Cuckoo flower

Posted: Tuesday 7 May 2013
by James Alexander-Sinclair

Sometimes the best things are the subtle things. A little rustle of wind through a tree, the distant knock-knocking of a thrush beating seven bells out of a snail...

Sometimes the best things are the subtle or quiet things. A little rustle of wind through a tree, the distant knock-knocking of a thrush beating seven bells out of a snail or, in this case, a modest wildflower lurking among the rough grass beside a ditch.

I always smile when I see these. They live in the margins of the woodland adjoined to our garden, serving as a reticent link between the wood anemones and the full on fanfare of the bluebells. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Cardamine pratensis. The name sounds like it should belong to a haughty Spanish princess sashaying through the Mexican desert, like Victoria Montoya who married John Cannon in the 1960s television series, The High Chaparral.

In fact, this is not a haughty plant at all. It is down to earth and a great part of the British countryside. Cardamine pratensis is commonly known as the cuckoo flower, presumably because it flowers at the same time as the cuckoo appears (we noticed both on the same day). The cuckoo flower is a member of the brassica family, which is apparent in the flowers. It grows best near water, hence its presence by my ditch.

As folklore has it, this plant is sacred to the fairies and is therefore unlucky if brought indoors. I have no idea what terrible revenge the fairies would wreak upon you if you did, but sometimes even when you know that these things are just ridiculous superstitions, it is better to just go along with it. Apart from anything else, a band of vengeful Tinkerbells would cause havoc amongst the seedlings on the windowsill.

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Richard Jones 08/05/2013 at 09:31

To me it is always ladies' smock, food-plant of the orange-tip.

Bookertoo 08/05/2013 at 09:59

It wasn't particularly subtle, but last night when I was scarifying the grass before the expected rain came, a robin and a pair of blackbirds took grave exception to my being in 'their' garden at all.  The noise level was incredible, and absolutely wonderful.   I finished the task and went inside, leaving the garden to them, with a big smile on my face and a feeling all was right with the world,  not something we get too often. Today while it rains and greens up the grass, they are down finding all the things I scraped up, picking up bits of loose moss and grass - while I admire a large pot of cream tulips - balm for the sould gardening is - sometimes. 

Jim Macd 12/05/2013 at 10:14

I love it too ever since seeing a few plants in the field behind where I grew up. I have it in my meadow and increase it with plugs grown from seed where I feel there isn't enough of it. I always known it as 'ladies' smock or cuckoo flower' since that's how it was labelled in my wildflower book as a child. :-)