Field Scabious Small Scabious Devil's bit Scabious
Poetry of flowers- Scabious Knautia Arvensis
Perfect purple flowers of unfolding love,
As buds unfurl they predict the direction of the heart.
Each bloom a pin cushion of fifty flowers,
Unfailing beauty covers the chalk downland.
Untainted pure expression of long-lasting love,
Scabious cures the itch of the unfailing heart.
Scabious is aptly named as a cure for the itch or scabies which also extends to other skin irritations including eczema. An ideal plant first for its beauty, then as a worthwhile food plant for caterpillars and moths and also to make skin-curing ointments. In the late spring the foliage can be steeped in oil in a sunny position to create an infusion of its valuable skin soothing properties. This oil mixed with beeswax will create a long-lasting ointment for the skin.
This plant of dry fields, pastures and grass banks is a most attractive species, its beautiful flowers enlivening the grass swards.
Young ladies would give a name to each bud on the plant and as they unfurl the most perfect flower would be chosen as their suitor given rise to the name ‘bachelors buttons’.
Each flower is made up of fifty individual flowers which also gives the plant the folk name of pin-cushions and pins and needles which it resembles.
A beautiful plant which has great value as a food plant for butterflies and moths and a source of nectar for many invertebrates. The male stamens actually wither before the female stigmas mature to avoid self-pollination. The seeds are distributed by ants and although goats and sheep will graze the plant, cattle dislike it.
Field scabious closest relative is the small scabious (Scabiosa columbaria) which as the name applies is a smaller species with more finely divided leaves. These fine leaves may be the reason it has the Latin name of ‘columbaria’ which is derived from dove or pigeon which may refer to its leaves resembling bird’s feet or its dove-coloured flowers. Its long roots spread deep into the soil of the dry chalk where it grows.
Devil’s –bit scabious more compact flowers create an exuberant display for all to see.
The Devil was so frustrated with all the ailments this plant cured he bit part of the root off, leaving it short to this day. However this species does not need long roots in the same way as the small scabious as it grows in wet areas across the country.
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May Nature continue to inspire you!
Poetry of Teasel
Johnny prick the finger, brush and comb,
Many are the folk names teasel owns.
Venus lip and Venus basin,
For she traps insects for her nutrition.
Sacred water she collects in cups,
Refresh one’s eyes with a healing touch.
She teases out the fibres of finest wool,
Pink and white flowers decorate this useful tool.
Teasel Dipsacus fullonum
Teasel is a marvel that even Lewis Carroll would struggle to create in his exceptional stories.
A green spiky armoured plant that traps insects in small cups and grows a brush upon its head. The brush is decorated with tiny pink and white flowers made of four delicate petals borne on long tubes. Pretty golden birds feast upon its seeds called goldfinches and the plant provides sacred water and soothing roots. It seems wonderland is right under all our noses!
This distinctive tall plant grows in waste areas, on the edges of fields and woods and on the banks of streams. It is a biennial growing from 4 to 6ft high. A dense prickly flower head appears on top of this upright plant dwarfing the largest of thistles. It is known as the brush and comb plant for it is as if nature decided to create a natural brush. Eventually a cultivated variety with additional hooks known as the fuller’s teasel (D.sativus) was created. The fuller’s teasel however is not an ordinary brush but a specialist tool used for raising the ‘nap’ of woollen cloth in the manufacture of velour and cashmere. This variety of teasel is especially grown in Somerset.
Teasel is a contender for our own native venus fly trap. The Romans were well aware of this calling it names such as venus lip and venus basin. These names refer to cup-like structures which are formed around the stem by the leaf bases. In these cups insects are trapped and it may be possible that the plant makes use of the nutrients released from the dying insects. For the herbalist this is sacred water for easing inflammations of the eye and as a cosmetic to ‘render the face fair’ ( Culpeper 1616-1664). The fresh plant in flower made into a tincture can be used to ease inflammations of the skin and its roots as an ointment to cure warts.
The doctrine of signatures written by Paracelsus (1493-1541) and probably employed by much older indigenous believe systems states that God created disease and the plants with which to cure it. Each plant has a signature that indicates its use if we look closely enough, such as Prunella vulgaris which has a flower shaped like a scythe and is therefore used for cuts. I don’t recommend you look too closely at this huge inflamed plant that cures warts and soothes inflammations.
Teasel is yet another example of the fascinating and extraordinary weeds that surround us.
Poetry of flowers
Join me to explore the flora of the British Isles on this blog. My intention is to attempt to capture the unique quality and beauty of each species of flower, tree or shrub. For every species featured I will be growing many more wildflowers to celebrate the joy of their existence, their intrinsic conservation value and bewildering array of uses. For nearly 30 years I have noted, studied and explored wildflowers in the field much to the patience of the walker beside me. To share this passion is a heartfelt plea to respect, preserve and care for all British Wildflowers no matter how common they seem.