Nearly exactly a month ago I was delighted to find the tiny lilac-purple flowers of field madder on the bareish bank, to the north east side of the Recreation Ground. But there is no missing the tall yellow spikes of the gloriously named ‘wild mignonette’ now out in flower along the same bank. These are wild flowers dressed to go to a ball… and our insects love them!
Apart from the joy of the plants themselves, wild flowers tell us about the makeup of the underlying soil. Only certain species grow on particular soils. As all those of you who are gardeners know, one of the commonest failures in gardening is to put plants in that do not suit the local soil – they do not grow well! So to with wild flowers – different areas of the country, or even different lanes within the same village, have different wild flowers according to the underlying soil and climate. So, wild mignonette can be seen growing along road verges and on edges of cultivated land all around the chalky land of the Brecks, to the north of Burwell.
These flowers become part of the culture of the area – as reflected in the naming of a county flower. For Cambridgeshire people voted for pasque flower, which we are lucky to have growing near us along the chalky Devil’s Dyke. (Devon’s county flower is primrose, which would not enjoy Devils’ Dyke’s chalky soil at all!)
Wild mignonette, is growing at the Rec because this species has adapted to thrive on chalky soil. The whole ecosystem at the Rec is built round this chalky under-surface with the insects, including moths and butterflies, that depend on plants for their food, ones that feed off these specialist chalk loving plants. Each individual flower looks slightly scruffy, it wouldn’t make a Chelsea Flower Show Gold – but it does its job.
I am going this afternoon to see how many different insects I can find feeding on one plant. Lets have a competition: let me know how many insects, and different species of insects you find on one clump of wild mignonette. I will publish the results in a future post… the person with the most will win a hand lens!
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