Thursday, 2 April 2020

Flower of the day Thursday 2nd April 2020

Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna)
Today's flower is the beautiful Lesser Celandine, another wildling, a harbinger of Spring. It brightens the darkest ditch or woodland with its gleaming yellow cups before the leaves of trees cut out the light. It has blessed me by coming  into the garden as a volunteer without my help. I did once plant a small patch I found in the ditch with pretty black markings on its heart-shaped leaves, but that seems to have reverted to the ordinary wild type. There are several much more spectacular varieties you can buy in the horticultural trade, such as 'Brazen Hussy' and 'Coppernob' with dark purple leaves, and 'Collarette' with double flowers - but I really prefer the wild type.

The proper scientific name for the Lesser Celandine is Ficaria verna, but the older among us will know it by the name given it by the great 18th century botanist Carl Linnaeus - Ranunculus ficaria L. This reveals its close relationship to the buttercups in the genus Ranunculus. Oh why do the botanical systematists keep changing the names of the plants we learned as children!

Another, much less attractive name for it is Pilewort, because historically it was used to treat piles (hemorrhoids). An ointment of raw leaves is still recommended in some herbal guides for application to the affected area. Supposedly, the knobby tubers of the plant resemble piles, and according to the doctrine of signatures, this resemblance suggested that Pilewort could be used to cure piles. Please don't try this at home - far better to enjoy the fleeting blossoms!

Wordsworth, when he wasn't wandering lonely as a cloud admiring daffodills, was very fond of Celandines - he wrote no fewer than three poems about them. Here are the first lines of one of them:
To the small Celandine
Pansies, Lilies, Kingcups, Daisies,
Let them live upon their praises;
Long as there's a sun that sets
Primroses will have their glory;
Long as there are Violets,
They will have a place in story:
There's a flower that shall be mine,
'Tis the little Celandine.

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