Discover the flowers at Bedgebury, season by season
30th March 2019
Tussilago fafara (L) (coltsfoot)
I have always loved spotting my first coltsfoot of the year. It is very common throughout Britain but for a few years in the early 2000s my sightings of it were scarce. Happily, I am now seeing it regularly again.
A patch can be found on the verge of the car park in-road, just after the bridge.
The downy stems of the coltsfoot, with the distinctive red/brown scales, sprout from the long runners of underground rhizomes, and the bright yellow, daisy-like flowers bloom before the leaves begin to form – giving rise to the old name: filius ante patrem: son before father.
When the leaves emerge, they are a rounded heart shape; glossy dark green on top and covered in grey felt-like hairs on the underside. I think coltsfoot probably comes from the shape of the leaves; it is also known as horsehoof and bullsfoot
The plant’s botanical name: Tussis (cough) ago (to act on) refers to its long-known use as an easement for bronchial troubles. The flowers used to be painted onto the exterior of Parisian apothecary shops. One of the many English common names is coughwort.
The dried plant is a popular ingredient of herbal tobacco; there can’t be many plants that can both cause and cure a cough!
27th February 2019
I knew this plant as cuckoo-pint as a child though friends called it lords and ladies. It has many common names and most of them, I have to tell you, have a sexual connotation! The flower parts are said to resemble male and female genitalia in congress, to put it politely; though it also known as Jack in the pulpit or adder’s root.
It is a common woodland plant of the family Araceae and is usually found growing in damp shady places. No matter whether we are under snow from Siberia or sun from the Sahara its arrow shaped leaves, often with dark purple blotches, reliably put in an appearance in late winter / early spring. The flowers are a bit harder to describe as they are hidden. What you will see is a pale green, leaf-like pointed hood - hence the name” Friar’s cowl” - this is called a spathe.
Coming up inside the spathe is a greeny-yellow or more commonly, dark purple poker-shaped inflorescence called a spadix. At the base of the spadix, inside the cup at the bottom of the spathe fold, are the two rings of tiny flowers, male above female.
The spadex emits a warm, foul smelling miasma which lures insects, and in particular owl-midges: Psychoda phalaenoides. The insects are held by a ring of fine hairs and get dusted with pollen from the male flowers before making their escape to pollenate female flowers in the next arum they land on.
As autumn arrives, the female flowers ripen into red berries, and the rest of the plant dies back. The berries are left in an elongated cluster on top of a green stem about 6 inches high. The shiny, scarlet berries are an eye-catching sight against the dark base of a hedge, especially when lit by sunlight. But red is for danger! The berries are highly poisonous, containing oxalates of saponins which have needle shaped crystals that cause irritation to the mouth and throat tissues which result in breathing difficulties, pain and stomach upset. The burning sensation and the acrid taste usually mean that the berries are spat out before too much harm is done. That said, it is still the most common cause of accidental plant poisoning according to hospital records.
Arums have deep growing root tubers which get larger with maturity. These can be rendered non-toxic by roasting and grinding into flour. This flour used to be sold as Portland sago and could be made into a drink called saloop or used as a substitute for arrowroot.
The name cuckoo-pint (pronounced with a short ‘i’ as in pin) comes from the word pintle which, as you might suspect by now, means penis!
16th January 2019
Cyclamen comes from Kyklos, the Greek for circle. Cyclamen grow from round tubers. Coum comes from Koa, an ancient region of south east Turkey. This plant originates from the Black sea and Mediterranean countries. Together they give Cyclamen coum, the botanic name for this lovely flower.
When shades of green and brown dominate in the Pinetum, the little clumps of magenta cyclamen catch the eye. The one in the photograph is growing at the base of an oak tree in Dallimore Valley at one end of Reflection Lake. It is probably a legacy of one planted by a visitor as a memorial; a practice we don’t encourage, but still a cheery sight on a winter’s day.
Cyclamen leaves can be a round kidney shape or a long heart shape and they can be all silver, all green or like the one shown, variegated with a lovely 'Christmas tree' pattern in the centre; very apt for the Pinetum.
The small flowers have rounded petals and can be magenta, pale pink or white but all have a dark blotch at the base of each petal.
They bloom from winter into spring and as the flowers wither the rounded stem starts to bend and form into a coil. A spherical seed capsule (like an aniseed ball) forms at the tip and contains many sticky seeds. Then comes the clever bit! Ants find the sticky coating irresistible and take the seeds into their nests to feast on. The dry seeds are then discarded and are then free to germinate and start a new cyclamen plant.
