Discover the flowers at Bedgebury, season by season
Click here to read more about wildflower blogger, Helen Coggin.
15 February 2017
Spring has sprung! Today I saw my first primrose (Primula vulgaris) in flower at Bedgebury. It was a brave little scrap of yellow, peeping out of a crevice in the rocks to the right of the steps leading up to the Information Office.
In mild winters, like last year (2015/6), primroses can bloom before Christmas, but they are usually at their best in March and April. They can sometimes still be seen flowering in early summer. They grow best in heavy clay and they love damp shade.
The name primrose comes from the Latin, 'prima rosa' - first rose. Though the flowers may look a little rose-like, they do not belong to the rosaceae family.
Both the leaves and the flowers are edible and the flowers, dipped in egg white then sugar and left to dry, were once a popular confectionery decoration.
6 February 2017
I saw one of my favourite winter flowers near Badgers Oak at the Cranbrook end of Park lane today; winter heliotrope (Petasites fragrans).
Winter heliotrope has the most wonderful scent, some say vanilla and others liquorice but I think it is more like baby powder. The flowers are not much to look at, being a dirty pink daisy-like bloom borne in clusters on a fleshy, pinky-brown stalk about 10" tall, but if you pick a few sprigs and put them in a vase they will perfume the whole house.
The plant is quite easy to spot now on shady road-side verges because of its foliage. This will be in spreading patches of fresh, bright green, kidney or heart shaped leaves held horizontally to the ground about 6"-8" tall at this time of year.
Winter heliotrope was introduced from North Africa and was used as ground cover in the shrubberies of country houses. It is very invasive as one small piece broken from its fleshy rhizome will quickly form a new plant. It is now widespread in the wild in the southern regions of the British Isles. It was also planted near hives to provide winter food for bees.
Petasites in its Latin name comes from the Greek word 'petasos' for a shepherd’s felt hat - like the one worn in depictions of the god Mercury. This is because the underside of the leaf is covered in a grey, felt-like down and later on in the year the leaves can grow big enough to be worn as a hat. The word 'fragrans' references the strong fragrance.
The common name, winter heliotrope, is because it is at its most floriferous in February and the flowers turn to track the sun (helios). It is also known as sweet-scented coltsfoot.
Winter heliotrope is one of the ingredients, along with eyebright, that is used in a commercially produced Swiss herbal tea which is said to reduce eye strain in computer users.
12 December 2016
There is not much to report on flowers at this time of the year, but the coppiced willows in front of the Visitor Centre are worth a mention; they look absolutely stunning in the low-level winter sun, shining like beacons on fire.
Willow (salix) is well known for its pain-killing properties (it produces salicylic acid used in the manufacture of aspirin) and its subtle branches are also used in basket weaving.
The Victorian version of the wheelchair was called an invalid carriage or a basket chair. This was because it was made out of woven willow twigs and was a very elegant and beautiful artefact.
This brings to mind memories of my lovely mother. I used to joke with her that when she was old and infirm that I would take her out for "an airing" in a basket chair! She would say: "Not blooming likely! With your clumsiness you would probably push me over a precipice." Sadly, she died at the relatively young age of 62, so we could not put this experiment to the test!
I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a happy Christmas. I hope that you can all build up good memories to share with your families for the future.
28th September 2016
If you look carefully in the mown grass near the bottom of the Cherry Tree walk you will see the tiny white flowers of the eyebright plant. This is a beautiful little plant with an interesting story.
English eyebright, Euphrasia anglica, is one of Bedgebury’s very special species. It is endemic, which is to say that it doesn’t occur outside the UK, and is currently found in fewer than 200 locations.
As the common names suggest – eyebright in English, 'Casse-Lunette' (broken spectacles) in French and 'Augentrost' (consolation of the eyes) in German – the plant has long been associated with the treatment of eye problems.
The botanical name Euphrasia is derived from the Greek Muse of gladness, Euphrosyne who is thought to have given the plant its valuable properties. It also means linnet which in fable was the bird that first made use of the plant's leaves to clear the eyesight of her young before passing her knowledge to mankind.
Another interesting fact is that this is a semi-parasitic plant. Suckers form tiny nodules on the roots of grasses and make absorption cells. This does little harm to the grass, as the penetration is slight, and eyebright, being an annual, dies off in winter.
It is worth the effort of getting down for a close look at the flowers. They are exquisite. The little yellow stripes act as a flare path for pollinating insects to home in on the purple centre for their nectar reward. While they are drinking, their heads are being dusted with pollen to take on to their next port of call and to pollinate another flower.
