Tuesday, 29 May 2012

An undiscovered star?

Here's a puzzle? Why do we celebrate some wild flowers, and virtually ignore others that are equally beautiful or useful?

The woods to the south of the village dip steeply down to the Allan Water, where it cuts through the soft-red sedimentary bedrock beneath it. The damp, shady slopes are perfect habitat for what must surely be one of our most glamorous wild plants - water avens.  Drifts of them decorate the woodland floor - they are not a rare plant by any means. And the flowers would not be out of place in the most traditional of herbaceous borders, with their old-rose, antique pink petals, clutched into a nodding cup by a whorl of dark maroon sepals. Pale lime-green stamens counterpoint the pink, which gradually swell into soft, feathery tufts as the seeds develop.

Yet how many people can name them? Many thousands, of course, but millions could name and describe the bluebells and violets that grow beside the water avens in the woods. They receive scarcely a mention in Richard Mabey's Flora Britannica, and none at all in Milliken and Bridgewater's Flora Celtica, despite Scotland being one of their strongholds. Even Plantlife doesn't see fit to include them in their extensive, but obviously not comprehensive on-line list of British wild flowers.

Strangely, they seem to be better loved and understood in the United States, where native American tribes know them as chocolate root (though I couldn't find out if they ate it as such). The plants were used extensively in their medicine, for ailments as diverse as diarrhoea to excessive bleeding. Yet we don't seem to have developed that kind of relationship with the plant here. It's seems unfair, uncaring, to ignore some plants as we do.

But what gives a wild flower the X-factor? Why are there Cheryls and Cinderellas in the plant world? For once I don't think we can blame Simon Cowell.

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