Friday, 10 May 2013

Green Alkanet

All around Byfield, and many other villages too, the Green Alkanet, Pentaglottis sempervirens, is now in flower. It is not a native plant but is from south-east Europe, though it has been a popular cottage garden plant for over two centuries.

It is only during the last 70-80 years that it has "escaped" from gardens to become well naturalised, although is rarely found far from houses. (Such recently established plants are termed neophytes as distinct from archaeophytes such as the Greater Celandine - see blog for 2 May, 2013 - which are plants established in Britain prior to the 16th century.) In Druce's flora, published in 1930, it was described as "rare" but now it is very widespread.

Green Alkanet, Pentaglottis sempervirens
10 May, 2013
It may seem odd that it is called Green Alkanet but even in the winter the plant will be showing green leaves and it is this feature, rather than the flower colour, that the popular name refers to. (The word sempervirens means 'evergreen'.)

It is a complicated story but... True Alkanet is Alkanna tinctoria, which, like Green Alkanet is a member of the Borage Family. As the word 'tinctoria' indicates it was - and is - used as a dye plant. It provides purple dyes and has also apparently been used as an alternative source of henna. The true Henna is Lawsonia inermis but the word 'alkanet' is derived from the Arabic al-henna - the henna. Green Alkanet apparently yields a red dye.

Whatever the plant may be used for elsewhere, I suspect it won't be gathered around Byfield for dyeing; here we will simply enjoy its brilliant azure flowers over the next few weeks.

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