The na­ture of things


Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook - Illustration by Bill Dono­hoe

THE ex­trav­a­gant, but­ter­cup flow­ers of marsh-marigold seem to be the essence of golden sun­shine, many of them col­lared by large, round or heart-shaped leaves, all of which give this plant great pres­ence for its mo­ment of spring glory, which can last for many weeks. Scat­tered across pas­tures, spread around the feet of de­cid­u­ous trees in wet wood­lands, spring­ing up in windswept marshes or along stream banks and ditches, this is a plant that rel­ishes hav­ing soggy feet.

Flora Bri­tan­nica ad­vises that, in the Isle of Man, where plant rit­u­als sur­vived un­til very re­cently, ‘it was held in high re­gard as a spring omen, and flow­ers were strewn on doorsteps on old May Eve. Now the cus­tom of bring­ing “mayflower”… into the house is en­joy­ing some­thing of a re­vival, and im­pro­vised vases of blooms have been seen on counters and in shop win­dows’.

Caltha palus­tris is con­sid­ered to be a truly an­cient na­tive plant, hav­ing sur­vived through pe­ri­ods of glacia­tion, sub­se­quently flour­ish­ing in the drenched land­scapes watered by melted ice. Nu­mer­ous fly­ing in­sects, at­tracted by the highly vis­i­ble yel­low flow­ers, for­age for nec­tar and pollen. The pop­u­lar name of ‘marsh­marigold’ is self-ex­plana­tory and another, ‘kingcup’, refers to a golden but­ton or stud—cop in Old English—on royal at­tire. Lo­calised monikers in­clude may-blobs, molly blobs, polly­blobs, wa­ter-bub­bles and, more mys­te­ri­ously, ‘the pub­li­can’. KBH

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