Variations on a Theme: Primrose, Cowslip or Oxlip?

Comparison between primroses and cowslips
Primroses (centre) and cowslips (top right)

The third in my series of easily confused plants features some of the UK’s favourite spring wild flowers with a long heritage of lore.

While our native species of primula are well-loved, they are not as familiar and useful as they once were. Farmers are too busy to rub primroses on their cows’ udders on May Day to encourage milk. Most people who grow primroses near their doorway have forgotten the idea that they encourage faeries to bless the household. People no longer make tisty tosties from cowslip flower heads tied into balls, stems inwards, and hang them from sticks in their dozens to tell fortunes or wave in celebration. Few people have recently tasted cowslip wine. Cowslips are not common enough, and like all UK wild flowers, they are now protected.

But these wild flowers have such a dainty, delicate look, no matter how vigorously they grow, that they are rarely dismissed as weeds. Continue reading “Variations on a Theme: Primrose, Cowslip or Oxlip?”

Kinda Bold

Rosebay willowherb autumn colour
Chamaenerion angustifolium (Rosebay willowherb)

Rosebay willowherb is a colonising weed that appeared in the final picture on my recent post about Darwen moor. While few of us who know it would care to cultivate it, I have seen a white form in some fancy gardens. The pink form, shown here, is eminently overlookable, not because it lacks beauty but because of its ubiquity. It would be impossible to take a countryside walk round here without meeting it along the way.

I found these plants growing wild on the edge of farmland and was struck by how lovely they looked in their autumn colours. Early evening light and a blue sky added a little magic. Continue reading “Kinda Bold”

Four-Leaf Clovers To Share

Four leaved clover growing in a patch of three leaf ones

When I’m out walking, I sometimes amuse myself by looking for four-leaf clovers. Ever since childhood, I have followed the custom of nominating a person or a reason before searching, so when I find the clover, I already know what it is for.

My eye enjoys patterns so will skim over the patches and highlight an anomaly that looks a bit four-leafy for further inspection. I just have to pause, retrace a step or two, and be willing to appear goofy to any fellow walkers. Nothing new there then. Often, as I tease the leaves apart, I discover that the spurious leaflet belongs to a neighbouring stalk, but once in a while it’s a four-leaf one. Continue reading “Four-Leaf Clovers To Share”

Variations on a Theme: Forget-me-not, Heartleaf or Green Alkanet?

Why is it that we like to identify plants? To check whether it is safe or to eat or not, perhaps, or as a first step in working out how to buy one. To check if it is generally regarded by tastemakers as a weed or as a fit plant for a garden. But there’s also a great satisfaction in being able to name a plant just because we can. We feel closer to things we can name.

In April and early May, walking through fields and woods and peeking into gardens, we’ll often see plants with tiny, blue flowers that lift our spirits. They can be solitary, but more often, they are spreading.

Their pure blue flowers are classic forget-me-not style, the simplest of flower shapes with a starry look. Tiny, open flowers about as big as our smallest fingernail contain five rounded petals around a yellow, orange or white centre. But is it a forget-me-not? Perhaps it is, perhaps not.

Myosotis (forget-me-not) with a few pink flowers
Myosotis (true forget-me-not) with a few pink flowers

Continue reading “Variations on a Theme: Forget-me-not, Heartleaf or Green Alkanet?”