Friday, 3 April 2009

Field Woodrush

Back in the 1980s the Guardian newspaper ran a sort of a sort of comic strip soap opera drawn by the cartoonist, Posy Simmonds. It was about the lives of the Weber family who lived in a village in the rural Home Counties (all Jemimas and Agas, gymkhanas and Justins). One strip in the series began with the line, “spring has sprung and Luzula campestris flourishes her chestnut blossoms”. That line has always stuck in my mind – if only for its wilful obscurity!
Actually, though, the Field Woodrush, Luzula campestris is small and insignificant, rather than ‘obscure’; it is, in fact, very common in the spring time and can be found in short grass everywhere.
It is common enough to have acquired some vernacular names – including ‘Good Friday Grass’ and ‘Sweep’s Brooms’. The former name alludes to the fact that its flowers usually appear around Easter-time. In some parts of the country the appearance of these tiny flowers signified to farmers that it was time to put over-wintering cattle out to pasture.
Field Woodrush is a member of the Rush family (Juncaceae) and, although it looks a bit like one, it is not a grass – as the ‘Good Friday Grass’ name implies. One of the characteristics of Field Woodrush, and other Woodrushes, is the long white hairs which fringe the leaves (you can see these in the photograph above).
I must now make a confession. For many years I thought that the generic name, ‘Luzula’ was pronounced ‘Loo-zoola’. This pronunciation had a sort of African quality about it – indeed I could imagine Tarzan having a pet cheetah called ‘Loo-zoola’ (“Ah Loo-zoola, you have made a good kill! We will dine well on raw antelope tonight!"). Unfortunately, I have recently discovered that the correct pronunciation is, ‘Luz-yoola’. Frankly, I find this pronunciation a bit disappointing – the only thing that it conjures up, for me, is nothing more exciting than a brand of Romanian washing powder!

Dave Bishop, April 2009

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