Thursday, 14 April 2016

A-Z Challenge 2016 - Wildflowers 'L'

My theme this year is wild flowers. Most of us will be aware of the flowers that grow in our gardens but what surprises me is how few wild flowers that I know.

I pass them every day but rarely look at them. Well this year will be different - even if many of them may fall under the letter 'X' for unknown.

'L' - Lady's Bedstraw, Lords and Ladies

When I started this theme I knew I would learn a lot about flowers that I hadn't known before - how they acquire their names, the stories behind them and things they have been used for.

The two flowers I've chosen for 'L' are perfect examples.

Lady's bedstraw (Galium verum)
This is one of the most common species in Britain on old grasslands. Its leaves smell like newly mown hay so it should be no surprise that it was used to sweeten rush floor coverings in olden times.

One of the legends of the Nativity dates back to the Middle Ages. Supposedly Mary gave birth on a mattress of bedstraw. In Germany the plant's name is Marienbettstroh (Mary's bedstraw).

Lady's bedstraw in a Russian deciduous forest
The plant's Latin name (galium verum) derives from the Greek 'gala' meaning milk. The astringent in the flowers curdles milk; the Danish name 'melklobe' reflects this

The plants tiny hairlike roots are a reddish colour and are one of the few natural sources of a scarlet crimson dye.

Medicinal uses include a tea recommended for curing kidney stones, epilepsy and dropsy.

(Perhaps I should include a rider in all my posts that I cannot vouch for the effectiveness and safety of the medicinal uses quoted.)

However the berries of my second plant today are definitely poisonous, often fatally so.

Berries of the cuckoopint (Cornwall)
The other name of this plant is Lords and Ladies. Its curious flowers have lead to it being called Adam and Eve, parson-in-the-pulpit and bulls and cows.
Other colloquial names in Dutch, French and German refer to the male sexual organ. Cuckoopint, the name by which I first knew it, derives from the Old English 'pintel' for a penis.

It's worth looking at how the plant develops.

Arrow-shaped leaves
These open out to form a sort of cowl from which the flower emerges.

Flower emerging (right hand)

The long-stalked leaves have typical dark purple spots. but what really catches your eye is - 

After pollination the berries develop on the 'phallic symbol' you can see. Initially a shiny bright green, they ripen through yellow to bright red.

Lords and Ladies - berries amongst ivy underneath a thistle leaf
The only use of the plant that I have been able to find is that in Elizabethan times a white starch was made from its roots.

  • Lady's bedstraw - 23 July 2008, ex, by Anne Burgess - CC BY-SA 2.0 generic.
  • Lady's bedstraw in Russian deciduous forest - 24 June 2011, by Le Loup Gris, CC BY-SA 3.0


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

I've always liked Lords and Ladies - the Cuckoopint - and knew they are very poisonous .. red signalling danger ... while your Lady's Bedstraw - I hadn't heard of that one ... but the scarlet dye available from the root threads is interesting .. bet that was used a lot in the centuries gone by ...

Cheers Hilary

Author R. Mac Wheeler said...

I name the first one Steve, the second, Fuzzbutt....

Jo said...

Yes, I was interested in the use of the roots for a red dye. Better than cochineal maybe. Never heard of Ladies Bedstraw before though. I had heard of Lords and Ladies but thought it was different. Sorry, doesn't look terribly phallic to me.

Bish Denham said...

Both are interesting plants. Lady's bedstraw... I'm rather glad I don't have to sleep on it or strew it about the floor to sweeten sour odors. I like it in its natural setting.

Trisha Faye said...

I've heard of Lady's Bedstraw, but hadn't seen pictures.
You have some beautiful photos here to go with your 'L' wildflowers.

Kalpanaa M said...

Lovely plants both and you have given us so much information about them, all fascinating.

Kristin said...

So many wild flowers are yellow. I just thought of that as I saw your flower of the day.
Finding Eliza