Dear Readers, do you have a plant that’s your nemesis? A plant that, although on paper ideally suited to your garden, refuses to thrive? Such a plant is flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus). This seems perfect for my garden – it’s a marginal, so I should just be able to pop it alongside the pond, but the poor thing is always miserable. I have tried it in various locations, and have come to the conclusion that it must be the lack of direct sunlight, even though I have put it in the brightest part of my north-facing garden.
This is a plant that seems to have everything to recommend it to a wildlife gardener. The flowers attract a variety of pollinators, and the stems and leaves provide somewhere for dragon and damselfly larvae to cling to as they metamorphose. It is a native plant, although it is not technically a rush – it is the sole member of the flowering-rush family, Butomaceae. Richard Mabey notes that an alternative name for the plant, ‘Pride of the Thames’, is no longer so relevant – the dredging of rivers and the straightening of their banks has destroyed much of the habitat that the plant relied on. As a species we do seem to like things neat and tidy, and sadly that has ruined the biodiversity of many areas. These days, you are most likely to see flowering rush on the Norfolk Broads or the Somerset Levels, where in addition to its beauty and attraction to pollinators, it provides cover for fish such as pike.
In the USA, however, it has become an invasive species, probably because there is a lot of suitable habitat. The plant can make it difficult for animals to reach the water, and it provides cover for a number of voracious introduced fish species. However the Iroquois people use the plant as a de-wormer for cattle and horses, so it clearly isn’t all bad.
As far as humans are concerned, flowering rush has provided a green or yellow dye. The Yakut people of Russia called the plant ‘bread-flower’, and made flour from its rhizomes until they came into contact with wheat – until then, the plant was their main source of carbohydrates, and the roots are a very rich source of starch.
And finally, a poem. I’m not sure if the rush in the poem is ‘our’ rush, but as this is Seamus Heaney, it will do.
For Barrie Cooke
He robbed the stones’ nests, uncradled
As he orphaned and betrothed rock
To rock: his unaccustomed hand
Went chambering upon hillock
And bogland. Clamping, balancing,
That whole day spent in the Burren,
He did not find and add to them
But piled up small cairn after cairn
And dressed some stones with his own mark.
Which he tells of with almost fear;
And of strange affiliation
To what was touched and handled there,
Unexpected hives and castlings
Pennanted now, claimed by no hand:
Rush and ladysmock , heather-bells
Blowing in each aftermath of wind.
But do let me know, readers. Which are the plants that you should be able to grow, but that just don’t work for you? And any ideas on my flowering rush would also be most gratefully received.
Photo One by Zoran Gavrilović, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Two by Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons