Purple loosestrife

Loosestrife at the foot of a damp wall

Loosestrife at the foot of a damp wall


If I go out looking for plants in flower now, purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) seems hard to avoid. Since it’s a water-loving plant, and this is the middle of August and la grande chaleur, that seems surprising. But there are streams, deep ditches that collect moisture seeping from the fields, and springs, and reservoirs like this one in my village.
Purple loosestrife at the side of a reservoir

Purple loosestrife at the side of a reservoir


I feel I’m always going on about plants adapted to dry conditions here, but the truth is that each plant has its niche, and niches by definition are not characteristic of the whole.
The origins of the English name are interesting – and for this I rely totally, as I often do, on Geoffrey Grigson’s Dictionary of English Plant Names. The name was coined in 1548 by one of the first and greatest English botanists, William Turner, who took the yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris) and purple to be the same plant. He understood the word lusimakheios, used by the Greek herbalist and physician Dioscorides to mean ‘deliverance from strife.’ The Roman Pliny described the herb as being so powerful ‘that if placed on the yoke of inharmonious oxen it will restrain their quarrelling.’

As someone who will go to any lengths to avoid an argument, this appeals to me. However, I have yet to test it with friends, neighbours or indeed oxen. I think a good way to avoid strife is to remember that like plants, humans have their preferences and their niches and their own way of seeing things. I don’t take this too far – like the great Nye Bevan I believe that voting Tory is just wrong.

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22 Comments

Filed under Lysimachia, Lythrum

22 responses to “Purple loosestrife

  1. My neighbor & I part ways over purple loosestrike. She yanks it out & curses it constantly. I transplant it for height & color in the border, gather & scatter its seeds in appropriate spots around our garden & the neighborhood.
    We try not to come to blows & I hope to lose our strife. Mongrel invasive horde says my neighbor. Beautiful in the border & banquet for the bees say I.

  2. Whenever I write about Purple Loosestrife all my North American readers tell me what a terribe invasive it is over there. Personally I love it, and it enjoy it both in the garden and in the wild in Europe.

    BTW, you should get yourself a copy of Richard Mabey’s Flora Britannica. If you like to know the stories behind the plants you will find it fascinating. It’s a cultural flora, not a botanical one.

    Good to see you blogging and hope you are doing OK, at least on most days. Bon courage (no idea what that is in Occitan :-).

    • Well I think if it spreads, that just shows it’s a strong plant – unless it’s something artificially introduced. Richard Mabey is currently my absolute hero and I’m trying to catch up with several titles I’ve missed – I’ll look out for Flora Britannica – had thought it might be too British for Mediterranean interest.
      My dictionary suggests ‘Ardit!’ for bon courage – thanks for thinking of Oc!

  3. It’s all over the place here too – and looks wonderful with the meadowsweet and montbretia currently also rampant.

  4. Mike

    Saw the Skatalites at Gignac a few years ago. Past their best but still fun!

    • There’s nothing like ska or reggae to calm the fiercest emotional storm – for a long time Teleri had a tape in the car labelled ‘Relaxing Reggae’ and it was played often in moments of stress!

  5. Shelagh

    Please accept my heartfelt condolences, I have be reading her blog for a long time however never corresponded or commented on Olives and Artichokes. The photography was simply amazing, I often held up my iPad for my husband to see and also drool over the food shots. She inspired me to do more picture taking. Such a sad time, I am so sorry for your loss.
    Shelagh, Vancouver BC

  6. Patricia

    I am sure this is the plant I saw last week cycling around Bewl water, Kent, I wondered what it was but never took the time to have a close look, clearly I should have. We have some earth by La Peyne, and I discovered this blog via Olives and Artichokes. I enjoy learning about unfamiliar local plants, your likns are very interesting.

    • Thanks. I know Bewlbridge reservoir,because my parents used to live near there – is that the same? Since loosestrife is such a damp-loving plant, it seems likely.

      • Patricia

        Reservoir must be the same, near Lamberhurst and Hawkhurst, had lunch after in the Royal Oak Hotel Hawkhurst, very nice. I hadn’t been that way for yrs, lots of things have changed. A beautiful area, but we currently live in the big smoke … London.

  7. Patricia

    Links are very interesting.

  8. I had this post in mind yesterday at Cannon Beach and took this picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kkendall/9511918205/ Perhaps you can tell me if it’s the same thing. I have no idea what it’s called here and could not find anyone at Cannon Beach who knew. I love the way you connect your botanical excursions with music. Lose strive. Simmer down. Wonderful.

  9. Sorry for typo. Lose strife. Simmer down. Got it.

  10. Lovely plant and I always wondered where ska was born :).

  11. janerowena

    I love purple loosestrife, I have used it in past gardens. I too know Bewlbridge Reservoir – I knew it before it was one! I lived in Kent for the first 45 years of my life, and most of my family are still there. I have lived in Tunbridge Wells, Chainhurst, Coxheath, Linton, Maidstone, Headcorn, Knockholt and Leeds village. Actually that looks like a lot more moves than it felt like at the time.

    I do hope you are ok. I suppose ‘as well as can be expected’ is the answer to that one.

    • I lived in or near Tunbridge Wells for about ten years, till I left to go to college, and I suppose that if I have a home patch, an idea of where I come from, it’s the Kent/Sussex border. Your comment reminds me that it’s about time I wrote another post. I’m managing,thanks – I’m lucky to have very good friends here – but it’s not easy and I know it won’t feel much better for a long time.

      • janerowena

        Maybe I knew you by sight! I lived in TW between 1962 aged 7 and 1975 aged 20. But then lived all around the county before and after that. I am a TWGS girl.

      • janerowena

        My sister lost her husband 6 years ago. There’s no formula for how long it takes, but she said that she could honestly say she was happy after four years, all the time. Until then, she had what she called flashbacks of pains that decreased as time passed.

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