Faith in Flowers.. and a cure for scabs and arrow wounds

 

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One of my recent birthday presents was a book by Faith Anstey called Flowers in the Field. It’s just what I needed really to start at the beginning! There is no point having a huge reference book of wild flowers if you don’t know where to start. So I’m starting my botany at the beginning, and hopefully it will help me to identify at least some of the wonderful wild flowers I’ve seen this year!

The first lesson is the structure of the flower. So in lesson 1, I learned the following about this lovely common centaury. That as it has five petals it is a dicot, it has all round symmetry and that the yellow parts of the flower are the carpel (stigma, style and ovary) and the male Stamens (anther and filament)

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This primrose though having different leaves is also a dicot with all round symmetry but less obvious stamens.

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The lily is a lovely example of a monocot which has petals and sepals in multiples of three. Leaves are normally straight blade or simple oval shapes.

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Taking a closer look at a scabious flower from my garden, lets you clearly see the stamens with the anthers and the end of the filaments covered in pollen, where the bee is happily collecting it. I love to grow these in the garden, but have also spotted a number of wild ones over the Summer which are hopefully correctly identified!

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Devil’s bit scabious, (Succisa pratensis) at Cuckmere. This one is found in damp habitat, and is the main larval food of the declining Marsh Fritillary butterfly (sadly not spotted)

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Small scabious growing in short grassland near Crowlink, Seven Sisters

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Field scabious in meadows at  Lewes railway nature reserve

The name scabious appears to have come from this herb’s traditional usage as a folk medicine to treat scabies, caused by the plague. Indeed it appears to be an essential of the medicinal garden as my old copy of Culpeper’s complete herbal includes:

“Scabious is very effectual for all coughs, shortness of breath and all other diseases of the breast and lungs. The decoction of the herbs and roots outwardly applied doth wonderfully subdue all hard or cold swellings in any part of the body, is effectual for shrunk sinews or veins and healeth green wounds, old sores and ulcers. The decoction also cures running and spreading scabs, tetters, ringworms and the French pox. The juice cleanseth the skin and removeth freckles, pimples, morphew and leprosy. The herb bruised and applied doth in a short term draw forth any splinter, broken bone or arrow head from the flesh!”

Useful to know. I’ll remember that, next time I’m shot with an arrow while out flower spotting.

 

 

 

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In the Pink

In the pink

My partner (who has very little interest in nature spotting ) likes to tease me, telling me I have just missed a wildlife spectacle just over there.. On Sunday it was apparently a huge cloud of butterflies that had just flown off when I had my back turned. What colour were they? Pink apparently.

Well I’ve not spotted any pink butterflies yet, and I’m not sure there actually are any on the list of Sussex butterflies, but what I have spotted are some lovely pink flowers, and some of them very attractive to the butterflies.

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The first was hiding near a hedge just up the hill. A cute little pink and white flower like a little doll’s bonnet faces. Research suggests it is common restharrow (ominis repens). The flowers were right down low on the floor. Apparently they are linked by fibrous stems with such deep strong roots that this plant could stop a horse drawn harrow, with the roots tangling the blades!

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This one is a bit more familiar, and found on the exposed chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters cliffs where the butterflies were congregating – wild thyme. What a wonderful scent too

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These little pink buds had me wondering a while. I think the yellow plant is Perforate St John’s wort.

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A week or two later flowers nearby seem to reveal themselves as common centaury (centaurium erythraea). A little beauty from the gentian family, that can be low to the ground appearing like an alpine on thin chalk cliffs or where grazed, or can be tall and slender. The flowers open in full sun. 17th century apothecary and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper reported of ‘Ordinary Small Centaury’ that ‘The whole plant is of an exceeding bitter taste’ and that it helped to cure ‘the dropsy’, a condition which is nowadays regarded as edema.

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One pink flower not spotted as of yet was the one referred to in this cryptic poem by Emily Dickenson

Pink small and punctual by Emily Dickinson

Pink—small—and punctual—
Aromatic—low—
Covert—in April—
Candid—in May—
Dear to the Moss—
Known to the Knoll—
Next to the Robin
In every human Soul—
Bold little Beauty
Bedecked with thee
Nature forswears
Antiquity—

Apparently the answer to the riddle is the mayflower trailing arbutus, which according to folklore with the first spring-blooming plant that the pilgrims saw in the new country of America. It is believed that the little pink plant has existed since the last ice age.

Cute.