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…..
Dear Readers, during a walk in Coldfall Wood last week, I was surprised to see a stand of Fringecups alongside the stream. They are a member of the Saxifrage family, although they look very different from the others, with their strange green-pink flowers peering like giraffes over their neighbours. They are the sole member of their genus, and as such are somewhat out on a limb: most saxifrages are five-petalled, open-flowered plants, although a few do share the long stem of the Fringecup. As the flowers grow older, they start to change from greenish-white to pink, and even to red.
This is a plant that my North American readers might recognise, as it is a native of the north-western corner of the continent, including Alaska, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Alberta and British Columbia. It is a plant of woody, shady, wet places, and in my garden at least the bees are very fond of those unassuming flowers.
Here in the wood, they have certainly made themselves at home. They mix happily with the nettles, the violets and the marsh marigolds, and keep themselves largely to themselves. It is not difficult to see how it has made the leap into ‘the wild’ – I have it in my own garden, and there are many varieties for sale. Its tolerance of shade is a great point in its favour in many people’s eyes.
I think that this looks like a fairy-tale plant, ethereal and delicate. The flowers look as if they could be hats for pixies, and, indeed, there is a Canadian folktale that elves ate Fringecup in order to improve their night vision. The First Nation Skagit people used Fringecup to make a tea for treating many illnesses, including loss of appetite.
In many of the books that mention Fringecups, there is a reference to its fragrance. I have to admit that this was not something that I’d noticed so, in the interests of research, I went down to the garden to have a sniff. And there it is, a faint hint of sweetness, as fragile as the scent left on a silk scarf. This is a modest plant of strange and elusive beauty, which only reveals itself if you have the time to stop and look.