Wednesday Weed – Spotted Loosestrife

Dotted loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata)

Dear Readers, at first glance I thought that this rather attractive plant was yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris), but the centre of each flower tells me that it’s its cultivated cousin, dotted loosestrife (which is named after the orange dot at the bottom of each petal). I should have guessed because this patch was growing not alongside a pond, but behind my Aunt Hilary’s shed, and dotted loosestrife is much less picky about the dampness of its habitat. It is an attractive member of the primrose family, and was first introduced to the UK in 1658 from south east Europe. By 1853 it had cut loose from its garden setting and is still spreading, being particularly common in the south east and on the west coast of the UK. In Stace’s book ‘Alien Plants’, it is number 22 in the top 30 most frequently found alien plants in East Sutherland in Scotland,

All Lysimachia species are named in honour of Lysimachus, an ancient king of Sicily who is said to have cured a mad ox by feeding it a member of the genus. Dotted loosestrife is not closely related to purple loosestrife, but both names refer to the belief that the plants are powerfully medicinal, particularly for ailments of the mind.

Although dotted loosestrife can grow into quite a substantial patch, Stace notes that individual plants appear not to set seed,  indicating that it needs to be cross-pollinated. However, it can spread by tiny rhizomes, and is hence often moved from one place to another by the dumping of garden waste (the RHS has dotted loosestrife on its list of ‘thugs’). This is the case with many other plants as well, and those of you who are regular readers will have heard me complain before about the species that pop up in my little local patch of ancient woodland, Coldfall Wood. However, dotted loosestrife seems like a relatively well-behaved ‘weed’, unlike its purple namesake who has been running riot in the wetlands of North America ever since it was introduced.

There is one species of bee in the UK which uses Lysimachia species in a most unusual way. The Yellow Loosestrife bee (Macropis europaea) harvests not only the pollen from the flowers of yellow loosestrife (and occasionally dotted loosestrife), but also the oil that that the plant produces from special glands. The oil is used by the female to waterproof the tunnels within which she lays her eggs: these are usually made in damp soil, so it’s important water doesn’t ooze in and drown the larvae. These little insects can therefore nest safely in areas that are much too waterlogged for other bees.

This is a rare insect, but it can be found in Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, so if you live in Eastern England keep your eyes peeled! It will be on the wing for a few more weeks, until early September.

Photo One by AfroBrazilian [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Yellow loosestrife bee (Macropis europaea) (Photo One)

The plant is also used as a foodplant by the caterpillars of many moths, including the V-pug (Chloroclystis v-ata), so called for the dark ‘V’-shaped marks on its wings.

Photo Two by By ©entomartIn case of publication or commercial use, Entomart wishes then to be warned (http://www.entomart.be/contact.html), but this without obligation. Thank you., Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=290444

V-Pug (Chloroclystis v-ata) (Photo Two)

Interestingly, my ‘Gardening for Wildlife’ book (by Adrian Thomas) has introduced me to a Lysimachia that I hadn’t come across before: he describes the gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) as a ”much undervalued’ nectar plant for butterflies and for bees. And very attactive it is too, with flowerspikes up to a metre tall.

Photo Three by By TIFFANYLAUFER - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=80966676

Gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) (Photo Three)

And finally, a poem. John Clare has been a favourite here on Bugwoman’s Adventures in London, for his close observation of the countryside around him, for his wanderings, and for the sad story of his final descent into insanity and his incarceration. I love this work by Susan Kinsolving, a new poet to me, who somehow threads Clare’s own perceptions into this poem. The way that the enclosing of England echoes Clare’s own fate is deeply moving.

 

Susan Kinsolving

Winner of the Lyric Poetry Award in 2009

Parliament Passes The Inclosing Lands Act, 1809

The open-field system would end. Every acre was enumerated
in a way John Clare could not comprehend. Why should footpaths
have fences, streams be made straight, why fell trees, wall a field
and lock it with a gate? No longer could he drink from Eastwell
spring;
the bubbling water was penned by scaffolding. No Trespassing

at every turn, posted over scurvy-grass, loosestrife, vetch,
clover, and fern. Clare doffed his cap and wept for his right to
roam;
in chicory, thistle, briony and buttercup, he’d always been at
home.
Or coming upon a gypsy camp (fires and tambourines!) he’d
share
his fleabane, borage, parsley, some beans. Once again the
labouring-class

had lost to the well-to-do, those new proprietors of blackberry,
hemp-
nettle, toadflax, and meadow rue. Clare questioned his sanity,
fearing
a familiar hell, but tramped on to say his farewell to mallow,
teasel,
oxlip, and pimpernel. He knew this ramble was one of his last;
every
field, farm, and forest would be enclosed. The open world was
past.

Photo Credits

Photo One by AfroBrazilian [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Photo Two by By ©entomartIn case of publication or commercial use, Entomart wishes then to be warned (http://www.entomart.be/contact.html), but this without obligation. Thank you., Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=290444

Photo Three by By TIFFANYLAUFER – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=80966676

7 thoughts on “Wednesday Weed – Spotted Loosestrife

  1. mpeverett

    I wasn’t aware that cross pollenation was the issue. I’ve never seen L punctata fruits in the UK, have you? Presumably the rare fruiting is because the parents need to be genetically different but most UK plants are clonally identical? Or is it, as I’d imagined, the climate or lack of pollinators?

    Your blog is a great discovery for me!

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Hi, and welcome! No, I’ve never seen fruits, and there was an interesting discussion about all this on one of the Facebook wildflower groups I follow. Apparently as you surmise, the plants in the UK are identical, so this is the problem, though Stace points out that they do spread very readily via their rhizomes – I have seen them positively bursting out of black plastic bags full of dried up garden rubbish that have been dumped. They don’t seem to be a great favourite with pollinators either….I suspect most bees prefer the native loosestrife.

      Reply

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