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 obviously a garden plant, rather than a wild one, but it is one of the first flowers that I remember being able to identify when I was a child. When I was little, we visited our grandmother who lived in Forest Gate every week, and would often play in the garden. The flowers from the snapdragon were great fun: my brother and I would pick up blooms that had just dropped and chase one another around the garden with them, ‘snapping’ as we went. I also noticed the way that the bumblebees would hang on the bottom ‘lip’ of the flower before wriggling their way in. When they came out, they often had powdery pollen on their backs from the dangling stamen. It was my first lesson in the way that a plant is often structured perfectly to match the insect that visits it.
This particular plant is growing in a tiny crack at the bottom of a wall just up the road from where I live in East Finchley. Although the leaves are stunted and diseased, the flowers are full-size, and it’s clear that the plant has put all its energy into reproduction. I hope that its ‘children’ find a more fruitful place to grow than it has.
Antirrhinum majus comes originally from the area around the Mediterranean, and has changed remarkably little from its wild ancestors.
In its native range, snapdragon is a perennial, but in the UK it’s more often treated as an annual or biennial, as it often doesn’t survive the winter. As a cultivated plant, it has been bred in a tremendous range of colours, from white through to the darkest red, with yellow, lavender and pink varieties also being easy to obtain.
The shape of the bloom is the obvious reason for the antirrhinum’s common name of ‘snapdragon’ – even its Latin name means ‘like a snout’. Something which I hadn’t noticed was the similarity of the seed capsules to little skulls, which gives the plant a Gothic air much in contrast to its sunny summer personality.
The genetics of the snapdragon was studied by both Gregor Mendel and Charles Darwin himself. It was noticed early on, for example, that a cross between a red-flowered plant and a white-flowered plant produced a pink-flowered plant which carried both the red and white-flower gene. Antirrhinums are also incapable of pollinating themselves, and this may explain their extraordinary variability, which has been a source of much study amongst geneticists for over a hundred years.
Snapdragon flowers are often included on lists of ‘edible flowers’, but my source of all things ‘weed’ related, Eat The Weeds, says that the flavour is pretty poor. It is also said that an edible oil can be extracted from the seeds, and is used in Russia as cooking oil.
The snapdragon is said to be protective against witchcraft and the evil eye, and anyone who anoints themselves with antirrhinum oil is said to be destined for fame.
Medicinally, the plant has been used in poultices for growths and tumours.
The flowers can be used to produce a green dye.
Something I have personally noticed over the past few years is that snapdragons seem to be becoming a much more popular florists’ flower. A bunch of garden-cut snapdragons will certainly last for a long time in a vase, and the flowers are very attractive. Apparently florists seek out the longer-stemmed varieties, because they add more height to an arrangement.
If I had a south-facing garden I would grow a lot more snapdragons. The bumblebees love them, they flower for ever, and there is a colour to suit anyone. Plus, they remind me of old-fashioned cottage gardens like that of my Grandmother, where I chased my brother around the garden with a snapdragon flower amidst roses and marigolds, beans and tomatoes. It reminds me that a garden can be both productive and beautiful.
Photo One: By User:Haplochromis – Self-photographed, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2177519
Photo Two: By Taken by Carsten Niehaus (user:Lumbar). – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38880
Photo Three: Stock Photo from Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/snapdragon-flowers-bloom-blossom-20809/
Photo Four: La Ajala on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/laajala/464364344
Photo Five: Public Domain: By bildtankstelle.de [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABildtankstelle_1_003.jpg
All other photos and content copyright Vivienne Palmer. All images free to use and share, but please attribute and link back to the blog, thank you!