Return to Windmill Hill: Of Grasshopper Stalking, Lady’s Bedstraw And Other Random Discoveries

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Today I thought it was time to check on the floral happenings in our remnant of limestone meadow up on Windmill Hill. It’s a few weeks since I was last up there, and the spring flowers are giving way to summer species. Perhaps one of  the most pleasing finds were these drifts of Lady’s Bedstraw,  seen here below the windmill.

It is also called Lady’s Tresses, and  it smells of honeyed summer pasture. Once it would be gathered and dried and included with the straw that was used to fill mattresses. It was often chosen for the beds of pregnant women, so surrounding those in their confinement with soothing wafts of sweet hay scents.

I think this is a practice we could revive, not that we are allowed to harvest wild flowers. I’m envisaging now a pillow filled  with golden stems. Surely it would be just the thing to send us sleep-fractured souls back to dreamland. And even if it didn’t, it would make being wakeful a pleasure.

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The spotted orchids  I first found last month for Meg are nearly over (by the way, you should see Meg’s sundews found in Australia’s  Stanthorpe granite country over at Snippetsandsnaps). But following on from the common spotted are the pyramidal orchids, which range in colour from lipstick pink to purple. I also discover from plantlife.org.uk that these, like many orchids, require the presence of a particular fungus in the soil in order to flower.

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I also discover from Richard Mabey’s treasure of a book, Flora Britannica,  that when the Victorian art critic, John Ruskin, learned that the name orchid derived from the Greek word orkhis  meaning testicle, he urged that the flower’s name be changed to wreathewort. Personally, I don’t think this any sort of improvement. The man was a prude. Besides, the reason that orchids are named after testicles is because their roots’ appearance do a pretty good impersonation of same. Doubtless this was why they were long considered a useful remedy for a lapsed libido – a herbal fancy and fallacy I imagine, so do  not try this at home.

While I was scrabbling around on my knees in the grass, thinking what strange things I have started doing since joining WordPress, I became distracted by a grasshopper. This is not the greatest shot. He is lurking on the leaves of greater knapweed, Centaurea scabiosa. Very well camouflaged I thought.

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While I was down there, because believe me, once you get down on your knees you need to make the most of it, I also discovered some Lady’s Bedstraw caught inside a web. It looks like a shroud. You can just see the tiny spider due south of the flower:

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And now here is one of Windmill Hill’s  more sinister-looking plant specimens, – the very upright prickly spires of Viper’s bugloss. Apparently the flower’s fruits resemble adders’ heads, and other names include adderwort and snake flower. As well as colonising limestone areas, you will also find it growing on chalky and industrially contaminated soils. Like other members of the Echium family, which includes borage and comfrey, it is attractive to bees.

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And here’s another bee favourite – Wild Thyme:

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Thyme is of course a must in the kitchen. It is also a common medicinal herb. All forms of the plant contain the volatile oil thymol, a powerful antiseptic, which is often included in cough mixtures. I use thyme (fresh or dried) steeped in hot water with honey and fresh lemon juice when I have a cold or cough.

And talking of thyme, it’s time to head for home. So I’ll leave you with one last view of the windmill and some more flowers named after testicles. Not that it’s in any way connected, but I had to lie down in the grass to take this shot – a fine way for the minuting secretary of Much Wenlock Civic Society to conduct herself. It was just as well there were none of the usual walkers and their dogs around for me to frighten:

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This excursion, but naturally not the bit about the orchid’s etymology, was inspired by Jo’s Monday Walk. Please join her there for some fascinating rambles.

copyright 2105 Tish Farrell

56 thoughts on “Return to Windmill Hill: Of Grasshopper Stalking, Lady’s Bedstraw And Other Random Discoveries

  1. When you say harvesting wild flowers is illegal does this include picking them as well?

    Hmm, lying down at the thought of plants like testicles not connected?
    Is this a fallacy or a phallusy, I wonder?

    1. Ha! Don’t say I don’t feed you good prompts, pun-wise, Ark 😀 And yes, as far as I know, the picking of wild flowers is illegal these days.

      1. Reminds me of something Terry Pratchett wrote in one of the Tiffany Aching novels about if the Creator wanted people to pick flowers he would have made more!
        I quite like this, don’t you?

      2. My son mentioned there were plans afoot to continue the Discworld series , probably in a similar vein as the franchised Star Trek novels, but Lyn Pratchett said no. Thank goodness they had the foresight to include her in the copyright.

