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 


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