Dylan’s Flower of the Month

Jacobaea vulgaris - October 2020

Common Ragwort

Last month we spoke about Tansy, and this month we are discussing Common Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris). As it is said to look slightly like tansy, and is sometimes called the tansy ragwort, I thought it best to go other it so as to avoid any confusion when out trying to identify them.

It can be found in open dry areas meaning it is common in many meadows and pastures across Europe. Stems are horizontal, hairless and reach any height between 1 and 6 feet tall. The leaves have a feathery appearance because they pinnately lobed (like a fern). Furthermore, the leaves have a unpleasant smell. Flower heads are yellow and flat, being up to 2.5 centimetres in diameter. These flowers are produced on corymbs. These are smaller stems branching off of the main step, where the lower ones are longer than the ones branching off higher up. The result being that all the flowers appear to be on the same level, even if the stem they are on originates from lower down on the main stem. The petals on the flowers are thin, bright yellow and separate from one another. Over a season a plant can produce up to 2,500 different flowers, so is an easy one to identify as it is nearly always in flower.

Common ragwort is believed to be one of the most frequently visited flowers by butterflies in the UK and more than 200 species of invertebrate have been recorded on it. In flower from June all the way up to November this plant is highly useful to colonies going into winter as it provides forage all the way up till when they cluster, although the honey that gets produced isn’t the nicest of tasting.

Tanacetum vulgare - September 2020

Tansy

The best place to find this plant is on rough grasslands, river banks and roadside verges. Like most wildflowers, disturbed ground results in them spreading rapidly as their seeds can germinate in the ground.

Tansy is quite distinct in its look, making it easier than most flowers to identify. Just imagine a dandelion mixed with cow parsley and you’ll get the idea of what you are searching. It has a singular stem, that has a reddish tint, is smooth, and can reach up to 150 cm tall. At the top of this stem, it branches out into smaller stems. At the top of these are roundish, flat topped yellow flowers. They are said to look like pincushions or buttons, but I think of them more as deflated pom-poms. Each plant has numerous flower heads; sometimes in excess of 25. Each flower head is actually made up of tiny florets known as disk florets, lacking the ray florets. Back down the stem, the leaves alternate each side and are divided into many leaflets which give it a finely toothed fern like look.

Numerous medicinal uses are suggested but I personally wouldn’t recommend any due to its toxicity. The ancient Greeks and 15th century Christians grew it to eat too. Another great use of tansy is to use it in your smoker. Pick the leaves and dry them out, then stuff them in and smoke away. I have done some research online but cannot find out why it makes good smoker fuel just that it is.

Tansy is said to be a good insect repellent for many non-nectar eating insects by taking a few leaves, crushing them and placing them in your shirt collar, pockets and brim of your hat. This doesn’t stop honey bees and bumbles from foraging for both nectar and pollen from this flower. The plant also supports the tansy beetle, which subsists almost exclusively on the plant but is now threatened and can only be found in two locations in the UK.

Centaurea nigra - August 2020

Knappweed

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 lately, 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 it should  instead be 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.

Echium vulgare - July 2020

Viper's Bugloss

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.