From looking upwards at the leaves of trees, I’ve been looking down at my feet, in shady places under trees. So many flower species are blooming now I am going to give you two in one go, one purple, one blue – ground ivy and germander speedwell – and follow that tomorrow with a third, bugle. Each are only a hand span high, if that and at first glance could be confused.
Ground ivy is a common garden ‘weed’, with a propensity to spread rapidly by sending out runners that root. How much time do you spend pulling up this species in your garden?! Its latin name is glechoma hederacea – maybe the sound of that alone ought to lift this species into the ranks of respected garden plants! However, its common names – creeping Charlie, or hedge maids – perhaps keep it down the ranks! Hedera is latin for ‘ivy’, after its ivy-shaped leaves. I hadn’t realised it belonged to the mint family and is aromatic. Next time I find some, I will be giving it a good sniff. Like other mints, it is edible and has been put to all sorts of healing uses over the ages. I’m not about to advise any here but I find it salutary to remember that many of our medicines have origins in plants. Their survival is important to us as well as to themselves and the creatures that depend on them.
I saw clumps of germander speedwell, like blue hazy mirages in the long grass, on the edge of the footpath, that runs left (NE) just after the railway bridge as you go out of the village towards Exning. Possibly speedwells’ habit of growing alongside paths gave these plants the mediaeval name of speeds-you-well – travellers would pin a flower to their coat for luck. Of the speedwells out in flower now, germander speedwell is the most upright, with new flowers coming out above the one that has just ‘gone over’, so forming a spike.
To distinguish germander from the other speedwells, there are several things to look at. First, note how the leaves are in pairs going up the stem and have no stalk. Second, the flowers are strikingly blue, with a stunning white eye. I’m told that the flower is so heavenly blue, in Wales it is known as Christ’s eye. Now for the clincher. One of the things I love about Germander speedwell is that it has a feature that cannot be confused: its distinctive hairy legs! Only this speedwell has two rows of hairs, one up each side of the stem. Maybe this could become a new Lockdown fashion?!
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