23rd August 2016
Don't worry, we are not about to be raided by the drugs squad! The only connection this plant has to cannabis is the shape of the leaves. It is, in fact, a member of the aster family.
In earlier times the plant was classed with the quite different flower agrimony and this, along with its somewhat hemp-like leaves, accounts for the common name.
Its Latin name is Eupatorium cannabinum; Eupatorium is from Mithridates Eupator, King of Pontus, who was said to have discovered its use in medicine, and cannabinum from the Latin for 'hemp-like'.
It is a tall (3-5ft), clump forming plant that grows in damp places and can be found on the banks of Marshal's Lake and on some of the damper forest tracks.
It flowers from July to September with heads of small, sweet smelling composite blooms in a dusky pink giving rise to one of its common names Raspberries and Cream. Other names include St. John's herb and Holy Rope. The fibrous stems were said to have formed the rope with which Christ was bound.
The stems are reddish brown and have a pleasant aromatic smell when cut. The nectar rich flowers are usually abuzz with the many insects that find it a good food source, including bees, small tortoiseshell and red admiral butterflies.
Hemp agrimony is sometimes sold as a garden plant as it makes a stately 'architectural' border fill-in, but beware: it will spread and needs to be kept from taking over your plot.
Herbalists found many uses for the volatile oils contained in the leaves which act on the kidneys and also the tannins it produces. It is said Dutch peasants used to bind their feet with it to stop swelling caused by jaundice.
25th July 2016
The name comes from senex - Latin for old man, referring to the fluffy white seed head - and jacobaea - 'belonging to James' - another name for the plant being St. James's Wort because it is in flower around 25th July, St James' Day. Other common names include: stinking willie, staggerwort, stammerwort, dog standard, cankerwort, mare's fart and cushag!
The daisy-like brilliant yellow flower heads grow in clusters on top of branching stalks. When the plant is seen en masse it looks like a sheet of gold. The many names that are uncomplimentary arise from the unpleasant smell of the leaves.
It is poisonous to certain animals but livestock tend to avoid it because of its bitter taste. It does become poisonous to horses when included in dry hay but the horse would, allegedly, need to eat 5% of its own body weight for it to be deadly. There is no statutory obligation for control placed upon landowners in general.
Now for something that does like Ragwort; it is the favourite food of the caterpillars of the cinnabar moth and there should be plenty about at the moment. You can't mistake them in their black and yellow stripy football shirts. This is a warning to predators that they taste disgusting because of the alkaloids they have absorbed from the plant. The resulting beautiful red and black day-flying moths are also distasteful to predators. Cinnabar is the bright scarlet ore from which mercury and the pigment vermillion are refined.
Ragwort is an incredibly attractive nectar source to a huge array of insects. Of the 30 species that feed exclusively on the plant, seven are ‘Nationally Scarce’ and three are on the IUCN "Red List", one being the Sussex emerald moth.
Dyes can also be made from the plant, green from the leaves and yellow, brown and orange from the flowers.
The ancient Greeks and Romans used the plant to make an aphrodisiac which they called Satyrion.
Contributor: Helen Coggin
27th June 2016
I haven’t had much time for ‘Flower of the Week’ this week so I thought you might like to hear about Helenium.
The flower which shares my name comes from the Greek sun god, Helios.
Helen means light or bright and most plant names that start ‘hel’ usually have a large golden yellow daisy-type flower (said to resemble the disc of the sun) or a plant head that rotates to follow the path of the sun as it moves across the sky. The most well known is probably the sunflower, Helianthus, made up of helios, the sun, and anthos, a flower.
Helenium is thought to be named after Helen of Troy – the legend goes that these flowers sprang from her tears. It is known as Sneezeweed in North America.
Contributor: Helen Coggin
16th June 2016
The burdock plant is now evident at the top of bay four in the car park and opposite the Go Ape cabin.
Yes, it is the one in the drink ‘Dandelion & Burdock’. It has very large leaves and is very easy to see. We used to get into trouble as children when we had burr fights with the seed heads; Mum had to cut them out of our hair. You may have had the same trouble if you are a dog owner with the burrs getting caught in their coats. This is how the plant disperses its seed.
The plant gets its name of 'dock' from its large leaves; the 'burr' is supposed to be a contraction of the French bourre, from the Latin burra, a lock of wool, such as is often found entangled with it when sheep have passed by the growing plants.
