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What's in a Name?

Wild flowers

by Esse Prosser

Get your Monk’s Head on and your Pheasant’s Eye peeled. Follow the Star of Bethlehem until you find Morning Glory and you’ll probably bump into several Lords and Ladies, the Scarlet Pimpernel and a Wandering Jew on the way. Climb Jacob’s Ladder and give my regards to Sweet Cicely in her Lady’s Mantel and Lady’s Slippers. If you’ve not already twigged it, all the above are references to wildflowers and whilst there were very few advantages to lockdown, one was that most of us will have had more time to stroll the lanes and fields surrounding our neighbourhood. Here’s a short guide to some you may see so often that you might inadvertently ignore them:

Now that spring is here and summer, hopefully, just around the corner we can once again marvel at the vast number of wildflowers growing in the diverse habitat we have access to in Crich parish, some of which are better known and observed than others.

Meadowsweet: Fans of cookery programmes will have noticed  that the new era of chefs often incorporate meadowsweet into deserts, ice cream and cakes. I just hope its celebrity status doesn’t cause it to disappear from our hedgerows. I always think meadowsweet looks like a hairy cow parsley, having heads of blowsy, cream flowers which are variously described as sweet scented as honey, whilst being reminiscent of TCP or Germolene! Whatever your olfactory perception, it takes its name from being used in the making of mead and in days of yore it would be used to scent linen and clothes presses. It is also known as bridewort and queen of the meadow amongst other things.

Hedgerow garlic: Staying on a foody theme and not to be confused with the fleshy-leaved wild garlic, this plant grows tall and has nettle-like leaves with small white flowers of four petals each. Affectionately also referred to as ‘Jack by the hedge’ it only flowers every other year much like the foxglove, but unlike its biennial pal can be used as a garlicky mustard flavouring in cooking.

Bird’s-foot trefoil: OK, this is where the culinary references end despite the fact that this low growing yellow and red flower is a member of the pea family and is also referred to as ‘bacon and eggs’. All very edible you might think, but hold hard, it’s also known as ‘Granny’s toenails’! I think we’ll leave its nutrients to the various caterpillars for whom it is an important food source.

Toadflax: I haven’t seen much toadflax recently, but maybe I haven’t been looking closely enough. It’s similar in appearance to a small snapdragon and the ones we see here are usually yellow and orange. Its alternative names are ‘butter and eggs’ or ‘dead man’s bones’. I get the butter and eggs bit, but the dead man’s bones escapes me. Maybe the bees who love squeezing into its cup shaped flowers to suck its nectar would have a better explanation of its grisly alternative title. Cuckoo flower: This plant has a small four petalled flowers which range in colour from white through to purple with all
shades of lilac in between. It grows eventually into a leggy plant and blooms in April/May time just as the first cuckoo is heard (or so it is said) but it is known as ‘lady’s smock’, ‘milkmaids’ or ‘fairy-flower’. Which name do you prefer?

And finally Cranesbill: This flower comes in many different colours and varieties with names to match. They all belong to the Geranium family and most common to our neck of the woods are the blue and pink varieties. ‘Herb robert’ is the deep pink variety with leggy, often reddish stems and red tinged leaves. It is said to have an unpleasant smell, described by those in the know as ‘mousy’ which could  account for it also being referred to as ‘stinking Bob’ and ‘Death come quickly’. The bluey, purple version common to our footpaths and hedgerows is ‘dove’s foot’; I was unaware of this name until I
saw it mentioned by local author Alison Uttley in ‘Our Village’, an account of a Derbyshire childhood which documents local nature beautifully for those who may be interested in delving further into wildflowers past and present.