Thursday, 2 May 2013

Greater Celandine

In several places around Byfield - in Bell Lane, Banbury Lane, etc -  the Greater Celandine, Chelidoniun majus, is now coming into flower. Despite its common name it is not very closely related to the Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) and is placed in the Poppy Family, Papaveraceae. Both have yellow flowers, but have little else in common.
Greater Celandine in Bell Lane, Byfield.
1 May, 2013

One easy way to identify the plant is to break off a leaf; the wound will bleed a bright orange juice. The whole plant is toxic and the juice contains about a dozen alkaloids of considerable medical interest. Unsurprisingly, given that it is related to the Opium Poppy, Greater Celandine is said to be mildly narcotic. It was much used by herbalists over the centuries and my 1923 copy of 'Potter's Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations'  states: 'The fresh juice makes an excellent application for corns and warts'. It also suggests that it may be used 'in jaundice, scrofulous diseases, eczema,&c'. A trawl through the internet  reveals many other odd facts.
Greater Celandine, Bell Lane, Byfield, showing
more flower detail. 1 May, 2013

The plant may be native to Britain or it could have been introduced centuries ago by herbalists. Certainly I have only ever found it associated with human habitation but in this type of situation it is found throughout Northamptonshire. The flowers are normally 4-petalled but the plants around Byfield often have six or more - see photograph.

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