Wednesday Weed – Meadow Cranesbill

Meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense)

Dear Readers, as a break from all the bugs, here is what I think of as the quintessential meadow plant, a deep-blue geranium known as meadow cranesbill. Like so many native plants it has a whole raft of pet names, from ‘Jingling Johnny’ and ‘blue basins’ to ‘grace of God’ and ‘Loving Andrews’. In Iceland it was known as ‘Odin’s flower (blue being the colour of Odin’s robe and eyes) and was said to be used to produce a blue dye, although the method is no longer known. It also has associations with St Andrew of Scotland, hence the ‘Loving Andrews’ vernacular name. In the Isle of Man, the plant is known as “Cass-calmane ghorrym” which means ‘blue-dove’s foot’.

Once, meadow cranesbill popped up in hay meadows all over the country, but today it seems to be restricted to places like the cemetery, where the grass is cut intermittently, and to roadside verges. In the North it shows a marked preference for areas with limestone, but in the South it’s much less choosy.

The centre of the plant gives the name ‘cranesbill’ – the central part becomes upright, producing a ‘beak-like pod’ according to Plantlife.

Photo One by By Hardyplants - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23549950

‘Domesticated’ meadow cranesbill ‘Mrs Kendall Clark (Photo One)

Meadow cranesbill was a garden favourite even before Elizabethan times, and many of our domesticated favourites have some of this species in them. ‘Johnson’s Blue is a hybrid of meadow cranesbill and Himalayan geranium, and you can find other hybrids with white or pink flowers, and even with double flowers (though please don’t, as bees love geraniums but not the ones with complicated flowers).

Photo Two by Normanack at https://www.flickr.com/photos/29278394@N00/547634579

Johnson’s Blue Geranium (Photo Two)

Apparently, in Northumberland meadow cranesbill is known as ‘thunder flower’, and picking it is said to cause bad weather. I wonder if the deep blue of the flowers reminded people of thunder clouds?

On the plus side, the flower was said to be just the thing to help treat dysentery, cholera, diarrhoea, haemorrhoids and nosebleeds, so it was probably worth taking a chance on a soaking.

Meadow cranesbill, like all species geraniums, is great for wildlife: bumblebees love it, especially buff-tailed and red-tailed bumblebees (though the one in the photo below is on viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare) instead).

Photo Three by By Ivar Leidus - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49758226

Red-tailed bumblebee queen (Bombus lapidarius)(Photo Three)

The leaves are often nibbled upon by the larvae of the geranium sawfly (Ametastegia carpini), who produce slot-shaped holes in the foliage. Sawflies are relatives of the wasps but are not social, and are much weaker fliers. The youngsters can certainly do a fair bit of damage – this leaf looks it’s been lace-ified (if that’s even a word).

Photo Four fromhttps://www.naturespot.org.uk/species/geranium-sawfly

Geranium leaf after a visit from geranium sawfly larvae (Photo Four)

And finally, because today is a work day and my back is killing me so I no longer want to sit at my desk, here is a poem. This work, by Thomas Clark, has appeared here before, but there is something so meditative about it, and there is so much in it, that I thought it could do with a repeat airing. It’s worth pausing after each ‘verse’, much as the poem does…

Riasg Buidhe

Thomas A. Clark

A visit to the island of Colonsay,
Inner Hebrides, April 1987

There are other lives we might lead, places we might get to know, skills we might acquire.

When we have put distance between ourselves and our intentions, the sensibility comes awake.

Every day should contain a pleasure as simple as walking on the machair or singing to the seals.

The ripples on the beach and the veins in the rocks on the mountain show the same signature.

When we climb high enough we can find patches of snow untouched by the sun, parts of the spirit still intact.

The grand landscapes impress us with their weight and scale but it is the anonymous places, a hidden glen or a stretch of water without a name, that steal the heart.

The mere sight of a meadow cranesbill can open up a wound.

We live in an age so completely self-absorbed that the ability to simply look, to pour out the intelligence through the eyes, is an accomplishment.

You will require a tune for a country road, for hill walking a slow air.

When I climb down from the hill I carry strands of wool and fronds of bracken on my clothing, small barbs of quiet in my mind.

At dawn and again at dusk we feel most acutely the passing of time but at dawn the world is with us while at dusk we stand alone.

The farther we move from habitation, the larger are the stars.

There is a kind of bagpipe and fiddle music, practiced in a gale, which is full of distance and longing.

A common disease of sheep, the result of cobalt deficiency, is known as ‘pine’.

The best amusement in rain is to sit and watch the clouds negotiate the mountain.

Long silences are as proper in good company as a song on a lonely road.

Let everything you do have the clean edge of water lapping in a bay.

In any prevailing wind there are small pockets of quiet: in a rock pool choked with duckweed, in the lee of a cairn, in the rib-cage of a sheep’s carcass.

When my stick strikes a stone, it is a call to order.

The most satisfying product of culture is bread.

In a landscape of Torridonian sandstone and heather moor, green and gold lichens on the naked rock will ignite small explosions of sensation.

Whatever there is in a landscape emerges if we just sit still.

It is not from novelty but from an unbroken tradition that real human warmth can be obtained, like a peat fire that has been rekindled continuously for hundreds of years.

After days of walking on the moor, shoulders, spine and calves become resilient as heather.

The hardest materials are those which display the most obvious signs of weathering.

We can carry a tent, food, clothing or the world on our shoulders, but how light we feel when we lay them down.

Just to look at a beach of grey pebbles can cool the forehead.

On a small island, the feeble purchase that the land obtains between the sea and the sky, the drifting of mist and the intensity of light, unsettles the intellect and opens the imagination to larger and more liquid configurations.

Although the days should extend in a graceful contour, the hours should not be accountable.

A book of poems in the rucksack – that is the relation of art to life.

On a fine day, up on the heights, with heat shimmering from the rocks, I can stretch out on my back and watch all the distances dance.

The duty of the traveller, wherever he finds himself, is always to keep faith with the air.

We should nurture our own loneliness like an Alpine blossom.

Solitude and affection go well together – to work alone the whole day and then in the evening sit round a table with friends.

To meet another person on a walk is like coming to a river.

In the art of the great music, the drone is eternity, the tune tradition, the performance the life of the individual.

It is on bare necessity that lyricism flourishes best, like a cushion of moss campion on granite.

When the people are gone, and the house is a ruin, for long afterwards there may flourish a garden of daffodils.

The routines we accept can strangle us but the rituals we choose give renewed life.

When the lark sings and the air is still, I sometimes feel I could reach over and take the island in my hand like a stone.

Photo Credits

Photo One by By Hardyplants – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23549950

Photo Two by Normanack at https://www.flickr.com/photos/29278394@N00/547634579

Photo Three By Ivar Leidus – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49758226

Photo Four from https://www.naturespot.org.uk/species/geranium-sawfly

1 thought on “Wednesday Weed – Meadow Cranesbill

  1. Ann Bronkhorst

    Such a nourishing poem. But a few mouthfuls are hard to chew, eg the advice to ‘keep faith with the air’. Meaning …?

    Reply

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