Winter Heliotrope - December 2021
Flowers that bloom at this time of year are respite from the cold and dark days. Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) is a fitting flower for this month seeing that it is named aptly for the season.
The flowers of P.fragrans look like small white clusters, almost snowflake like. The flower heads are made up of small florets similar to other members of the daisy family. In the new year often many of the flowers will have disappeared leaving the toothed and hairy leaves on show. Often it can be found alongside streams and in ditches as it adores the damp soil surrounding these places. It is dioecious which means that there are male and female plants.
Winter Heliotrope gets its name from the phenomenon known as heliotropism which means the plant follows the path of the sun across the sky. Flowers and leaves turn from east to west and reset back in their easterly position at night. The leaves are edible and rich in vitamin C, why not try one on your next walk? It is not a native of Great Britain but escaped after being moved from North Africa and is now well established. As mentioned previously, they are dioecious and in fact only the male plants are found within the British Isles.
Catnip - November 2021
Thinking of flowers to write about at this time of the year is always tough, but due to the long flowering periods and with winters staying milder, your chances of seeing Catnip ( Nepeta cataria) are increased. I initially thought of cat treats rather than the plant when I read about this in one of my botany books so I have learnt something too.
Catnip is a perennial (meaning it lives for more than 2 years) and can be seen flowering from late spring all the way though autumn into the start of winter. It looks a lot like mint with its course green leaves; as it should being part of the same family. Flowers are described as being bilabiate, meaning it has two lips. These are pinkie-purple with speckles of a darker purple on them. Some variations also have white flowers with pink spots. Both are said to be highly fragrant if you get close enough.
The plant has nepetalactone which is a chemical in the oil of the plant and this is what causes you household cats to go into a state of euphoria when near it. The oils can also be extracted to make a natural mosquito repellent. For human use, you can add the leaves and shoots to soups and sauces for a unique taste. In folklore it says that if the family cow’s milk has stopped due to a witch, then using catnip and certain spells will restore the flow of the milk. I cannot find any scientific evidence for why this could have been but it is fascinating.