An old English name for the Burdock was 'Herrif,' 'Aireve,' or 'Airup,' from the Anglo-Saxon hoeg, a hedge, and reafe, a robber - or from the Anglo-Saxon verb reafian, to seize.
The stalks are edible if you cut before the flower is open and strip their rind. Boiled they taste a bit like asparagus but can also be eaten raw in a salad. They are slightly laxative, but perfectly wholesome.Contributor: Helen Coggin
28th May 2016
You may have noticed them growing on the south facing banks of the Pinetum.
They look like a small, delicate version of cow parsley and are particularly nice on the View Point bank in the unmown grass at the moment.
There are recipes online for its use in cooking but this is not an invitation for people to forage at Bedgebury. Please be aware that you must never dig up wild flowers. Not only is it selfish and anti-social but it is against the law. It is possible to buy seeds to grow your own should you wish to do so.
Conopodium majus gets its common names of Pignut and Hognut as pigs are supposedly very fond of them. It is also known as Saint Anthony’s nut for Anthony the Great and Anthony of Padua, both patron saints of swineherds.
It is also known as – kippernut, cipernut, jarnut, arnut, hawknut, groundnut, earthnut and earth chestnut which all sound like an incantation from Macbeth's witches!
According to Culpepper “they provoke lust exceedingly, and stir up those sports she is mistress of; the seed is excellent good to provoke urine. The root being dried and beaten into powder is a singular remedy for spitting and pissing of blood.”
Not to be left out, Shakespeare says “I prithee, let me bring thee where crabs grow; and I with my long nails will dig thee pignuts”
Well, that’s pignuts in a nutshell.
Contributor: Helen Coggin
15th May 2016
I was a clumsy child and our family walks were often punctuated with cries of “Find a comfrey leaf, Helen has fallen over again, walked into a tree, tripped over rabbit hole”, or “Find a dock leaf, Helen has landed in the nettles”. I spent a lot of my childhood covered in green leaf slime!
Rubbing a knock with a comfrey leaf really seems to minimise the bruising and pain and as an adult I still find it useful as the clumsiness hasn't improved.
Symphytum officinale (from officina-workshop-because it was used by herbalists) is the English variety and is usually white flowered.
Symphytum uplandica from Russia usually has blue/red flowers but the two easily cross pollinate.
It is of the family boraginacae as is Borage which is used as a garnish in Pimms.
At Bedgebury there are some lovely white flowered plants growing along the banks of 'Leaky Lake'. At the end of the board walk, cross the little stream and look down to your right. There is another, bigger patch a bit further along the bank.
Contributor: Helen Coggin
4th May 2016
As I have been lucky enough to have heard five cuckoos so far this year; alas not at Bedgebury, I thought I would tell you about the cuckoo flower.
So called because it blooms as the cuckoos arrive and also, according to the 16th century herbalist, John Gerard, the name derives from the “cuckoo spit” found on the plant. In reality this is the foam produced by the froghopper insect to conceal its nymphs (babies).
I have always known it by its other common name Ladies Smock. Shakespeare mentions it in Love’s Labours Lost as “lady smocks all silver white”. Although the flowers are usually lilac pink it can also be white.
Its botanical name is Cardamine pratensis - pratensis being the Latin for meadow - although it grows best with its toes in water so is common lining damp ditches and water courses.
It is of the brassica family and if you have seen the flowers of cabbage, broccoli, rape etc. you will notice that the flowers are the same but in yellow.
In folklore it is sacred to fairies and this makes it unlucky to bring it indoors. For this reason it is not included in Mayday garlands.
Other superstitions surrounding this flower are that anyone picking it would cause a thunderstorm to break out and your house could be struck by lightning if you took it inside.
It was thought to attract adders with the notion that anyone picking the flower would be bitten before the year was out.
A happier legend is that St Helena found Our Lady’s Smock left in a cave near Bethlehem. It was taken to St Sophia and then to Aix la Chapelle, where it was venerated for centuries, with this little wild flower being named in several European countries in honour of that relic.
It is the food plant of the Orange Tip butterfly and the nearest patch to the Visitor Centre is on the lake bank under the little willow tree by the start of the Stickman Trail.
Contributor: Helen Coggin
25th April 2016
The Bugle is in flower at Bedgebury now. There is a good patch at the top of the family cycle trail just before you turn left for Gills' shed. You will see it as a clump of purple spires, low to the ground.
