Friday, 16 June 2017

Herb Robert

Is it me or has Herb Robert, Geranium robertianum, become more frequent in recent years? It has always been very common but recently beside footpaths, on waste ground and in neglected gardens it has, for me, been even more noticeable. I have also found it growing surprisingly well in deep shade.
I suppose it is quite a pretty plant, but the flowers  - usually pink, occasionally white - are rather small. The plant itself can reach fifty centimetres across but is a sprawling, untidy thing and this habit goes against it in horticultural terms. But above all it is the pungent smell that is the problem and some would rate it downright disagreeable.

Herb Robert.The flowers are quite pretty though rather small.
Roadside at Stefen Hill, Daventry. 15 June, 2017
It has always been common and this familiarity has given rise to a host of names such as Poor Robin, Robin's Flower and so on, and there may be a link here with Robin Goodfellow, otherwise known as Puck. If people were in favour with Robin Goodfellow he might be persuaded to help with jobs around the house, but he was mischievous and not to be completely trusted.
The plant is covered everywhere - except for the petals - with glandular hairs as can be seen on the photographs.  These glands are responsible for the odd smell. Nectar is secreted by the flowers and they are apparently visited by the hoverflies Rhingia campestris and R. rostrata, but although I do observe and record hoverflies I have not witnessed this behaviour myself. Anyway these visits are sufficient for fruits to develop. The seeds, in their ovaries are attached to the long styles which, tight together, form a beak-like structure (remember, this plant is a type of cranesbill) which, when dry, will spring back and catapult the seeds into the air.

The long styles develop into a 'crane's bill' and will eventually fling the
seeds into the air. Stefen Hill, Daventry. 15 June, 2017
The plant was once employed medicinally to aid with the healing of wounds and the leaves could be rubbed over the body to ward off mosquitoes - and would probably ward off your friends too!Growing in similar situations is a close relative, Shining Cranesbill, Geranium lucidum. It is often to
be found growing at the foot of walls, and in this situation it is common around Byfield, perhaps appreciating the lime from crumbling mortar. Its common name refers to the glossy leaves, less deeply cut than Herb Robert, usually tinged with red and lacking the pungent smell.
The flowers are of the same general shape but rather smaller than its congener.
Shining Cranesbill, made distinctive by its glossy leaves.
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire. 16 June, 2017
Despite being common in Byfield I photographed this example beside the town hall in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, where I had visited the town's excellent bookshop to purchase a copy of Victor Hugo, by the French author, Les Miserables - however, that's another story.
The flowers of Shining Cranesbill are similar to those of Herb Robert
but rather smaller. Chipping Norton. 16 June, 2017

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