Byng Brook Orchard ID - part 1

This week's blog is a summary of what I've learned about some of the plants identified in the orchard so far. Hopefully the first instalment of a few!

Firstly, let's discuss how you identify plants that you aren't familiar with or if they are small and haven't yet grown their recognisable flowers/leaves.  The best way, no doubt, is to ask someone that knows.  They will tell you all about it - colloquial names, interesting facts, what it can be used for, is it edible etc.  If you don't have access to a botanical master then you can try books or maybe the internet but I wouldn't rely on an internet search if you are planning on sautéing the plant for dinner.  Another method I have recently discovered is an app called PictureThis.  It seems fairly reliable. You take a photograph and it scans its database to find a match.  It then gives you various details including its common name, latin name, fun facts and even the occasional poem.  I really like it!

So here follows the first three ID cards of Byng Brook Orchard.

Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis Perennis)

I thought I'd start with a poisonous one! A perennial with an unpleasant smell and often found in ancient woodlands. It will eventually grow up to about 35cm with small un-showy flowers from February to April. According to the Woodland Trust website it can be used to indicate the site of ancient woodlands - even if the site no longer contains trees.  I suppose, this could be an indicator of Byng Brook Orchard being located on an Ancient Woodland site (or maybe just ancient hedgerows...).

Plant Height (cm)                     35

Flower size (cm)                         1

Rarity                                          2

Flowering length (months)        3

Bee factor                                    1

FUN FACT - It can be used to make a pretty blue dye!

Cuckoo Pint (Arum maculatem)

To continue the trend of poisonous but useful woodland plants here is Cuckoo Pint - known by lots of other names including Lords and Ladies, Cows and Bulls,  Bobbins and Friar's Cowl. Their gender-related names refer to its flowers resembling the male and female anatomy.  All of the plant can cause allergic reactions due to its high content of oxalic acid (as found in rhubarb leaves and used to treat varroa mites in bees!).  One of its most interesting historical uses is that its tuber used to be dried and ground to create a powder which was made into a popular pre coffee and tea stimulant drink called Saloop.  Enjoyed profusely in 18th century England but went out of favour due to its connection to treating venereal disease. 

Plant Height (cm)                      45

Flower size (cm)                        20

Rarity                                          2

Flowering length (months)        2

Bee factor                                    4

FUN FACT - Powdered Arum root would be used by 18th century Parisian ladies to whiten their skin.

Common Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)

A herbaceous perennial in the same family as cow parsley and fennel and indeed Giant Hogweed which is very poisonous, so obviously shouldn't be confused. A little care should be taken with Common hogweed however because it does contain some compounds which react to UV light and so can often cause burns and rashes when strimming or scything.

Its flowers, that look similar to cow parsley, appear between June and October and are amazing nectar providers for honey bees.

Plant Height (cm)                     180

Flower size (cm)                         30

Rarity                                          2

Flowering length (months)        5

Bee factor                                    9

FUN FACT - known as the bear's paw in Romania and taken as an aphrodisiac!


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