In many languages the common name for cyclamen has a reference to pigs such as swinebread, pain de porceau and pan porcino, as pigs are said to find them a tasty snack too!
17th July 2018
Musk-mallow (Malva moschata) is a pretty plant that has been in bloom at the ends of the car park bays for the last couple of weeks and has provided a pleasing welcome for our visitors. Alas, now that I finally have time to mention them, the flowers have almost all succumbed to the long, hot drought.
There may be a few of the lovely rose pink flowers left, but they are rapidly forming seeds. The seeds are encased by a 5-segmented epicalyx which looks very like the icing topping on the little biscuits call iced gems.
Musk-mallow is in the same family as the hollyhock and lavatera and gets the name musk from its distinct, though not unpleasant musky scent. It is reasonably common, and the ones in the car park are part of the wild flower seed mix which was sown when the car park was remodelled a few years ago.
4th July 2018
The enchanter's nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) is a plant that I have had a long affection for and is now in flower. It has an intriguing name and a lovely blossom. As part of the willow-herb family it is not related to other nightshades from the Solanaceae family (which includes plants like potatoes and tomatoes). Parts of these popular food plants are poisonous too; and have unwholesome or poisonous properties and should be treated with respect.
The genus name Circaea comes from the Greek enchantress Circe who not only turned Ulysses’ ship’s crew into pigs to eat with the plant, but also laid hold of any man who took her fancy with the barbed seed heads.
The generic designation Lutetiana is from the Roman name for Paris; sometimes called 'The Witch City'. Circe was the first witch to have ridden astride a stick and the French call the plant l’herbe magicienne.
Enchanter’s nightshade is not poisonous but has a mild astringent property and has therefore been used as an antiseptic to wash wounds.
The plant likes to grow in shady, moist woodlands on nitrogen-containing clay. In deep shade the slender flower stems rise from the dark green, heart-shaped leaves like white sparklers, each with a tiny flower at the end of a little stalk. The plant grows to 20-70 cm in summer and dies back underground in winter. A good place to see it now is along the play-trail behind the covered Go-Ape table area, as you head towards the Highway Rat “wanted” board on the left-hand side of the path.
I hope you find the plant as enchanting as I do. It is not big and showy but looks quite magical as it creates white sparks that speckle the deep shadows of the forest.
21st June 2018
Fog on midsummer's day!
Late spring / early summer is such a wonderful time to see the wildflowers and graceful grasses at Bedgebury. Every step is like flicking through the pages of a wildflower book; on a short circular walk from the visitor centre, you can spot something from nearly every page.
Head towards the boardwalk and you will be knee deep in Yorkshire fog. This is the common name for the sumptuous grass, Holcus lanatus. It starts the season with the soft flower/seed heads (panicles) tinged greenish pink. These darken to a dusky purple then, later on, whiten to a ‘fog’. Fog is the old name for moss & softness which may also refer to the silky feel of the grass.
Note also the spires of sorrel, Rumex acetosa and Rumex acetosella (sheep’s sorrel), rising from the fog. These are the delicate cousins of dock and their arrow-shaped leaves with their zingy, acid taste are often used in salads, soups and sauces. The seeds are dangling discs of green and red that will turn a rich, russet brown, and often a leaf will turn an eye-catching scarlet.
At the bottom of the boardwalk, to your left, there is a waist-high clump of hedge woundwort, Stachys sylvatica, with spikes of beetroot-coloured flowers and VERY rank smelling foliage!
Turning right, and heading uphill, you can't help but notice the ghostly, pale candles of the early purple orchids on both sides of the path. As the bank rises above on the right, look up through the haze of the delicate, dancing seed heads of the tufted grass, Deschampsia cespitosa. The silver/purple seeds shimmer in the sunshine and seem to float in a mist, and the stalks are so fine they seem almost to disappear.
Turn right along Dove ridge and the page falls open at heathland flowers. The sweet vernal grass has already turned straw blond and the white foam of the heath bedstraw, Galium saxatile, froths beneath. Edging the path are the silvery green, fern-like leaves of Potentilla anserina, aptly called silverweed. They are very stroke-able! Silverweed has 5-petaled yellow flowers a bit like buttercups
Return to the visitor centre via the zig-zag path and you will pass the rich ‘Cadbury’ purple of the self-heal flowers, Prunella vulgaris.
There are many more grasses and flowers to see, even on this short walk, I have mentioned only a small selection. If time permits, take your wildflower book and wander off into the fogs and mists of the Pinetum and enjoy the sights and sounds of this lovely season.
28th May 2018
As the blue of the bluebells fades we are treated to the bright pink of the red campion (Silene dioica) which loves our shady, damp watercourses and woodland edges.
Although it is not scented, it is much visited by flying insects, the smallest of which get caught on the hairy, slightly sticky stems and leaves, giving rise to the campion’s common name of catchfly.
A more robust hoverfly, Rhingia campestris, has developed a long snout enabling it to reach the nectar at the base of the tubular campion flower, and it is therefore a frequent visitor. The pollen brushes onto the insect’s body and is then transferred to the next flower it visits. If this should be the white form of campion it can cross pollenate to give pale pink flowered plants.
Campions belong to the same family group as the soapwort plant and share the property of containing saponins in the roots. When the roots are simmered in water, a compound is released which can be used as a soap substitute for washing clothes. The seeds, when crushed, have long been used as a treatment for snake bites.
Red campion has a long flowering period, usually from May to November, and is seen in many locations at Bedgebury. Good places to see them at the moment are on the banks of Leaky Lake and beside the path at the View Point.
1st May 2018
The elements have certainly thrown everything they have at us this spring, from deep snow to a scorching heatwave, as well as severe thunderstorms, hail and stunning rainbows. However, nature is starting to re-align and the countryside is now verdant and bosky (such a lovely word, a shame it’s falling out of use).
Bluebells, primroses and all the other eye-catching spring flowers are in evidence now, but I would like to draw your attention to speedwell; in particular germander or bird’s eye speedwell, Veronica chamaedrys.
There are many kinds of speedwell, about 27 sub species, but for me bird’s eye (also known as angel eye) is the winner. It is the same wonderful colour as a clear, blue sky in high summer and it has a white 'eye' in the centre of each flower. It is a low growing plant with 10mm blossoms and is common in grassy places. You can see it in our mown grass areas in the Pinetum. It flowers from April to June.
Another species to look for is the brook lime, Veronica beccabunga - I love the name! It is one of the taller members of the family with fleshy stems and spikes of blue flowers. It likes to grow with its toes in water and the name is thought to come from the German bachbunge; meaning brook and bunch. It grows in the ditch at the bottom of the hill opposite Marshal’s Lake and it flowers from May to September.
Speedwell is meant to be a good luck charm for travellers, speeding them on their way as they see the patches of blue on roadside verges.
21st March 2018
Many people will recognise a garden strawberry plant as well as its diminutive relative, the wild strawberry, Fragaria vesca. They both have the delicious red fruits beloved of humans and black birds.
The barren strawberry (Potentilla sterilis), alas, lives up to its name and has fruits that are dry and not at all appealing to humans. The warm spring sunshine of the last few days has kick-started this little plant into bloom and you can now see it lining the path edge in the Pinetum at the viewpoint under the giant leylandii hedge. With other more showy spring flowers now making an appearance, this small flower often gets overlooked. It is a member of the rose family so if you compare the flowers and leaves to a wild rose you will see the similarities.
6th February 2018
There is almost always gorse in blossom somewhere in the British Isles, giving rise to the old country saying “When gorse is out of blossom, kissing’s out of fashion”. This is because there is a species of gorse for most of our habitats; be it mountain, coast, heath or motorway embankment!
The gorse in flower at Bedgebury – near the 'shipwreck'- is Ulex europaeus. It is enjoying the sun and sand there. What I love about it, apart from the cheery yellow blaze of colour, is the delicious smell. Some say it reminds them of coconuts (very fitting for a shipwreck on a sandy island!) others say it has the aroma of freshly baked bread. Like most plants it smells at its best when warm sunshine unlocks the perfume.
Gorse, also known as furze or whin, is a member of the pea family (Fabaceae). A close look at the flower shape and seed pods proves this. Like all members of the pea family it has the ability to fix nitrogen in soil so it is often used on land reclamation sites to help other plants establish.
As gorse is highly flammable it was traditionally used to fire bread ovens and as a fuel. It plays an important role for wildlife too; perhaps the most well-known being the thorny, protecting cover it provides for nesting Dartford warblers and whinchats. It is also the sole food of the case-bearer moth – maybe I should say soul food too! Gorse, being high in protein, makes a good winter forage fodder for livestock when there is not much other green stuff about and it is a life saver for wild ponies who eat little else in winter.
