Cast your clouts!

Cow parsley on the Parkland Walk

A quick post today as I’m stuck at home.

I was out in my favourite place, the Parkland Walk, a few days ago. This time a couple of us were identifying the flowers that were out in May. The most profuse was the cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris). There it was frothing away at the sides of the path leading up to the walkway beside the bridge at Stapleton Hall Road. I don’t know why it’s called cow parsley – as far as I know the cows don’t eat it. It’s variously known as Queen’s Anne lace, wild chervil or (in Yorkshire) keks. But one of the most evocative names is mother’s dead or mother’s die, or even the less sexist deadman’s flourish, based on its similarity with hemlock, which is poisonous.

On the Stroud Green meadowland, a steep bank sloping towards Florence Road, we identified a number of ‘damned yellow composites’ (the equivalent of the ‘little brown job’ in birding terms!), those dandelion-like composite flowers of the Asteraceae family. Aside from dandelions there was a coltsfoot (Tussilaga farfara) and a cat’s ear (Hypercaeris radicata)- the latter is similar to the dandelion but has hairy basal leaves with the shape and feel of a cats’ ears. Just as we were ready to leave the meadow we came across a single yellow goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis), also known as meadow salsify or more intriguingly Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon on account of its tendency to open its flowers in the morning sunshine. It has rather spectacular bracts which encase the petals.

We looked at bushes and shrubs too just to see what species were emerging in the meadow. At the bottom of the slope towards the Florence Road gardens are more substantial trees and shrubs, including a mature hawthorn tree, or may, which was fully out. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the phrase, ‘Ne’er cast a clout till May be out’. There seems to be a dispute about whether this means not taking off your jacket until the may blossom is out, or until the month of May is out. Which one I do not know, but it was a rather nice day so we did consider casting our clouts.

Cow parsley
Dandelion
Coltsfoot
A photo of an original antique illustration by John Sowerby published in 1860s in The English Botany.
Goats beard or Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon
Ne’er cast a clout till May be out

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