Every Wednesday, I hope to find a new ‘weed’ to investigate. My only criterion will be that I will not have deliberately planted the subject of our inquiry. Who knows what we will find…..
When I am exploring the half-mile around my house, I am regularly surprised by some new plant that I haven’t noticed before. This week, however, I found a whole new lane that I’d not stumbled across previously, leading from Baronsmere Road to Cherry Tree Wood.
In this weedy little track, with garden sheds and walls on either side, I found this patch of Trailing Bellflower, with its lilac-blue flowers enhanced by perfect raindrops.
Trailing Bellflower comes from the Dinaric Alps – these are the parts of the Alps that were part of the former Yugoslavia, and you can sometimes see the plant referred to as Serbian Bellflower. As we’ve seen before, mountain plants, with their tolerance of poor, thin soil, often do very well in urban environments. This plant is a relatively recent introduction – it first came to the UK in 1931, and was first recorded in the wild in 1957.
The name ‘Bellflower’ doesn’t seem very appropriate for this plant – ‘Starflower’ seems more descriptive of those five-petalled blooms. However, in the photo below, you can see a stem with two flowers on it on the right hand side. Viewed from here, the flowers look like hats for fairies.
There seems to be some debate as to whether Trailing Bellflower is palatable or not. On the lovely website Plants for a Future the leaves are described as ‘a little tough’, but the flowers ‘have a pleasant sweet flavour and make a decorative addition to the salad bowl‘. They would certainly look very pretty nestled amongst some winter leaves. However, as this is a popular plant with pollinators, and as it flowers later than most, I would be inclined to leave most of the flowers where they belong.
As I left the lane, I spotted another patch of Trailing Bellflower, which had made itself at home amongst the stone stairs of an impressive entrance:
“Are you interested in Victorian architecture?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, “but today I’m more interested in the plants”. With a burst of enthusiasm, I explained that this was Trailing Bellflower, and told him probably more than he either wanted or needed to know about the habits, history and ecology of the plant.
He shook his head, a little sadly I thought.
“I see them,” he said, “but I don’t know any of the names”.
You don’t have to know the name of something to appreciate it – in fact, sometimes the urge to identify what a plant or animal is can get in the way of really looking at what you’re seeing. But being able to put a name to a Trailing Bellflower does add a depth, a way of seeing plants both individually and as part of an ecosystem. In fact, my walks to the greengrocer are often now something of a mantra.
“Chickweed, groundsel, shepherd’s purse.
Yellow corydalis, green alkanet, dandelion.
Trailing bellflower, nettle, feverfew.