At the top of Seaford Head in early July, it was hogweed nurturing the most wildlife! Not the infamous giant hogweed, that is non-native and can very toxic if you touch it, common hogweed is a native plant and was blooming everywhere. Almost every flower head I peered over, was covered with busy red soldier beetles, feeding, mating and general congregating.
Hogweed (heracleum sphondylium) has lacy umbellifer flowers which are white or pink.
Soldier beetles are very common here and feed on aphids, pollen and nectar. The larvae prey on ground dwelling invertebrates such as slugs and snails. Another welcome insect to try and attract to my garden then!
It was a windy day and the birds were mostly lying low, except for a noisy family of magpies in a bush beside the golf course. Presumably juveniles, they congregated and cogitated, then flew off in a noisy hullabaloo.
As I walked down the hill towards Hope Gap, the hogweed was joined by ladies bedstraw (gallium verum). The tiny delicate yellow flowers combine into golden clouds that waft prettily all the way down the hill. The flower is most abundant on very poor chalk soil where it cannot be crowded out by other more vigorous plants.
Their pleasant honey and hay scent of the flower, made it popular in days gone by for drying and using to stuff mattresses, especially of women about to give birth, hence the name! In Norse mythology it was also used as a sedative for women in labour! Due to its high acid content it was also used as a rennet substitute to colour and flavour cheese!
(truckle bed at Singleton Downland museum)
The end of my walk was also accompanied by more noisy magpies, who clearly wanted to stand up and be counted. But I think I lost count in the end. Anyway this little chap certainly wasn’t on his own, so I think I can avoid the curse of a lone magpie today.
One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told.
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss,
Ten for a bird,
You must not miss.