12 May 2010

lace and the wartkiller

Pictured growing either side of the narrow path at the north end are two species of wildflowers that teeter on the weed divide.  Both have persisted despite years of mild persecution and regular ripping out to rescue swamped lovelies from beneath them.  My efforts have been half hearted as both are very pretty and I always forget to cut them down before they ripen seed - both produce vast quantities - so they easily move themselves round the garden to escape my clutches.  At the moment, fresh and in flower, they delight me so I fully expect to forget to cut them down again. 
Flowering on metre high stems are the delicate white umbels of Cow Parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris, a common hedgerow plant that grows countrywide.  It grows a thick taproot topped with a low clump of finely cut 'parsley' leaves.  In its second year a flowering stem shoots up, usually unnoticed until the lacy white flowers open and then suddenly it is obvious swaying in the breeze.  It has a small footprint, is not overly aggressive to neighbours and is short-lived - but it will seed everywhere.  It is great source of nectar and pollen for hoverflies and makes a reliable display each May.  There is a dark leaved form that is widely available called Ravenswing that has dark brown/purple foliage and stems.  This is lovely but I'm not sure it is lovelier - we do not have it.    
Beneath the lacey white flowers of the Cow parsley is a sprawling clump of scalloped leaves and clear yellow flowers.  This is Greater celandine, Chelidonium majus.  I lean towards it being a nuisance as it is  a vigorous coloniser of new ground - every bit of turned soil will sprout rafts of its seedlings that rapidly outgrow anything else.  Easily recognisable from the moment it germinates (and it is up early) it confounds eager weeders by simply breaking off from its own roots.  That satisfying cleared piece of earth, still full of tiny roots, will soon re-cover itself as soon as a back is turned.  The plant itself is sprawling, swamping neighbours with brittle stems that break to drip bright orange, caustic, finger staining sap - it was traditionally used to burn off warts.  But it has redeeming features - I always get asked 'what is that pretty flower?', it is early in flower and continues for months, is bright and cheerful and will grow in shade or sun or damp or dry and is buzzing with bees.  It is a 'can't beat 'em, join 'em' type of weed - I shall think differently later in the year but for now i will enjoy it and instead focus my attention on the rampaging Sticky Willy elsewhere.

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