A WALK ON THE WILDSIDE

June 25, 2021

June’s in full bloom, so here’s our gardener Margaret to tell you a little bit about wildflowers:                                          

What a beautiful country we live in. I am often struck by just how many flowers there are blooming wild in Scotland in summertime. The fields and hedgerows, mountains and roadsides are clothed with dog-roses, rhododendrons, ox-eye daisies, buttercups, cow parsley and elderflowers – but I wonder just how many of these flowers you can recognise?

The ‘Dog-rose’ , Rosa canina, is blooming just now and can be easily recognised by the familiar pale pink flowers and thorny stems.

They use their curved thorns to help them scramble several metres high before the arched stems cascade over hedgerows and taller shrubs festooned in flowers.

They will only bloom once before setting seed in the well-known, shiny, red rose-hips.

The wild rose,  a native plant, provides a welcome source of nectar for insects but almost all of the plant was gladly used as food or for medicinal purposes back in the day with the exception of the hairy seeds contained within the rose hip. (Many an impish schoolchild was well acquainted with this common source of itching powder.)

You may choose, like the Romans, to flavour pastries using an infusion of the petals but it’s probably less hazardous to merely appreciate their fleeting beauty at the height of Summer.

The ‘Ox-eye Daisy’, Leucanthemum vulgare, is instantly recognisable as the large, round, white-flowered daisy, growing on tall stems in groups on a road verge, in a meadow or on waste ground. They grow almost everywhere in the UK and are very good at colonising bare ground.

These elegant flowers are similar in form to the humble daisy that peeps up in our lawns but on a much grander scale. Like many white-flowered plants, their large white ‘petals’ are so brilliant that they seem to glow in the evening earning it the name ‘Moon Daisy’ .

All daisy flowers have a ‘composite flower head’. The  15 to 30 white ‘petals’ called ‘ray-flowers’  surround the centre which is made up of bright yellow ‘disk flowers’. Each of these small yellow disk flowers contain nectar thus providing a rich source of food for butterflies, bees and hoverflies. The plant can be toxic for cats and dogs so think twice before inviting it into your garden.

 

Cow Parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris, has a bold structure with tall sprays of white, frothy flowers and is most likely to be found in shady places, along hedgerows or woodland edges. It is part of the celery family, a large group of similar flowering plants, collectively known as Umbellifers.

An umbel describes the flower cluster where stalks of a similar length radiate from a common centre, like the spokes on an umbrella, to form the flat or curved surface of the flowerhead and it is also a useful word for Scrabble addicts.

Many of our well known herbs belong to this family e.g. parsley, fennel, coriander, caraway and dill and we happily eat the leaves and seeds however, there are some members of this large family which require caution, the most infamous being the Giant Hogweed.

These plants have fine needle like hairs that cause severe irritation. The toxic sap in the plant binds with our DNA causing huge burns and blisters, a phototoxic reaction. Giant Hogweed, towering up to 8 metres tall, has long green stems with purple blotches, huge branches of small white flowers and large, jagged green leaves.

It is best avoided and if you do come in contact with it it is best to seek medical treatment.

If you would like to find out more about these plants or others, have a look at the Woodland trust website. With the summer holidays starting it is an ideal time to get out and about and start to identify wild plants on walks or other activities. You can find out more here: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/ or from Scottish charity Plantlife.  

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