Dylan’s Flower of the Month

Knapweed - August 2020

This month, Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) will be our focus. I was reluctant to talk about this flower to begin with as had not seen any recently, but on a recent bike ride I witnessed a whole roadside verge speckled with these plants. 

The tallest someone has recorded one to grow is a metre but they are highly variable. The ‘flowers’ are actually composite flower heads many up many small florets which botanists would refer to as an inflorescence. This is a common feature in many members of the Asteraceae (Daisy) family. Each floret is bright pink and the overall appearance of the plant is a spikey ball look. The triangular bracts, which are smaller leaves around the flower head, have bristles on making the flower hairy to touch. The leaves grow to be 25cm long and are oblong shaped that are lobed.

There are many other names for this plant including hardheads, lesser knapweed, Spanish buttons and nobweed. It is believed that it got its genus name because in Greek Mythology, Chiron the centaur used knapweed to heal wounds. In the olden days, eligible young women would place a flower in their blouse. When the unopened floret began to bloom it would tell her the man of her dreams was nearby. I doubt this will ever be backed up with scientific evidence unfortunately.

This plant is one of the best wildflowers for honey bees in the UK. It was rated in the top 5 for most nectar production (nectar per unit cover per year) in a UK plants survey conducted by the AgriLand Project. Equally it also provides food for Goldfinch, Lime-speck pug moth and a variety of butterfly. It is a shame to know that it is often unwanted by landowners because it is considered a weed. Perhaps rather than Knapweed should be instead called the Knap“superflower”? Equally, it doesn’t really care about what soil it is grown in making it simple and easy to grow in your apiary.

Viper's Bugloss - July 2020

Viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare) – what an unusual name! This month we will be talking about this brilliant wildflower that pollinators can’t seem to get enough of.

Standing up to 80cm tall, from a distance it looks slightly like a small foxglove, being a tall spike of flowers. Each plant has multiple erect stems that have a blue appearance due to the numerous flowers that each one bears. The funnel shaped flowers start of pink but then turn a remarkable vivid blue. From each of flower head, the stamen protrude outwards much farther than the petals, the stamen a red. The contrast of the red and the blue are magnificent in my eyes and provide spending colour to the countryside. Getting up close to it you can see the hairy and spotted stem, as well as the pointy leaves that surround the flowers.

It is a biennial plant which means that it grows from seeds one year and then flowers the following year. This shouldn’t be confused with biannual which means twice a year. It prefers chalky soil, but can be found along roadsides, on sand dunes and on waste land (equally you can find it at the association apiary if you want an easy way to find some).

The name viper either comes from the flower heads resembling vipers’ heads or that the spotty stems looking like the markings on a snake. Bugloss comes from a Greek work for ox-tongue which is due to the rough texture on the stem. It shares the common name with the viper’s bugloss moth whose caterpillars eat the plant of the same name. This is one reason why scientific names are handy to have.

In regard to the bees, they love it! Honey bees, native bumblebees and a collection of butterfly love to feed on this plant. The pollen is a dark inky blue which makes it quite an easy one to spot coming into your hives. The honey that comes from viper’s bugloss is said to be light, floral and have a lemony aroma. Just like evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) and borage (Borago officinalis) it has high levels of GLA which is good for you.

Buddleja Globosa - June 2020

Orange Tree

Sometimes the flower of the month can be very broad and cover a whole family of flowers, but in this month’s article we will be focusing on a specific species – The Orange Ball Tree (Buddleja globosa). Although it is a member of the Buddleia family, it is very unique and unlike any of its relations.

As you may have worked out from the name, the Orange Ball tree looks exactly like its name suggests. It has orange pom-pom like flowers on its surface which are about 2cm across. This tall straggly shrub usually produces its globular heads of small, orange flowers in May. It is virtually evergreen all year, not having flowers in the few coldest weeks of the year. Similar to all other members of this family, Buddleja globosa has tapered leaves at its end. One reason they have this is because they originate in Chile and Argentina where they have intense rainfall seasons, so it stops water accumulating on the leaves when the rains are heaviest.

Records suggest that this species was introduced to the UK in 1774 for ornamental purposes. Folk medicine says that B. globosa is useful in wound healing, and the infusion of the leaves is used typically for treatment of external and internal ulcers. Chemical studies have proven that these plants have high concentrations of glyosidic flavonoids which are important for medicine.

Regarding our pollinators, they cannot seem to get enough of this plant! I have observed more Bumbles and Butterflies than my honeybees but this could just be because they are being out competed. The Buddleia family is often called the “Butterfly Bush” and I can certainly see why. They are a valuable source of nectar during the June Gap.

It is a quick growing plant and can soon reach 6 ft before your eyes. A tip for cultivating this shrub is to trim it into shape by removing one-third of the old wood after flowering according to Dr D.G. Hessayon in his book. They will prosper in any well-drained garden soil as long as it is sunny. To propagate, plant semi-ripe cuttings in a cold frame in the summer, or plant hardwood cuttings in the open in late spring.

Anemone nemorosa - May 2020

Wood Anemone

One of my favourite places at the moment is a woodland about 2 miles walk away from my house. Whilst above in the canopy the birds are singing, on the ground there is a sea of white. A carpet of Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa) fills the undergrowth with so much colour this time of year.

Wood Anemone is a native small flower that often finds itself in woodlands due to its love of dappled shade. Once we get into summer, the canopy blocks out much of the sunlight, limiting their annual cycle to just a few months. They grow to ankle height, roughly 5 inches tall. Its flowers are star shaped, with white petals and bright yellow anthers. Their stem doesn’t have any leaves on it apart from at the base. The leaves are split into 3 segments and are dark green. In botany, the leaves are described as palmate which means that the leaflets all radiate from a single point at the end of the distal end of the petiole (end of the stalk the leaf is on). Being a perennial, this means the plant will live for more than 2 years but may lie in a dormant state below ground as part of its annual cycle. The flower rises up from underground from a structure known as a rhizome. These are like bulbs, that form on daffodils or tulips for example, but aren’t as large and are more stem like.

Other common names for this flower include ‘Smell Fox’ (due to its leaves musky odour), ‘windflower’ and ‘wood crowfoot’. The Romans picked these flowers to ward off fever and there are records of its medicinal uses. But be warned, this flower is poisonous to consume so perhaps steer clear of this for homemade remedies. In more modern times, the Wood Anemone has a high importance in woodland management. Coppicing and pollarding allow more sunlight to the woodland floor and enable this flower to continue to thrive.

The Wood Anemone is perfect for bees as they bloom at the same time as the first foragers are beginning to venture out. However, unlike many flowers the bees will be visiting, they do not produce nectar but only pollen. When the sun goes down, the flowers close up to protect this precious pollen from dew or rain, which makes for intriguing viewing as you watch this white carpet magically disappear.