How easy it is to find flowers, if you go on a walk with an expert!
Brian Laney led a flower walk last Saturday, as he’s done in other years. He can find plants that the rest of us would never have seen, and he can identify some as different from the “Oh, that’s just another ragwort” that the rest of us were saying. As soon as you are told it’s obvious...or is it?
A group of some 15 or so spent a good couple of hours walking from Top Lodge south towards Westhay and then down towards Mill Wood and the ‘wild beasts’, before returning over the field path to the road. It’s not very far but it’s packed with different flowers; we saw almost 80 different species, not counting any of the various grasses and sedges.
There is always something to say about each flower, which Brian does very well - what kind of habitat and soil do they need? - what kind of insect or caterpillar do they attract? - what were they used for medicinally? and what were some of their former folk names?
We tried this out at the beginning of the walk. We identified Greater Willowherb, (photo right) one of the two common willowherbs, which used to be called Hairy Willowherb and more colloquially, Codling and Cream. The flower is pinky purple with a cream centre. We eventually decided that codling referred to apple – there is a Kent Codling cooking apple, and a Codling moth, so called because its larvae attack apple crops. The colour of the flower must have reminded people of stewed apple and cream.
There are lots of other examples. Goatsbeard was previously called Jack-goes-to-bed-at-noon because it’s only open in the mornings. And then there's the common clematis (photo right) which is called either Traveller’s Joy or Old Man’s Beard which seems to me a much more obvious name. (However: see what was written last February about Travellers Joy.) Arum maculatum is often known as Lords and Ladies or Cuckoo Pint, which perhaps has some sexual reference? It has other less loaded names too.
Two of the group were children, brother and sister, and it was really refreshing to find how keen they were and how much they wanted to know. Some of the questions were quite difficult to answer, especially “ Is it poisonous?”. Brian had to admit that he wasn’t really sure - the best thing was not to try eating them - until we came to a group of hemlock plants when he really could say “This would bump you off pretty quickly”. Nobody was into eating anything - the blackberries weren’t really ripe yet - and nobody seemed very interested in the Horseradish plant which has been in the same place for several years. Perhaps digging the root, grating it and making your own sauce is a bit too time-consuming these days. Things changed a bit when we came to the Lesser Burdock. The fruit heads cling to clothes and make good ammunition. It’s not such fun if they land in your hair. The seed heads of Agrimony do the same, though they are very much smaller. This was much more interesting.
After Brian had showed us the Nettle-leaved Bellflower with its lovely blue flowers, just on the corner as the road bears left, we walked down to the Gruffalo finding Common Centaury, Fairy Flax (unfortunately dying off ) and Blue Fleabane. We saw a Painted Lady butterfly there, which was the first I’d seen this year.
Then we went into the field where Brian did his best to find Small-leaved Buttercup, which usually grows there. He wasn’t successful but he did find a number of other plants which like the open arable land. One was Round-leaved Fluellen, (see the photograph in the news section) a rather gone over Field Pansy, and Weld. This is a tall spike of small yellow flowers which was once a valuable source of yellow dye. It was so popular in medieval times that the native supply was insufficient and it had to be imported from France.
And so back to Top Lodge and the end of the walk, but not before Barrie had pointed out the old Ash tree just opposite the caravan site, which is probably 400 years old and, although in its declining years, still amazes, and makes a good playground for children.
We had all had an enjoyable walk, thanks to Brian.