April 1, 2011

Botany, Miss Spooner?

"What makes you think I would be interested in something so tedious as botany?"

While I wouldn't go so far as to declare myself interested in botany, exactly, I have found that poking through Jenny's book on British flora is a great deal more enjoyable than I might have expected. She started keeping a notebook of common British plants a while back, since most of her stories take place in Britain, but it was not until I reread The Eagle of the Ninth last month that I realized how shockingly little I know about the details of the British landscape. So I started my own notebook, sketching plants and writing down their basic information. I haven't gotten very far (right now ships' rigging, cannon balls, and the names of all the ships in the British Navy around 1803 are more in my line of research), but here are the plants I have completed pages on so far.

Gorse (Ulex europaeus): Also known as "furze" or "whin." An evergreen shrub; grows 7-10 feet tall; covered in long spines. Flowers are yellow and pea-like, clustered on stems 2-6 ft tall; blooms March-May (primarily). Extremely common on heath and grows throughout Britain. Falling into it is not advised.

Purple Heather (Erica cinerea): Also known as "Fine-leaved Heath" and "Bell Heather." Low-growing shrub, leaves growing three-in-a-whorl. Flowers are purple, rarely white, and bell-shaped; blooms July-August. Grows on heath; extremely common. Used as ornamental flower.

Broom (Cytisus scoparius): Also known as "Common Broom," "Scotch Broom," and "English Broom." Deciduous shrub growing 3-9 feet tall, leaves silky. Covered in spring and summer with yellow flowers, sometimes blotched with red; blooms May-June. Seed pods are black and mature in late summer, opening with an audible crack. Grows on heaths in sun and dry, sandy soil. Hardy; withstands temperatures as low as -25 degrees Celsius.

Spear Thistle (Cirsium vulgare): Also known as "Scotch thistle," "Bull thistle," "Plumed thistle," and "Roadside thistle." Biennial/annual plant growing up to 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide; stems have vertical, spiny wings. Thrives in light, well-drained, sandy/stony ground. Flowers are deep pink to lavender, blooming July-September. Uses: receptacles are edible and were once eaten like artichokes; oil from seeds used in cooking; hairs on stem used for stuffing pillows.

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris): Also known as "Kingcup," "Mayflower," "May Blobs," "Mollyblobs," "Pollyblobs," "Horse Blob," "Water Blob," "Water Bubbles," "Gollins," and "The Publican." Grows 2-3 feet tall; leaves are kidney-shaped, with waxy texture. Flowers are bright yellow, blooming March-April. Grows in marshes, woodland, fens, and ditches; rare on peat. Thrives in partial shade. Poisonous.

Red Campion (Silene dioica): Grows ~3 feet tall; hairy, sticky leaves and stalks. Flowers are dark pink to red and bloom May-October. Grows in woodlands and rocky slopes, particularly damp soil. The crushed seeds have been used to cure snake bites.

White Campion (Silene latifolia): Hairy plant growing 2.5-3 feet tall. Flowers are white, blooming May-September. Grows in open habitats such as fields and wastelands. Also called "Grave Flower," because it grows in cemeteries.

(Cichorium intybus): Also called "Succory," "Blue Sailors," "Coffeeweed." Grows ~3 feet tall; stems tough and branched. Flowers are blue, lavender, and occasionally white, blooming July-October. Grows in fields and by roadsides in chalky, sandy soil. Uses: Leaves are edible, cultivated for livestock.

Black Horehound (Ballota nigra, sp. foetida): Hairy/fuzzy plant with strong smell, grows up to 3 feet. Grows in hedge banks, wasteground - England, Wales, local in Scotland and Ireland. Flowers are pale purple, blooming June-September. Uses: medicinal - expectorant and astringent; used to cure motion sickness, prevent spasms, and as a sedative to prevent hysteria.

Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis): Also called "Red Pimpernel," "Red Chickweed," "Poorman's Barometer," "Poor Man's Weather-glass," "Shepherd's Weather-glass," "Shepherd's Clock." Ground plant, stems grow up to 50 cm. Flowers are usually scarlet and sometimes orange; rarely blue. Blooms June-September. Grows in cultivated- and waste-land, prefers sandy soil.

Lesser Wintergreen (Pyrola minor): Most common species of Wintergreen in Britain. Also called "Common Wintergreen," "Snowline Wintergreen." Low-growing, but with tall stalks; grows in woods, moors, dunes, mostly in Northern Britain. Flowers are pink and bloom June-August.


  1. When I saw "Scarlet Pimpernel," I almost expected to see "For smuggling guillotine-bound Frenchmen out of their native land by ingenious methods" under the uses.

    Silliness aside, I enjoyed this thoroughly. ^.^ I've always found heather and gorse (yes, gorse) a bit Romantic-with-a-capital-R, and of course I found the medicinal-nods quite satisfactory.

  2. I thought the same thing, Anna, about the Scarlet Pimpernel. Ah, well. And of course you are acquainted with how fond I am of gorse.

    You really should see Abigail's sketches. They are excellent. I was very surprised to see how well they turned out, since Abigail never sketches. (At least, not to my knowledge.) You could knock me over with a feather. Or a gorse branch.

    Keep it up, Abigail!

  3. Oh, I should have done that! Alas, it did not occur to me.

    Yes, well, the reason I don't sketch anything else is because I can't. I fail even at stick figures, and that is just pathetic. Plants, though, I find relatively simple, and they are fun.

  4. Well. So well Abigail. Glad, A beautiful philosophical profile and good writer. Came here from your philosophy blog. Flowers are for love, peace and philosophical too. I dont know why that fascinating Gorse has not much brought in to homes. Hope continue philosophical scribs also. Thank You for sharing so amazingly and with Best Wishes.

  5. Hi Abigail, your blog has been listed at www.youngchristianbloggers.blogspot.com :)

  6. Thanks, Bonnie! I appreciate the shout-out. It's nice to have such a cohesive list of blogs written by Christians, too.


meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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published writings

The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings

Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing

Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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