Category Archives: Lamium

Veronica and the enamelled parterre

Beneath my feet: speedwell, hawkweed and stork's bill

Beneath my feet: speedwell, hawkweed and stork’s bill

This is all about scale and distance. When I’m standing looking at the ground, there seems to be nothing flowering, just a lot of low leaf growth. But if I bend over and look closely, in the green around my shoes there are a few points of colour. Winter and early spring flowers seem to be mostly small – I suppose the plants are running on their reserves in swollen roots, or on the small amount of solar energy from the winter sun. So in this post I’ve tried to get closer with the macro lens and see how amazing these little flowers are.

Veronica Persica

Veronica persica

Here’s one of the prettiest, just visible in the centre of the first photo – but only showing its full splendour when photographed in macro and enlarged. It’s Veronica persica, Persian or bird’s eye speedwell, distinguished from similar species by its deep colour, prostrate habit and flower stalks longer than the leaves. I took this picture in January.

The way these flowers are studded in the ground cover reminded me of a garden in Wales:  the cloister garden at Aberglasney in Carmarthenshire, where small flowers were planted in formal grass beds or parterres, an effect called ‘enamelling’ – you can see Aberglasney here.  This garden fashion dates from around 1600, and contrary to today’s tastes, the ideal viewing point was thought to be well above – hence the raised stone walkway round the cloister, which originally caused some scratching of heads among the garden restorers at Aberglasney. This style of planting replaced the earlier formal garden habit of carefully shaped flower beds surrounded by box hedges, also best seen from a terrace or walkway above, and called compartiments de broderie. Embroidery, or enamel brooches: Nature was not only to be tamed, but miniaturised enough to be held in the hand.

Lamium amplexicaule - henbit deadnettle

Lamium amplexicaule – henbit deadnettle

Anyway, for 21st-century tastes, on with the magnifications, and here’s another deadnettle I found this week. If you compare it to the plant in the last post, you can see that in this one, the henbit deadnettle (Lamium amplexicaule), the leaves are unstalked, enclosing the stem, and the flowers have a much longer corolla tube.

Erodium cicutarium - common stork's bill

Erodium cicutarium – common stork’s bill

I also found another stork’s bill (Erodium) – I blogged E malacoides on 8th December here. This one’s E. cicutarium, common stork’s bill, also from January, though there are a couple in the right of the first picture too. You can see the characteristically pinnately-lobed leaves (lobes in rows each side of the stalk), deeply cut in this species, which also has fleshy stems.

E. cicutarium stalks and leaves

E. cicutarium stalks and leaves

True Geranium flowers are often similar to those of stork’s bills, but the leaves are always palmately lobed in that genus, radiating like fingers from a palm.

Then a few puzzles. Here are some grape hyacinths coming up – but which ones?

Grape hyacinths - Muscari

Grape hyacinths – Muscari

I’d have to go back when they’re fully open, but mostly here I see the tasselled Muscari comosum, which I blogged on 3rd September here. These could be Muscari neglectum – common grape hyacinth. Then a lovely spurge which I can’t identify till it opens fully.

Spurge - Euphorbia - but which one?

Spurge – Euphorbia – but which one?

On the opposite side of the road the yellow heads of Euphorbia segetalis had fully colonised a neglected vineyard (with a few beautiful big sun spurges – E. helioscopa). You know I have a thing about spurges, and this sight made my day.

Neglected vineyard colonised by Euphorbia segetalis

Neglected vineyard colonised by Euphorbia segetalis

E. segetalis and E. helioscopa

E. segetalis and E. helioscopa

 

And finally you may have noticed the yellow composite flowers in the first photo – here are some more on a stony hillside:

 

Hawkweed - a species of Hieracium?

Hawkweed – a species of Hieracium?

I think they’re a species of hawkweed (Hieracium) but since there are at least 800 species I’m not going to try to guess which one. Curiously they can produce seed asexually, and thus produce lots of identical clones in a neighbourhood, and it’s hard to tell what’s a clone or variety and what’s a species.  If you count all the different forms described for this genus, there are 10,000!

Back to the title of this post and the lovely blue speedwell, this is ‘Veronica’, written by Elvis Costello with Paul McCartney, and about Elvis Costello’s grandmother. It’s on the album Spike (1989), his first album for Warners.  He had songwriting skill to burn in those days – so many strong songs on one album.  This version is from 1989, live outside the offices of his new record label, and acoustic, showing Costello’s fine vocals and driving guitar chord playing which still captures the song’s falling bass lines. The Warner Bros staff don’t look like the most responsive audience he’s ever had – no wonder he shouts ‘Back to work!’ at the end.

 

 

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Filed under Erodium, Euphorbia, Geranium, Lamium, Muscari, Veronica

Oral gratification: Lamium purpureum – red (or purple) deadnettle

Lamium purpureum - near

Lamium purpureum – near

....nearer..

….nearer..

...nearest

…nearest

Also known as purple archangel – though the name is usually used for the yellow-flowered  L. galeobdolon.  This powerful name came from the Latin archangelica, recorded as early as the 10th century, which also covered other Lamium species and was later applied to the plant now called Angelica, which everyone knows from the candied stalks. For the latter, it was said that an angel revealed its medicinal value against epidemic infectious diseases, but the origin of the other angelic names for deadnettles is lost in time – Grigson suggests that there may be a lost legend about an archangel relieving these plants of their sting in recognition of their healing properties.

Leaving supernatural revelations aside, we should still be truly grateful to the plants of the family to which deadnettles belong: the Lamiaceae, formerly Labiatae – both names because the flowers have upper and lower lips resembling a mouth. They’re a pleasure for the palate too, since they include many if not most of our aromatic herbs (thyme, oregano, marjoram, savory, mint, lavender, basil, lemon balm and sage), and many more of them can be used in salads, sauces or to make tisanes. The production of large quantities of aromatic oils is an adaptation which reduces water loss by evaporation, enabling these tender herbs to survive hot Mediterranean summers. Young leaves of red deadnettle can be used in a salad, especially for their colour I imagine, but their taste in cooking is apparently nothing to write home about.

I’ll come back later to the more aromatic plants in this family. I’ll just mention that they’re even more valuable to insects: red deadnettle can flower all winter in a mild climate – I took the pictures above last week –  and so it’s a useful source of both pollen and nectar for bees when there’s not much else available.

I’ve just found a stunning video which really relates to my last post and the orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis. I found it on the ARKive site – worth a look for wildlife videos, especially for schools. The film shows exactly what Darwin was writing about, as the moth collects nectar and can’t avoid getting pollen sacs glued to its proboscis, and then takes them to fertilise another flower.  More oral gratification for the moth – but I wonder how it gets the pollen sacs off again – must be worse than a bit of sellotape on your fingers. You can find the video by clicking here.

What else could I play now but ‘Lucky lips’, by Ruth Brown, from 1957.  Her energy and bounce were incredible, and she sold so many records for Atlantic that it became known as ‘the house that Ruth built’. If you watch her lips closely on the video, you’ll see that she’s singing another song, but hey, what do you want for free entertainment ?

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