Thursday, 21 April 2011

Toothwort...


April’s showers and warm spring sunshine are getting our plants off to a flying start. But, great conditions in the garden will also make for good growth in weeds. They would happily take over if it were not for our timely interventions, but I still have the greatest respect for these ‘plants in the wrong place’. After all, they are generally just our most successful and better adapted native wild flowers. They were around long before our plots came into existence, and justifiably see your well prepared soil as their rightful home.

Weeds will always be with us and I find its worth getting to know them as individuals. I like to be able to identity every one, not just as an aid to their easier eradication, but to bring interest to weeding, an otherwise thankless task. So treat these floral wonders with the respect they deserve before consigning them to the compost heap.

Its not just flower borders that get their share of weeds either. Walling, gravel drives, pots, ponds, shrubs and veg areas all provide particular niches for their own specialist plant invaders  - native flora whose specific habitat you have kindly re-created. 
Lawns too, fill up with weeds, or wildflowers, depending on your point of view. There is of course a place for an impressive monoculture of grass, perhaps on the bowling green or cricket square. But, elsewhere surely we can all take pleasure from lesser lawns decorated by daisies and studded with the bright spring yellows of celandines and dandelions, and sky blue carpets of speedwells. 

This is also the time of year when of one of our more unusual lawn residents pops its head out to flower. It is the ‘Toothwort’, Lathraea squamaria, whose short, ghostly white flower spikes push through the grass blades at the base of our big old lime trees. It contains none of the green pigment chlorophyll, that converts sunshine to energy for the rest of the plant kingdom. Instead, this parasite stealthily steals its sustenance from the roots of others around it - a true vegetable vampire!

You see, there can be interest in all our weeds, or wildflowers... Those ‘Toothwort’s’ deathly pale flowers sprouting straight from the ground gave rise to the theory they were sustained by rotting bodies in shallow graves. Their other chilling name being ‘Corpsewort’!
What’s lurking at the bottom of your garden?

2 comments:

  1. Yay! I found toothwort for the first time this year in a woodland in early April. Many had been grazed down (perhaps by slugs as they were right under leaves). Fantastic little plant - corpsewort a very apt name, they are indeed pallid.
    Mel

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  2. Hi Mel. Ours comes up under the lime trees every year. I am now on the look out for that other parasite Dodder that you blogged so informatively about....

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