    1. Educational indeed. I became familiar with the word “orchi” when I was faced with an orchiectomy and went from having two “orchid roots” to having no orchid roots. It is nonetheless interesting to read more about the etymology of the orchid.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed walking with you Tish. Loved the etymology of the orchid, and agree wreathwort is no improvement. That’s one enormous web for one tiny spider! And that last photo! Definitely worth lying down in the grass for. It’s a beauty! I frequently get down on the ground for photos, and prone if need be 🙂
    Alison

  3. Thank you so much, sleep-fractured lady 🙂 I appreciate your rolling in the grass on my behalf (or Meg’s 🙂 ) It fascinates me how you and Jude just trip out the names of these wee beauties. I’m hopeless at naming wild flowers. Your deep pink orchids appear to have much longer stems than the ones I’ve featured from the sandy soil around this coast. Your post title makes it compulsive reading. Many thanks, Tish. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Jo. I do have the best wild flower book in the world, now sadly out of print, but findable in second hand book shops – W Keble Martin – The New Concise British Flora.

  4. What beauties you have in your meadow. I am tempted to go and have a look up on Whitcliffe Common, but I have never noticed any testicles orchids there.

  5. I love your interweaving of photos, herb lore, etymology, botanical names – and orchids of course. The first photo is a particular beauty. And I like the image of the minuting secretary sprawled amongst the wreathewort. I don’t have such status at Potato Point to worry about, but one of my son’s mates did say to him “What was your mother doing flat on her face at the tideline?(Photographing seaweed, of course.) I also empathise with making the most of being down before getting up again.

    My sundews are honoured to be mentioned amongst your Windmill Hill flora!

    1. And I hardly started, Gilly. When I was down on my knees I discovered there was another miniature botanical world down there, flowers too tiny to photograph well, and ones I’d never noticed before.

  6. Is there also a grasshopper on the stem of the orchid in the third photo? Perhaps it’s just a dry piece of grass. Beds, testicles, ‘phallacies’ ~ no wonder there is floral fecundity everywhere.

  7. What a fascinating post Tish, so much information and the descriptions of your contortions to bring these wild beauties to share with us had me chuckling. I love seeing your leaning windmill of Much Wenlock surrounded by so many wild flowers. I must admit I had to look and then look again before I spotted that very well camouflaged grass hopper. Pattersons Curse is the same plant as your Vipers Bugloss it was brought over here as an ornamental garden plant by a certain Jane Patterson and escaped to become a major pest. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Echium_plantagineum_in_Australia

    1. Just been to the link. What a fascinating little story, but with some very bad consequences. Jane’s Salvation, as an alternative name, caught my eye.

      1. It does look amazingly beautiful though when we drove by acres and acres of purple stretching to the horizon. I’m sure I must have some photos of it somewhere in the archives from when we travelled around Australia

      2. I’ve never seen it grow like that in the UK. I first saw it in a reclaimed chalk pit in Kent, but otherwise only on Windmill Hill. This is the problem with translocated pests, they seem to totally THRIVE in new territory. It’s reminding me of water hyacinth which is a curse in Africa.

  8. Glad you took the thyme to write this one up. Delightful to read. I hope I don’t sound sexist, but it took a lot of balls to write about those orchids… I mean it took a lot of orchids….I mean the orchids…

  9. Paterson’s curse because it takes over pasture and poisons cattle. Also called salvation jane, because it’s feed for cattle in drought (go figure) and it’s also good for bees.

    My first encounter was as a city girl visiting a country property. Not only did I rave about the beauty of a noxious weed. I also managed to shut the farm gate with me on the wrong side of it. And I was supposed to be teaching their children!
    http://weeds.dpi.nsw.gov.au/Weeds/Details/102

    1. Just been looking at the weeds site. The infested fields look amazing. I have never seen anything like that in the UK. As I was saying to Pauline, apart from a few spikes on Windmill Hill, I’ve only seen it growing in a few rather more prolific clumps in a Kent chalk pit. Never in farm fields. There must be something in Australian soil that hits all its buttons, or else nothing there to inhibit its spread. Weeds = an interesting subject.

  10. What a lovely sight to behold Tish! It was such an interesting walk and I absolutely adore all the flowers and that windmill is absolutely gorgeous! You’ve captured it all so beautifully. Stunning shots! 😀

  11. A beautiful wrap of your photos, voice, history, information, humour…especially like the bit about the orchid name, I didn’t know. I put ice cubes on mine (three a week) to keep them hydrated, but not too much. (Ha!)

      1. Oh, go on! I anyway go for cheap – of a well qualified sort that is 🙂 I’m thinking of you in this moment of transition. But just think of all the material you will have, living between different worlds. It will be a big trip in all senses.

      2. Spot on Tish–and be on the lookout for creepy bearded Americans this winter because we’ll be scouring through the UK for 90 days, assuming the budget holds up.

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