Field madder – flowers in miniature

Yesterday I found a gem of an area for wild flowers. I was walking (I should have been jogging!) round the trim track at the Recreation Ground. Along the north-east edge – the long side that runs on from the skate park – is a bareish length of chalky ground. At first glance this area looks a bit of a mess and lacking in growth – especially compared to the lush green of the Rec’s grass. But this is just the sort of area where wild flowers have a chance to grow.

The chalky patch of bareish ground between the trim track and the hedge is full of wild flower plants

As I looked closer I spotted big clumps of Field Madder. I use ‘big’ advisedly, for this is a low-growing, creeping plant with tiny leaves and even tinier flowers. But once you have spotted the flowers, you see more and more.

Pinky-purple field madder flowers, my thumb gives an idea of their tiny size

Field madder used to be common in arable fields, but is now much less frequent because of arable intensification. This patch of what looks like wasteland, gives gems such as this beautiful small plant a place to thrive.

What has happened here is that seeds of wild flowers which have sat in the soil for years – in the ‘seed bank’ – have suddenly been given the right conditions to grow – a bit of disturbance, and space – they are not competing with the vigorous grass, or nettles or thistles. The plant species growing here are ones that love chalk, and so are similar to the special flora of the chalky Devil’s Dyke. We need to keep watching this area, as who knows what special species will appear.

I counted the number of different species in a small patch of this area and compared this with the number of species in the same size patch of lush green grass. The bareish patch won hands down. Soon it will be dazzling with all sorts of wild flowers in bloom, which in turn will provide a feast for butterflies, bees, hoverflies.. and our eyes.

To really appreciate how special this area, have a go yourself at counting the number of species in a small area of this edge, and contrast the total with the number in the same sized area of the adjacent grassland. If you have children, take huulahoops or a skipping rope, to mark out an area to count. You don’t need to be able to identify the species. The difference in leaf shapes will enable you to tell and so count different species.

Look out for similar bareish patches as you walk round the village. These are where wild plants get a chance to grow. In particular, I’d love to know if you see field madder elsewhere.