Wednesday, 13 March 2013


Lungwort in garden, Byfield, 13 March, 2013
In plant catalogues lungworts are often damned with faint praise by being described as "useful".  I have mixed feelings about them: they were in flower on a bank in Woodford Halse on 19 January and are still in flower here in Byfield; they are bone-hardy and tolerant of poor soils; they provide colour when few other flowers are about and, being rich in nectar they attract various insects. So why do I view them with such equivocation? The fact is that many of the strains grown in gardens are rather weedy and even rather scruffy looking. My own specimens have been consigned to the compost heap! 

The Common Lungwort, Pulmonaria officinalis, is not native to Britain but has been grown here for many centuries and is well naturalised on rough banks and so on, although George Claridge Druce, writing in 1930, recorded it only from a railway bank "near Roade". Its common name refers to the white spots on the leaves (see blog for 29 January, 2013) and these can be quite attractive. The flowers tend to open pink and then turn blue but this is not always the case and my photograph, taken in Curgenven Close, Byfield, makes this clear. 

If you must grow Lungworts, look for cultivars of Pulmonaria angustifolia. They are more robust with larger flowers and some very attractive varieties are available in nursery catalogues.

Incidentally the name "Lungwort" is also applied to a lichen, Lobaria pulmonaria, a large and impressive species confined largely to the north and west of Britain. I saw it some 7-8 years ago in damp woodland near Porlock but, if it ever did occur in Northamptonshire it is now extinct.
The lichen, Lobaria pulmonaria on a tree trunk.

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