THE golden flowers of lesser celandines beamed out from the bankside of the River Devon like little orbs of sunshine.

They are such joyous plants – one of the first flowers of spring and a herald of nature's wild unfolding to come.

I crouched down to examine one of the blooms in more detail, revelling in the beauty of the intricate yellow petals.

The day needs to be sunny to see these spring flowers in their full glory; visit when it is rainy or cold and the outlook is one of contrasting dreariness, with the petals of a drift of lesser celandines having closed-up like a thousand clenched fists.

Or as William Wordsworth observed: There is a flower, the lesser celandine/That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain/ And, the first moment the sun may shine/ Bright as the sun himself, 'tis out again!

They do so for a purpose, dry pollen is much easier for insects to transfer and closing the petals helps prevent dampness within the flower. These spring flowers are so important for early-emerging bumblebees and other nectar loving insects.

As I rose back to my feet, I noticed a nearby drift of white-flowering wood anemones.

Both lesser celandines and wood anemones are woodland specialists, and their presence is often an indication that the ground upon where they grow is long undisturbed ancient forest.

Wood anemones are especially good ancient woodland indicators because they spread so very slowly by means of swollen routes called rhizomes, which creep through the soil.

In many instances, river banksides – such as the Devon - have been left untamed and wild for generations, and consequently, they are creeping tendrils of ancient wildwood, forming a vital wildlife habitat.

It makes sense to bloom in early spring, because the surrounding trees will soon envelope into full leaf, while later, taller-flowering plants such as cow parsley and meadowsweet will predominate, resulting in the ground becoming a darker and more shaded place as spring turns into summer.

The wood anemone is often known as the windflower and is named after the Greek word for wind, anemos.

In Greek mythology, anemone flowers sprung up where Aphrodite's tears fell as she wept over the death of her lover, Adonis.

Other folklore connects the anemone to magical fairies, who were believed to sleep within their petals after they closed at sunset.

Wood anemones, lesser celandines, and of course, primroses, are flowering jewels that have inspired humankind from the earliest of times – and they continue to do so to this day.

The nineteenth-century poet John Clare described wood anemones as being "weeping flowers in thousands pearled in dew".

A perfect description for such perfect flowers.