Not only did yesterday’s walk bring me the amazing sighting of a Mandarin duck, it also delighted me with this drop of golden sunlight come to earth, my first Lesser celandine flower of 2020.
Now before you feel the need to correct the spelling of ‘merry-gold’ in my title, let me just say that it was deliberate because I find Marsh marigolds such cheery, merry flowers, and it always makes me smile to see them. I spotted some yesterday in Cardiff’s Heath Park, and they’re also in full flower at the moment in Penarth’s Alexandra Park, where I went for a meander earlier today.
British wildflowers, crane's bills, geranium, Geranium lucidum, Geranium Robertianum, Geranium rotundifolium, Herb Robert, Round-leaved crane's-bill, Shining crane's-bill, spring flowers, spring wildflowers
The word geranium comes from the Greek geranos, meaning crane, so named because of the likeness of the plant’s seed case to the bill of the bird. Thus, in the plant world, the crane’s-bills are the wild geraniums.
’Tis the time the geraniums begin to bloom and I’m trying to learn which is which, so I thought I’d share a few I’ve found during recent perambulations. The first is the Round-leaved crane’s-bill (Geranium rotundifolium).
This next is the one most people can name. It seems to grow almost anywhere and makes even a rubbish heap look beautiful: Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum).
At a quick glance, this Shining crane’s-bill (Geranium lucidum) looks a lot like Herb Robert … and then you notice how different the leaves are.
‘Any flower that comes with a host of local names is likely to be of human use, either as food or as medicine’, writes John Lewis-Stempel, in his truly wonderful book Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field (Doubleday, London, 2014; highly recommended, if you haven’t already read it). And he goes on to mention just a few of the local names that have been given to Cardamine pratensis, namely Cuckooflower (because the pale pink flowers tend to appear around the same time the Cuckoo returns to Britain from its winter sojourn in warmer climes); and Lady’s smock, Lady’s gloves, and Lady’s mantle (due to the flower’s resemblance to those articles of clothing) (though I don’t really see the gloves).
Lewis-Stempel also notes the vernacular Meadow bittercress, so named because ‘the needle-thin leaves … make a peppery edible that used to be sold on medieval market stalls’, which I never knew before. I also didn’t realise that Cuckooflower is the food plant of the caterpillar of the Orange-tip butterfly – reason enough for me not to eat those peppery leaves as I’d love to see more Orange-tips fluttering around.
I’m not sure my grandmother ever wore a nightcap quite like this but Grandmother’s nightcap is just one of the vernacular names for the luminous Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa). Others include Windflower, and, in parts of Deryshire, where a moggie is a mouse not a cat, Moggie nightgown, as well as Smell foxes, due to the musky smell a large colony of Wood anemones will sometimes emit.
Are you up for a challenge? Do you like wildflowers? Well, then get following Wildflowerhour on Twitter and / or Facebook, and join in the weekly wildflower challenge fun. Not only will your newsfeed be filled with glorious colour every Sunday night from 8 to 9pm (and throughout the week, as well) but I guarantee you will also learn something new each week.
This week’s challenge was titled ‘On the verge’, and we were challenged to see what wildflowers we could discover on roadside verges. Rather than a busy highway, I chose a quiet local side road at Penarth Marina – I already get lots of odd looks for taking a close look at flowers and insects, so tried to avoid too much attention. The Marina area is a relatively new environment, my verge an area that had previously been a dock, where ocean-going ships brought goods from near and far to Cardiff, but this particular dock was filled with household rubbish and turned into a park back in the 1980s. So, I didn’t find anything particularly exciting on my verge but it was interesting to see what plants had become established.
This week’s challenge for #WildflowerHour was to try to find flowering members of the Borage family – and, in case you don’t know which plants they are (as I didn’t), they include such beauties as the Comfreys, the Gromwells, the Buglosses, Green alkanet, the Lungworts and the Forget-me-nots, as well as Borage itself, of course. Having found Lungwort last week, I didn’t feel I could count that for this week’s challenge, and I knew from a recent visit to Bute Park that the Green alkanet and Comfrey I usually find there were scarcely out of the ground yet – certainly, not flowering.
So, I set off on a six-and-a-half-mile walk around Cardiff Bay yesterday, hoping I might find something along the way. Nothing! There were wildflowers, of course, just none of the Borages. I was almost home again, when I thought I’d check a little lane alongside one of my local train stations, and bingo! Forget-me-nots, growing amongst the nettles and clinging to the stone wall. I don’t know which variety they are and they may originally have been garden escapees, but I was just happy to find them.
I kid you not – Lungwort really is this wildflower’s common name (scientific name: Pulmonaria officinalis). And why? Well, it goes back to the times when people believed that the physical qualities of a plant – its shape, colour, features – reflected its uses (a theory also known as the doctrine of signatures). In this case, the freckled oval-shaped leaves were thought to resemble diseased lungs (and I thought I had a good imagination!) and so the plant was (and still is) used as a treatment for various respiratory ailments.
Those blotchy leaves are also the reason for one of the plant’s many common names, ‘Mary-spilt-the-milk’. And the variety of pinks and blues in its flowers are behind its other vernacular names, ‘Jacob’s coat’ and ‘Soldiers and Sailors’ – all much more understandable.
Monday’s walk took me around Grangemoor Park, looking to see what effects last week’s snow storm had had. Luckily, the park and its wildlife appear to have come through fairly well – no trees down, no signs of dead creatures (though they could have been hidden), and plenty of bird sounds all around. And then, the best thing, in a location where I had seen many last year, almost hidden under twigs, my very first Colt’s-foot flower of 2018. Spring really is on its way!