Thursday, 15 December 2011

Winter rosettes

If you look hard in sheltered locations you can still see a few flowers out - Daisies and Dandelions can be seen in all months and on Tuesday 13th Dec, I heard of Snowdrops in bloom in a St Ola garden. But even if the plant is not flowering there is plenty still to see. At the weekend I was out on the north shore of Burray which is washed by the waters of Weddell Sound. Plenty of birds including Long-tailed Ducks and a single female Common Scoter. In a geo near the broch I came upon a great gathering of large rosettes of Buck's-horn Plantain and the more I looked at them the more I was transfixed by their seemingly perfect symmetry.

North shore of Burray

The sandy geo packed with Buck's-horn Plantains

And here's the draft text for this underrated and understated plant:

Buck’s-horn Plantain (Plantago coronopus) 
Plantain family
Height to 10cm; flowers May to July. Easy to find.
Very widespread and abundant in Orkney (26/28) and in Britain (1272/2852) although absent from high ground.

In very exposed conditions the circular rosettes of leaves are often strikingly conspicuous on bare earth or in short grassland near the coast. They are the tiny spokes of a tiny cartwheel or J.C.Loudon’s ‘star of the earth’ in his mid-Victorian Encyclopaedia of Gardening. Those plants closest to the harshest of the elements are the most hairy and take on a sheen of silver. This biennial is the only Plantain in which the leaves are divided into toothed leaflets; plants in less exposed locations are bigger and more upright and the antler-like leaves resemble the horns of a buck. The flowers are yellow-brown and sit in short greenish spikes on top of an unfurrowed stalk.

Its distribution in Orkney and Britain is chiefly coastal but in the south and southeast of England it ventures quite far inland and as with some oher halophytes, it is increasing beside salt-treated roads.

Plantains were valued as healing herbs chiefly because of their ability to withstand trampling. Sympathetically this would mean that they could remedy bruising, crushing, tearing, burns and sores. It is however likely that other members of the Plantain family were utilised rather than the small and at times insignificant Buck’s-horn Plantain.