Arum maculatum, British wildflowers, Cardamine pratensis, Cuckoo-pint, Cuckooflower, Lady's-smock, Lords-and-ladies, Milkmaid
The coincidence of the pale and delicate Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis) coming into bloom at the same time as the first Cuckoos arrive back from over-wintering in Africa is the likely origin of this wildflower’s common name, though several other wildflowers also bloom at this time and, with the climate changing, the flower’s blooming and the bird’s arrival no longer coincide very precisely. Perhaps the alternate Lady’s-smock and Milkmaid are more appropriate names.
Another wildflower that is known in some areas as Cuckoo flower, as its flowers open around this time, is Arum maculatum. I know it best as Lords-and-Ladies, but many call it Cuckoo-pint (rhymes with mint), for which there is a somewhat more risqué explanation: pint is short for pintle, meaning penis. I’m sure you can all see why.
David Gledhill said:
It was always Lady’s smock according to my mum, never Cuckoo flower, although Cuckoo pint was what she called what my dad insisted was Lords and Ladies. I suspect the difference was due to them growing up in separate villages, albeit only a mile apart. L&L have decided to take up residence and now thrive in a few of the more shady areas of my garden over the past couple of years. It seems the RHS et al call them weeds. Weeds or not, they are very welcome.
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It’s amazing how many vernacular names some plants have, even, as you point out, when groups of people live relatively close together. In ‘Flora Britannica’, Mabey notes at least 90 different regional names for Lords and ladies. I’m glad to hear you’re letting your ‘weeds’ thrive. 🙂