Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Buttercup Family. Part 2: mid-spring to mid-summer

With its first flowers opening around mid-March comes the Marsh-marigold, Caltha palustris. In their 1962 "Flora of the British Isles" the authors, Clapham, Tutin and Warburg state: 'The flower of Caltha palustris is perhaps the most "primitive" in the British flora'  - but that was over half a century ago and modern taxonomists would not necessarily agree. I will say little more about this species as it has been the subject of a previous blog (Horse-blobs and Bee-flies, 16 April, 2013). I am not an authority on Shakespeare but the following stanza from Cymbeline ( which I had unaccountably overlooked!) has come to my attention:

                      "Hark, hark! the lark at heaven's gate sings,
                       And Phoebus' gins arise,
                       His steeds to water at those springs
                       On chaliced flowers that lies:
                       And winking Mary-buds begin 
                       To ope their their golden eyes:
                       With every thing that pretty is,
                       My lady sweet arise:
                       Arise, arise."  

Kingcups, aka Marsh-marigolds
Byfield 26 March, 2014

Flowering near to Easter the flower apparently held religious significance, with 'Marigold' being a corruption of 'Mary's Gold'. Shakespeare's 'Mary-buds' is clearly a reference to the same flower.

Anemones, of which there are over 100 species, also begin to display their flowers from mid-March onwards.

Anemone blanda in my garden.
20 March, 2014

The lovely blue Anemone blanda, sometimes called the Balkan Anemone, is the first to bloom in this area. It is understandably a popular garden plant, being a very easy to obtain and grow. As it so widely cultivated, I presumed that it would be a frequent escapee and I was therefore surprised, having trawled through my various floras, that it is not often recorded outside gardens. A patch grows in our pocket park and, although it is persisting, it is not yet showing signs of spreading. 

All anemones have an acrid taste and, containing the narcotic and toxic compound anemonin, are dangerous to cattle. Whilst not as dangerous as the related Monkshood, human fatalities have been recorded from ingesting our native Wood Anemone.

Wood Anemone or Windflower, Anemone nemorosa, (Greek: anemos - wind) is one of the daintiest members of our native flora. Presently, thanks to careful management of reserves, it is "probably more common now than for any time in the last sixty years" (Gent and Wilson, 2012, "The Flora of Northamptonshire"). In the Byfield area it is to be found in Root Spinney (blog for 26 February, 2014).

Wood Anemones in a Byfield garden.
31 March, 2014

The Wood Anemone is occasionally to be found in gardens. Those pictured are flourishing in the border of a Byfield garden. It usually has 6-7 "petals", compared with the far greater number (up to 20) of Anemone blanda.

Pasque Flower in my garden. The silky edges
 to the tepals can be seen. 10 April, 2014
Our native Pasque flower was named Anemone pulsatilla by Linnaeus and the name was retained until around 1960 when the name Pulsatilla vulgaris became preferred. The word 'pulsatilla' also has connections with the wind, deriving from a Latin word meaning beaten about or buffeted - as on a windy day. Again, it is a plant about which I have previously written (blog: 'Pasque Flowers' 24 April, 2013). In Northamptonshire it is well known around Barnack (see footnote), and John Clare must have been familiar with it. Strange, then, that he seems to make no mention of it in his poems.

Pasque Flowers in my garden.
Byfield, 3 June, 2014

Of course, Pulsatillas have a second season of attraction, their feathery fruits having a beauty of their own, particularly after light rain, when the silky styles glisten in the sun. The fruits are technicakky achenes; the "feathers" are the greatly elongated styles.

Anemone coronaria 'Bordeaux' in Angela Tiffin's garden.
Byfield. 7 March, 2014

For gardeners, one of the most familiar Anemone species must be Anemone coronaria. The species photographed is Anemone coronaria 'Bordeaux'. Does this lovely variety have any Anemone pavonina in its genetic make-up? Certainly breeders have played around a lot with the Anemone genus, and this is such a striking colour...

At this point I must mention the Globe Flower, Trollius europaeus. This lovely plant is native to Brtain but is largely confined to wet hill pastures in the north of England, together with Wales and Scotland. I have seen meadows bright with it in Austria. It is a plant I have never grown although a close relative, Trollius chinensis was, until two years ago, a feature of one of my garden borders, only to have been carelessly lost during a reorganisation. It is yet another genus in which the sepals perform the function of petals and all the plants so far mentioned clearly share a common ancestor.

Clematis is a large genus of around 300 species which are familiar to us as woody climbers although quite a few are more or less herbaceous.

Clematis armandii in Bell Lane, Byfield.
19 March, 2014

We generally associate Clematis with the summer but some open quite early in the spring. Clematis armandii, a native of China, begins to bloom here in Byfield in mid-March but is not completely hardy. Being evergreen I use it to help hide an ugly fence. Some species such as Clematis tangutica have feathery styles, showing their relationship to Pasque flowers.

I am not a huge fan of the large-flowered Clematis hybrids, colourful though they undoubtedly are. They attract very few insects and the variety shown was purchased by me to disguise an ugly chain-link fence. It failed.

Aquilegias are favourite garden plants. As Columbines they have been popular for centuries and my maternal grandmother called them Curly-headed Boys - a reference to the curving, horn-like spur at the base of the petals. This vaguely resembles an eagle'sbeak, thus giving it its scientific name (Latin: aquila - an eagle). it has to be said that their membership of the buttercup family is not obvious to the non-botanist.

There are some 50-60 species of Aquilegia around the northern hemisphere and crossing them has produced some lovely hybrids such as this example in my back garden. One species, Aquilegia vulgaris, is native to Britain including Northamptonshire. 


1. Barnack is now in Cambridgeshire but is still in Northants as far as biological recorders are concerned. In 1852 H.C.Watson introduced the concept of the vice-county (VC) and for well over a century his county boundaries were accepted and widely used for recording purposes. At that time Barnack was in the Soke of Peterborough, and included in Northamptonshire (VC32). The system is gradually falling out if use in favour of grid-based recording.

2. There should have been a Part 3 but we moved house in late summer so life got in the way a bit. 


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