Lady’s Smocks and Bachelor Buttons
(Wild Flowers and their Stories)
Speaker: Gerald Ponting
Date: 28th October
Gerald told us he has had an interest in wild flowers since his early childhood. His beautifully illustrated slide show of some of the traditional uses and customs connected with our common English wayside flowers, as well as the origins of their names, reflected this interest.
He described at least 32 of our well loved wild flowers and their stories, starting with snowdrops (listed since 1659) and then some spring time favourites, primroses, bluebells with their sticky sap which was once used as glue. Followed by the wood anemone or windflower,whose name is connected with the wind as the flowers nod in the breeze and dog violets, dog being a pejorative term when attached to flowers.
Some other examples include the lesser celandine otherwise called “pile wort” due to the shape of their tuberous roots. There is a 16 Century belief that if a plant looks like an affliction of the body, it is designed to treat it! This is known as the “Doctrine of Signatures”.
We all know the wet-the-bed flower or dandelion with its supposedly diuretic property but few of us knew about the herbal properties of purple loosestrife. An infusion of the leaves and flower tops is very good for dysentery and sore eyes.
He also mentioned the Foxglove, the leaves of which are a source of digitalis, good for heart disease and discovered in 1785 to improve dropsy. Herb Robert and Red Campion are among the plants which have been called Bachelors Buttons; John Clare mentioned them in one of his poems of 1827. Ladies Smocks or the cuckoo flower was mentioned by Shakespeare and “do paint the meadows with delight”…
We discovered from Gerald’s fascinating talk that there is more to our native plants than just their intrinsic loveliness; he placed them for us in their historic and folkloric setting.