Saturday, 24 September 2016

More Summer Flowers

As summer draws on, there is less and less colour in Milton Country Park; the flowers that are out tend to be reasonably inconspicuous and occurring in small isolated clumps.

Clump of tansy growing besides a path
Tansy - 7 August 2016
This is the single clump in the whole park



One such flower is tansy. There is a single, and very prominent, clump of its bright yellow flowers next to one of the paths in the north of the park. It is not only decorative, but useful in companion planting for biological pest control: for instance, growing tansy next to potatoes protects them from potato beetle. In the domestic environment, planted around your dustbins it will repel mosquito, ants and flies. It dried flowers will also serve the same purpose.

Historically, has been used both to induce abortions and, paradoxically, to help conceive and prevent miscarriages. Other uses included treatment for worms, fevers, and flatulence. But it is basically toxic, and its medical use is now largely discredited.

Common Fleabane

Flowers of common fleabane in among the reeds
  • Common Fleabane - 15 August 2016
  • A lot of this flower goes unnoticed amongst the reeds

Another insect repellent to be found amongst the reeds at the edge of the lakes in the park is common fleabane. It is so named because its scent repels insects, and was kept in the house specifically to repel fleas.

Great Hairy Willowherb

Single plant of willowherb catching the light
Great Hairy Willowherb - 3 August 2016
Its bruised leaves are said to smell of codlins and cream

Another plant to be found in isolated clumps around the lakes is the great hairy willowherb, not to be confused with the rosebay willowherb and purple loosestrife which occupy the same habitat. The plant shown here was by the jetty on Dickerson's pit, and catching the last rays of the evening sun.

Apparently, and I haven't tried it, when lightly bruised the leaves, and particularly the top shoots have the smell of scolded codlings. This has given rise to a number of alternative names including: codlings and cream, apple pie, cherry pie, gooseberry pie, and sod apple and plum pudding.

Water Figwort

Single spike of water figwort in bud with single flower
Water Figwort - 10 July 2016
A plant for tooth ache and nightmares

Yet another plant of the water margins, but a very inconspicuous one. I only found a couple of plants by the small inlet at the north-west corner of Dickerson's Pit, while looking at the reeds.

The origin of the name of figwort is interesting. One source states it is derived from its use according the doctrine of signatures to treat the disease ficus, which is apparently a synonym for haemorrhoids. A second source suggests its name comes from the shape of its root!

It has previously been used as a herbal remedy for ailments as diverse as toothache and nightmares; and is still used in the treatment of wounds.


Close up of head of hogweed
Hogweed - 14 August 2016
Early in the morning and the flies that are usually to be found on it are not yet awake

There are few plants of hogweed in the park, but those that are there are very obvious. This picture was taken in the early morning before the hoards of flies and hoverflies come looking for its nectar are awake.

Opinion seems divided as to the derivation of the name: it is alternatively given as either the flower smelling of pigs, or the love of pigs for its roots.


Close up of flower head of burdock
Burdock - 31 July 2016
Its stiff hooks, the inspiration for velcro, are clearly visible

In contrast to the other flowers here, burdock is abundant right across the park. It has two claims to fame. Firstly, its roots are use to make dandelion and burdock cordial. Secondly, the stiff hooks and its flowers and seed heads, which gave rise to its alternative names of beggar's buttons and clingers, were the inspiration for velcro.


Water Figwort
Great Willowherb
Common Fleabane  

For information on names, I also consulted the book 'On the Popular Names of British Plants' by R.C.A. Prior 

Next: Apples and Plums  

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Summer Flowers 2016

After the elder has finished flowering, the country park becomes overwhelmingly green and will remain so until the leaves change colour in autumn. However, there are a number of more or less conspicuous plants flowering during the summer months.

Close up of single spear thistle blossom
Spear Thistle - 7 August 2016
The national flower of Scotland in Milton Country Park


The main display of thistles is the small meadow on the left hand side of the path leading to the Fen Road exit.  These are creeping thistles, elsewhere there are small isolated clumps of spear thistles, like the one shown above.

Meadow full of creeping thistles
Meadow by Fen Road Exit - 10 July 2016

The main claim to fame for the thistle is, of course, it is the national flower of Scotland. Legend has it that in 1263, king Haakon of Norway tried to invade and conquer Scotland. At some point, the invading army tried to mount a surprise attack on their Scot enemies under the cover of darkness. In order to be as quiet as possible, the attackers took off their shoes and advanced in bare feet. One unfortunate soldier trod on a thistle, yelled with pain, and woke the sleeping Scots, who went on to defeat the Norwegians at the Battle of Largs.

Hedge Bindweed

Single convolvulus bloom with holes eaten into it
Hedge Bindweed - 31 July 2016
I have been unable to find out what eats the buds
Probably one single bite and the culprit did not come back for more.
Many of the bushes at the north end of the park, particularly along the north edge of Deep Pool, are covered with the white trumpet flowers of bindweed for many weeks during summer. Close inspection shows that individual blooms are quite short lived, but, at any one time, only a small fraction of the buds are out - hence, the appearance of continuous blossom.

Part of a vine with everything from buds to dead heads visible
North of Deep Pool - 31 July 2016
Everything from buds to dead heads on the plant

It seems a little strange, that a plant as common and conspicuous as hedge bindweed seems to have attracted very little, if any, folklore. Its only medicinal use seems to have been as a purgative. It does have a couple of more imaginative alternative common names, including: old man's night cap, wedlock, and granny-pop-out-of-bed. This last from the fact that when the base of the flower is squeezed, the whole corolla pops out.

Yellow Loosestrife

Yellow loosestrife among reeds
Dickerson's Pit - 10 July 2016
I have only found a couple of clumps of yellow loosestrife in the park, both of which are in the small inlet off the north west corner of Dickerson's Pit.

The derivations of the both the English and Latin names for yellow loosestrife are interesting.

The name 'loosestrife' probably comes from a belief that putting some of the plant under the yolk of oxen would calm them down. Like much folklore this seems to have more than a little basis in fact: loosestrife is repellent to flies, and hence is likely to calm animals tormented by insects. 
In latin, Lysimachia vulgaris is named after King Lysimachus of Sicily who first discovered its medicinal properties which included treatment of bleeding wounds. 


Honeysuckle twined amongst willow trees
Todd's Pit - 10 July 2016
Victorians believed its heady scent gave young girls inappropriate dreams

I had smelt a sweet aroma at the north-west corner of Todd's Pit before I spotted its source: this vine of honeysuckle growing among the willows.

And, perhaps, because of its sweet smell, the ancients could find no evil with it; it was a force wholly for the good. Plant it in your garden and around your doorways and it will ward off witches and evil. Take honeysuckle indoors and your marriage will prosper.

The leaves of honeysuckle which have been used for treating coughs, colds and asthma, contain antibacterial and anti-inflammatory compounds. These are little used today because of the overall toxicity of the plant.

But, spoil sports that they were, the Victorians could not let such unbridled good cheer go completely unchecked. They banned young girls having the flowers in the house in case their heady scent gave them inappropriate dreams!

Next: More Summer Flowers