generally considered not to be native, with the first record being made as recently as 1933. Confined to Breckland where it is found on probably less than 10 sites, some being places where it was introduced and is managed. Flowers April to May. Flowers bright blue in terminal clusters. Technically told from Wall Speedwell by the fruiting stalks being longer than their attendant bracts. In reality, the two are very different in appearance, with this species having somewhat thicker, less hairy leaves which are often reddish beneath and more deeply lobed, together with an overall more open growth.

Breckland Speedwell Breckland Speedwell Breckland Speedwell Breckland Speedwell
Habit
Flower
Leaves
Seed capsule on long pedicel


Spring Speedwell      Veronica verna

Very rare in the UK and a Red Data Book species. Confined to Breckland where it is found on less than 10 sites, some being places where it was introduced and is managed. Flowers April to May. Flowers bright blue in terminal clusters. Told from the very similar Wall Speedwell by the leaves and bracts, which are much more deeply lobed. Populations that are not managed, appear sporadically on areas disturbed by rabbit activity. Periodic crashes in rabbit numbers due to myxomatosis are a cause of major concern for the continued presence of this species.

Spring Speedwell Spring Speedwell Spring Speedwell Spring Speedwell
Habit
Habit
Flower
Deeply cut leaves


Fingered Speedwell      Veronica triphyllos

Very rare in the UK and considered to be a Red Data Book species. Generally considered not to be native, although the first record is from 1670. Confined to Breckland where it is found on less than five sites, most being places where it was introduced and is managed on open, disturbed soil. Flowers April to May. Flowers bright blue in terminal clusters. Easily identified by its deeply lobed leaves, the uppers being cut into elongated sections or 'fingers'.

Fingered Speedwell Fingered Speedwell Fingered Speedwell Fingered Speedwell
Flower
Lower leaves
Upper leaves
Seed capsule


Common Field Speedwell      Veronica persica

Introduced and first recorded in the UK in the early 1800s. Overwhelmingly the most common speedwell in the region, being found abundantly on all types of bare and disturbed ground, especially in arable and urban areas. Flowers throughout the year. Flowers blue with a paler, almost white lower petal, although some early-flowering forms can have large, all blue flowers, or rarely pink. Although a recent introduction, this species has almost completely ousted our native field speedwells. All field speedwells have the flowers solitary in the leaf axils, not clustered into spikes. Told from the other field speedwells by the seed capsules, the two halves of which are very widely divergent.

Common Field Speedwell Common Field Speedwell Common Field Speedwell Common Field Speedwell
Typical flowers
All blue form
Leaf
Seed capsule


Grey Field Speedwell      Veronica polita

An uncommon weed of arable and disturbed land. Flowers throughout the year. Flowers small, all blue. Leaves usually a rather dull, greyish-green or sometimes yellowish-green. All field speedwells have the flowers solitary in the leaf axils, not clustered into spikes. Seed capsule halves narrowly divergent and bearing a mix of curled, non-glandular hairs and a few glandular hairs. Sepals broadly oval.

Grey Field Speedwell Grey Field Speedwell Grey Field Speedwell Grey Field Speedwell
Flower
Flower
Leaves
Seed capsule


Slender Speedwell      Veronica filiformis

Introduced. Forms dense, spreading colonies in lawns, churchyards and similar places with short grass. Flowers late March to June. Creeping and mat-forming, the stems thread-like and rooting at the leaf nodes. Flowers relatively large, bright, pale lilac-blue. Leaves rounded to kidney-shaped.

Slender Speedwell Slender Speedwell Slender Speedwell Slender Speedwell
Habit
Flowers
Flower
Leaves


Ivy-leaved Speedwell      Veronica hederifolia

Introduced. A common plant of both open, disturbed ground, and open places in shady areas such as light woodland and hedgebanks. Flowers mostly late March to June. Creeping and mat-forming, but not rooting at the leaf nodes. The three-lobed leaves are distinctive. Two subspecies are commonly recognised; ssp. hederifolia generally has bluer flowers with blue anthers, leaves with a central lobe that is wider than long and more typically a weed of disturbed soil. The ssp. lucorum generally has paler, often whitish flowers with white anthers, leaves with a central lobe that is longer than wide and more typically a plant of shady places. However, very many plants cannot be assigned to one or other form and the two may well simply be cross-fertilising and becoming undifferentiated.

Ivy-leaved Speedwell Ivy-leaved Speedwell Ivy-leaved Speedwell Ivy-leaved Speedwell
Habit
Flower ssp. hederifolia
Flower ssp. lucorum
Leaf ssp. hederifolia


Long-leaved Speedwell      Veronica longifolia

Introduced. Grown as a garden plant and has occasionally been recorded as a garden throw-out or survivor. Flowers July to September. Flowers very showy and crowded in elongated, terminal spikes. Best told from the rare, native Spiked Speedwell by long, narrow leaves with sharply crenate margins. Some garden varieties are intermediate and are probably hybrids between the two.

Long-leaved Speedwell Long-leaved Speedwell Long-leaved Speedwell Long-leaved Speedwell
Habit
Flower
Leaf
Leaf edge


Spiked Speedwell      Veronica spicata

Native. Very rare in the UK, with ssp. spicata being found only in Breckland and now reduced to perhaps only three native sites. Populations are, however, increasing due to an extensive reintroduction programme. Flowers July to August. Flowers very showy and crowded in elongated, terminal spikes. Best told from the cultivated Long-leaved Speedwell by its spoon-shaped leaves with bluntly-lobed margins. Some garden varieties are intermediate and are probably hybrids between the two.

Spiked Speedwell Spiked Speedwell Spiked Speedwell Spiked Speedwell
Habit
Habit
Flowers
Leaf