We used to be taken on family foraging expeditions on the cliff tops at Dover to gather gorse flowers for my father’s home-made wine hobby. It was a love/hate occupation for us. What child doesn’t like picking/collecting things? The only trouble was that gorse is so painfully prickly! The pleasure of collecting bags of golden flowers was tempered by the profuse bleeding from myriad scratches.
25th October 2017
Ears, beards and nipples
Many early-flowering plants produce a second flush of blooms in the autumn and, although not as prolific or abundant as in the spring/summer, the flowers are a very welcome sight for us and the insects
This autumn has been very mild, with no hard frosts, so not only are some of the normal late summer flowers still going but some of the flowers we associate with spring are in bloom again (I’ve got primroses out in my garden!).
You should be able to spot quite a few dandelion-like flowers at the moment which, confusingly, belong to the daisy family. Look for the delightfully named common catsear, rough hawkbit, smooth hawksbeard, mouse-ear hawkweed and nipplewort. You may also be able to find sow-thistles and even the odd dandelion itself!
28th August 2017
The summer wildflowers are losing their looks now and, much to the delight of the finches, are setting seed-heads for the birds' annual feast.
One plant that is coming into bloom now is Bedgebury’s iconic devil’s–bit scabious (Succisa pratensis). It is featured on the front of our summer guide this year. It belongs to the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae) and grows in damper conditions than other species of scabious and also differs by having 4-lobed flowers not 5.
Scabious comes from 'scabere' - the Latin for scratch. The plant was used in treatments for the skin disease, scabies, and for sores caused by the Bubonic Plague. The name devil’s-bit refers to the plant's short, black root. Apparently the devil was so angry at the plant's healing properties, he bit the end of the root off!
We have the ideal growing conditions for it here at Bedgebury: wet and dry grassland, acidic soil and heathland. It has an attractive blue/violet, occasionally pink, globe-shaped flower head. It is well loved by a genus of hoverfly. Eristalis, as well as the narrow-bordered bee hawk-moth for nectar. The marsh fritillary butterfly lays its eggs on the underside of the plant.
Both the plant and these insects are quite rare and it is because of the careful management of our site that they all continue to flourish here.
6th August 2017
Say "blackberries" and most people will instantly have a picture in their mind of glistening, succulent berries full of the promise of lava hot crumbles, jam and wine, or happy hours spent blackberrying with purple stained hands and mouths.
Our wildlife love them too! They provide a bountiful harvest for our native mammals, such as foxes, badgers and mice. The flowers are a good source of nectar for insects and are host to the white admiral butterfly of which we have a respectable number at Bedgebury. Many birds find them irresistible too.
Unfortunately, the plants have a downside for our tree team and the volunteers who keep the Pinetum looking lovely. Brambles reproduce by putting out long runners which, when they touch the ground, develop roots. And so the plants spread………and spread! As you know they soon smother all in their path.
Brambles are a micro family with many sub species; this is why you will find pink and white flowered plants and different tastes to the blackberries. You may have noticed one with few, but large drupelets; this is what the individual fruits are called - the whole blackberry fruit being called a drupe. This is the Dewberry.
22nd June 2017
There are so many wild flowers out now after these hot, sunny days that I thought I would identify three for you that are very conspicuous in our grassy areas.
If you look at the flower shapes of these 3 plants you will see that they are completely different and therefore, between them, provide nectar for a wide variety of insects. So, although these plants are not rare or endangered, they go to help make up the wonderfully diverse ecosystem we have here at Bedgebury.
There are big patches of these in full flower now. This is a bright chrome yellow flower with occasional tawny orange and red hints, which accounts for their nick name of eggs and bacon. They are 5-20 cm tall and have slender sprawling stems.
They are a member of the pea family, which can be seen in the flower shape and the seed pods. The pods form in threes in the shape of a birds' foot and the three centre leaves are prominent, hence the name "trefoil" (3 leaves).
These are low-growing plants with a little spire of pretty purple flowers. They are a member of the mint family and spread rapidly on square stems. They have a long history of being used to treat many minor disorders and are a traditional medicine plant.
These little star-like white flowers seem to float among the grass on their delicate stems. The way to tell them from their cousin, the greater stitchwort, is the flower size (1-4 cm) and habitat - the greater stitchwort likes shady damp places while the lesser stitchwort is happy in the sun.
14th June 2017
There are so many eye-catching plants in flower at the moment that some of the more insignificant ones tend to be overlooked. I think one of these is narrowleaf plantain (Plantago lanceolate).
