Sunday, 4 September 2011

The variety that is Devil's-bit Scabious

No one can have failed to notice how abundant Devil's-bit Scabious is at this time of the year in Orkney. It really is the dominant flowering plant on dry heath, maritime heath and heathy roadside verges.

Devil's-bit Scabious on coastal heath with the papery seed capsules of Spring Squill containing seeds of jet waiting to fall to the ground

Most of the flowerheads are lilac-blue but every so often you bump into different shades of pink and even creamy white

The leaves are hirsute and often very heavily spotted.
And here is the draft for the book:

16. Devil’s-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis)                
Blue Bonnets, Blue Buttons, Blue Heads, Blue Kiss.
Teasel family
Height to 80cm; flowers June to October. Very easy to find.
Very widespread and abundant in Orkney (25/28) and in Britain (2395/2852) although absent from parts of East Anglia.

One of the most conspicuous of Orkney’s late summer flowers, Devil’s-bit Scabious is known from just about everywhere in the county except Sule Skerry. It enjoys moist and slightly acidic soils and although it is frequently encountered amongst cliff-top heath, it is also profuse on inland heaths, in rough grassland and in mires but it is predictably scarce in sandy areas. The rounded flowerheads are generally in shades of purple, violet, mauve and blue but occasionally white or pink may be met with. Colloquial names referring to the colour of the flowerheads are widespread nationally and include Blue Bonnets from Somerset, Blue Buttons from Yorkshire, Blue Heads from Shropshire and Blue Kiss from Sussex. It is a hairy perennial with elliptical, untoothed leaves which often have dark blotches.

The plant has a very short root-stock as though part of it has been bitten off. The story goes that the Devil was envious of the plant’s ability and virtue and bit the root to destroy or render it less effective. In medieval times it was the apothecaries’ plant for the scab or scabies but in later years it was considered a herbal cure-all especially for scrofula and toothache.

No comments:

Post a Comment