Ajuga reptans from Lat.a-'not', and jugum, 'a yoke,' referring to the apparent absence of the upper corolla lip, and Lat. reptans, creeping.
Also known as 'thunder and lightning' due to the shiny highlights and deep background colour of the leaves, the Bugle is widespread throughout Europe.
The name Bugle is thought to come from 'Bugula' which was one of the names used by apothecaries or 'abigo' (to drive away) because the plant was thought to drive away disease.
The herbalist, Culpepper had a high opinion of Bugle:
"If the virtues of it make you fall in love (as they will if you are wise) keep a syrup of it to take inwardly, and an ointment and plaster of it to use outwardly, always by you. The decoction of the leaves and flowers in wine dissolveth the congealed blood in those that are bruised inwardly by a fall or otherwise and is very effectual for any inward wounds, thrusts or stabs in the body or bowels; and is an especial help in wound drinks and for those that are liver-grown. It is wonderful in curing all ulcers and sores, gangrenes and fistulas, if the leaves,bruised and applied or their juice be used to wash and bathe the place and the same made into lotion and some honey and gum added, cureth the worse sores. Being also taken inwardly or outwardly applied, it helpeth those that have broken any bone or have any member out of joint. An ointment made with the leaves of Bugle, Scabious and Sanicle bruised and boiled in hog's lard until the herbs be dry and then strained into a pot for such occasions as shall require, it is so efficacious for all sorts of hurts in the body that none should be without it."
Other herbalists state that it resembles digitalis (foxglove) in lowering the pulse. It is a good cough mixture, a gentle laxative, one of the best and mildest narcotics in the world and good for the bad effects of excessive drinking.
To make this miracle cure-all gather the whole herb (roots and all), in May and early June. Dry it and add 1oz. to 1 pint of boiling water and take a wine-glassful frequently. It is bitter, astringent and aromatic. Remember that it is against the law to pick wild flowers. You can easily grow your own from commercially bought seeds.
Do you think I will be able to get away with dispensing it from the First Aid room?
Contributor: Helen Coggin
13th April 2016
This week’s flower is a bit of a cheat as it will not actually be in flower until June/July. Regular visitors to Bedgebury will be familiar with the Marsh Thistle Cirsium palustre.
Cirsium is from the Greek, kirsion, for a kind of thistle and Palustre is from the Latin palus for marsh. It is also known as Marsh Plume Thistle and Kale Jonker.
At the moment it is a flat, purple/green, spiny rosette and looks like a particularly vicious Crown of Thorns starfish. You can see it all along the path edges between the Gruffalo’s child sculpture and the Go Ape cabin.
Keep a watch as it grows. By June/July it could be as much as 2 metres tall; the damper and shadier the spot, the taller it gets. It will develop multiple, small purple flower heads and is one of the main forage plants for the Great Yellow Bumblebee Bombus disinguenndus.
The flowers are hermaphrodite and though it can self pollinate, it attracts bees and other insects to pollinate it too.
The young stems can be peeled (very carefully) and eaten raw in salad, or poached and eaten as a vegetable though why you would want to, heaven only knows! The seed fluff has long been used as tinder.
Contributor: Helen Coggin
If you would like to see something actually in flower at the moment, there is a lovely patch of Wood Sorrel in bloom along the play trail.
If you walk past the Go Ape hospitality hut in the direction of the Spider's Web play area you will come to a sharp right hand bend with a tree stump on the right. Opposite this, along the left bank is the Wood Sorrel Oxalis acetosella
Greek. oxus – sharp, Latin acetum – vinegar.
It is a small plant with bright green ‘shamrock’ leaves and pretty, white bell shaped flower with faint pink veins. Although very poisonous to cattle it doesn’t seem to affect humans as we used to nibble the stems a children, enjoying the sharp vinegary tang. Mind you, I do come from hardy northern stock!
Almost forgot to say - as it flowers around Easter time it goes by a European name of “Alleluia”. How good is that!
Contributor: Helen Coggin
5th April 2016
This week, the flower I would like to share with you is the Lesser Celandine.
It is a bit late this year due to the cold weather but can now be seen as a cheery patch of golden yellow along the road side, under hedges and spangling grassland.
Many people confuse it with the buttercup which it is related to (family ranunculus) but it has more petals; pointed not rounded, a fleshy squared stem not wiry and rounded and heart shaped, glossy leaves not finely cut or 'toothed ' mat leaves.
There are some in flower along Dallimore Valley at the bottom of the view point opposite Leaky Lake.
Contributor: Helen Coggin