A stitchwort in time is mighty fine


No sooner had we started to get used to some proper summer weather when the wind changed back into the east and we were back to square one again, with temperatures back in single figures at the weekend.

However, the earlier heat followed by a couple of wet days brought forth an amazing amount of growth, particularly in the weed department, as gardeners will testify.

The countryside has also burgeoned into life, with lush grass and verdant foliage rampant everywhere.

Wild flowers are struggling to compete, but somehow they always manage to get their heads above the ever-thickening ground cover to present their colourful heads to any passing flying insects, which they require to assist them in their annual quest for pollination.

Particularly abundant on my home stretch of riverside woodland is the stitchwort. I have two varieties in particular which flourish – wood stitchwort and greater stitchwort. To the untrained eye they may seem quite similar, but closer inspection reveals several marked differences.

Wood stitchwort has five white petals, as has greater, but they are cut much deeper down the middle, so that it appears to have twice as many. Its leaves are much broader than the narrow, grass-like ones of greater stitchwort and it is almost always found growing in shady woodlands, whereas the other one is less specific in its preferred habitat.

As the name suggests, it was once used to cure a pain in the side (stitch), when it was mixed with powdered acorns and dissolved in wine. Sceptics among us might be inclined to credit the wine with the cure rather than the flower.

Delving into an old wild flower book, I discovered that greater stitchwort has amassed an amazing array of local names. Some of the more bizarre include adder’s meat, bachelor’s buttons, Billy White’s buttons, brandy snaps, cuckoo’s victuals, dead man’s bones, devil’s eyes, pick pocket, shepherd’s weather glass, snapwort, and thunder flower.

The latter came about because the unripe capsule contains air and when pressed goes off with a bang. A practice once enjoyed by children prior to the invention of the games console.

June is great to get out and discover the world of wild flowers. You don’t have to go far. Just don’t weed the garden for a bit and you will soon be amazed at what turns up!