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, this is one of those ‘weeds’ that has probably been popping up all around me for years, but which I have only noticed since I started the blog. There is scarcely a walk that goes by that doesn’t involve me coming to an abrupt halt, peering down, and rubbing my chin in perturbation. It isn’t hard to see that this little plant is some kind of geranium, but the leaves, which look rather like butterfly wings, are the dead giveaway.
Hedgerow cranesbill is from southern Europe, was first recorded in the UK in 1762, and is ‘still spreading’ according to my Harraps Wild Flowers. A cultivated variety of the plant, called ‘Bill Wallis’, is lauded to the skies on various gardening websites for its vigorous flowering, so I wonder if these plants are truly ‘wild’ or have hopped over a garden fence. Whatever the reason, they are to be found all over East Finchley. If you should wish to purchase some ‘Bill Wallis’, or indeed to have a look at it, there is a link to a nursery who sells it here, and very pretty it is too.
There seem to be no traditional medical uses for this little plant, but there have been several studies on the efficacy of some of the chemicals that it contains against Leishmaniasis, a tropical protozoan disease spread by sandflies. There are 12 million people infected in 98 countries, and between 20,000 and 50,000 people die every year as a result of this scourge. As the parasite is now immune to many of the usual treatments, it would be great news if hedgerow cranesbill were to be efficacious.
It doesn’t appear that many humans have tucked into hedgerow cranesbill for their dinner, but it is a popular bee plant, in spite of the small size of the flowers – there seems to be little correlation between the size of a bloom and how much the pollinators enjoy it. Plus, the long, long flowering season is a bonus – I took the photo above in mid-June, and this plant is still covered in blossoms.
It is also used as a food plant by the larvae of the brown argus butterfly (Aricia agestis), which has a fascinating lifecycle – the caterpillar produces a secretion which attracts ants, who then act as a kind of praetorian guard as the larva goes about its business.So, here you have it. Hedgerow cranesbill is a small, easily overlooked flower that may be feeding the larva of butterflies, and may one day be used to cure one of the scourges of the developing world. Be it ever so modest, it may contain all kinds of hidden secrets.
Photo One – By Charlesjsharp (Own work, from Sharp Photography) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
All other photographs copyright Vivienne Palmer. Free to use or share non-commercially, but please attribute and link back to the blog, thank you.