To my mind, this plant has a most delightful flower resembling a mini chocolate egg wearing a tutu or halo of dancing pale yellow stamens which sits on top of a slender stem.
It grows to between 10 and 50 cm tall and is widespread in our grassland areas. The leaves, which grow in a rosette at the base of the plant, contain mucilage, tannin and silic acid giving them antiseptic and blood clotting properties. This makes them good for rubbing on cuts and stings.
As children, my brother and I used to 'shoot' each other with the seed heads. We did this by tying a loose knot in the stalk and then running the knot up to fire the head off!
30th April 2017
The common dog-violet (Viola riviniana), with its little flower is very evident in the Pinetum at the moment. Look for a flash of beautiful clear purple/violet (the colour of a Cadbury’s chocolate wrapper) low to the ground.
The flowers are about 1cm across on a short, thin stalk with heart shaped leaves. Unfortunately, unlike their relative the sweet violet, they have no perfume. The 'dog' in the name means, ‘of no use / worthless’ suggesting they have no medicinal or food value, though in fact the flowers do contain more vitamin C than most vegetables.
The colour violet comes from the flower rather than vice versa. Because purple was a difficult and expensive dye to make, historically violets have a special place in the hearts of the great and the wealthy. The emperor Napoleon Bonaparte adopted the violet as his signature flower and the ancient Greeks had it as the symbol of Athens. In 2002 it was voted the county flower of Lincolnshire.
The dog-violet is widespread in many different habitats: woodland, old pasture, heaths and hedge rows, and it will grow in any soil type apart from very wet or acid soil. It is usually in bloom from April to June.
19th April 2017
The time has come to mention bluebells!
At Bedgebury, our bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) usually bloom 2 to 3 weeks later than other well-known local hot spots like Sissinghurst and Hole Park.
I saw the first bluebell coming into flower here at Bedgebury on 1st April this year, at the play trail in its favourite habitat of ancient coppiced woodland. We are looking forward to main bloom later this spring!
Hyacinthoides means 'like a hyacinth' and non-scripta means 'unmarked'; the flowers and leaves are pure in colour with no blotches. Its old genus name was Endymion - in Greek mythology he was the lover of Selene, the moon.
In folklore, bluebells are special to fairies. The 'fairy thimbles', as they are sometimes called, are rung like a peal of bells to call the little folk to a gathering. Another name was 'dead man's bells' as the fairies cast bad spells on anyone picking or damaging their beloved flowers and, believe it or not, witches can turn themselves into hares to hide among bluebells!
In the language of flowers, bluebells stand for gratitude, constancy and everlasting love.
There is something very special about walking through a bluebell wood on a fine spring morning and losing yourself in the heavenly carpet of blue, with its sweet perfume and buzz of insects. Come and enjoy the Bedgebury bluebells when the other sites are passed their prime.
11th April 2017
Why am I telling you about a hated garden weed? Because once out of the vegetable patch or treasured lawn the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) comes into it's own...
The dandelion is a beautiful sight when the sunshine opens the dazzling, chrome yellow flower discs. It has been valued as a food crop for both humans and insects as well as for its medicinal properties for thousands of years. And of course, children love telling the time with their seed head 'clocks'.
Dandelions are thought to have evolved in Eurasia about 30 million years ago. Having been around for so long it has acquired many names. The Latin, Taraxacum, is a thought to originate from the Persian tarashaquq, and the Greeks have taraxos (disorder) and akos (remedy).
Dandelion is a corruption of the French dent de lion - lion's tooth - referring to the toothed leaf shape. Folk names come from the strong diuretic effect of the roots giving it the unfortunate tags of pee-a-bed, wet-a-bed and pissenlit!
Its medicinal uses are many and varied: treating gallstones, high blood pressure, gout, typhoid, eczema and corns, to name but a few.
The dandelion is very nutritious, containing more minerals and vitamins than most vegetables. Only the young leaves should be eaten as they get unpalatably bitter with age. During the 2nd World War, the dried roots were much used as a coffee substitute and the flowers are well known for their use in wine making. The Germans have developed a cultivar of the dandelion that is suitable for making rubber from the latex secreted from the hollow stems. This latex also stains the skin brown and is very difficult to wash off. The flowers are a rich source of nectar early in the year, attracting, most notably, the pearl-bordered fritillary, one of the first emerging butterflies in the spring.
And finally, as a last fact for you, the dandelion releases ethylene gas which helps to ripen fruit.
I hope all of this information helps you to think of the not-so-humble dandelion with a little more respect!
15th 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.
6th 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.
12th 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