Sunday, 5 June 2011

Ragged Robin

One of my favourite wild flower sites is to the west of Chorlton. I’m not going to describe exactly where it is because ... well, it’s a secret!

I visit my secret site several times a year so that I can observe the succession of fine flowers which adorn it.

My most recent visit was last week when it was decorated with Marsh Orchids (Dactylorhiza spp.) and several magnificent stands of Ragged Robin (Silene flos-cuculi *).

According to one of my favourite wild flower books (1) Ragged Robin is a common perennial plant of wet meadows, marshes, fens and wet woodlands on mineral or peaty soils (I think that the soils on my site are quite complex because, like much of the Mersey Valley, it has been variously stripped and tipped on and generally messed about with). Ragged Robin flowers during late spring and early summer (about now, of course!) and is pollinated by a variety of butterflies and day-flying moths.

Although Ragged Robin is a striking plant, with its fair share of vernacular names, Geoffrey Grigson (2) tells us that it has “few associations”. He quotes the great Tudor herbalist, John Gerard who reported that: “These are not used either in medicine or in nourishment: but they serve for garlands and crowns, and to decke up gardens.” Nevertheless, in another passage Grigson discusses the ‘Robin’ name in the context of Herb Robert (Geranium sanguineum). He writes: “The name Robin, a diminutive of Robert by way of French, seems innocent in its attachment to flowers, but most of the Robin flowers appear to have been linked to goblin, robin and evil ... and snakes, death, the devil, fairies, sex, and cuckoos.” Therefore Grigson appears to have uncovered few recorded associations for Ragged Robin but suggests that the name implies that several sinister associations may once have existed. Mind you the fairies told me that everything would be fine as long as I paid the tithe ... anyone know where I can get a unicorn’s horn?

Richard Mabey (3) reports that Ragged Robin is a declining plant of wet meadows. Sadly, many British wild flowers could be said to be ‘declining’ but this one still occurs in a small number of Mersey Valley sites, including my secret site – which is probably the best of them (anyway, that’s what the fairies told me to say ...)

Dave Bishop, June 2011

1. 'The Wild Flowers of the British Isles’, illustrated by Ian Garrard, text by David Streeter, Macmillan, 1983.

2. ‘The Englishman’s Flora’ by Geoffrey Grigson, Paladin, 1975 (first pub. 1958).

3. ‘Flora Britannica’ by Richard Mabey, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1996.

*This plant’s scientific name has changed recently from Lychnis flos-cuculi to Silene flos-cuculi (see Stace, 3rd edition, 2010).

No comments: