Dear Readers, I know that some of you gardeners might disagree, but I was charmed by this little plant, growing on one of the grassy banks in a sunny part of the cemetery on Saturday. Look at those lovely hairy leaves! These are a distinctive feature of the wood rush family, who all belong to the genus Luzula. Luzula might come from the Italian word lucciola, meaning ‘to sparkle’, probably a description of how the plant looks when it’s wet with dew. Another derivation could be the Latin word ‘luculus’, meaning a summer field, or a small place. Whatever the original meaning of the word, I have rather fallen in love with this plant, hiding in plain sight as it is. My photos are good enough for identification, but to see the full prettiness of the
I note that the plant is also called ‘Good Friday Grass’, from its habit of springing into flower at Easter (it was pretty close this year, but as the date moves by several weeks I am not totally convinced). It is also known as ‘sweep’s broom’, for obvious reasons. It is found right across temperate Europe and into the Caucasus. North American readers might recognise its very close relative Heath Wood-Rush (Luzula multiflora) – indeed, some botanists think that it might be the same species. To add to the complications, Heath Wood-Rush is also found in Europe, including the UK, and looks very similar. Both species like short, unimproved grassland, with Field Wood-Rush being particularly fond of acidic conditions: the RHS suggests that build up of ‘thatch’ (the dead stems and leaves of grass and other plants) acidifies the soil, and helps the wood-rush to thrive. Both species are also described as ‘pests’ in ornamental turf such as golf courses, and the RHS suggests using lime to change the pH of the soil to get rid of it. On the Pitchcare website, the author has a historical perspective, relating how Field Wood-Rush became a problem when poor pastureland was ploughed over to grow crops during the World Wars. Personally, I think that a grassy area is much more interesting with a variety of plants in it, and lots of other creatures would agree, though possibly not golfers, bowlers and golfers.
All of the wood-rushes provide food for moths. The Smokey Wainscot (Mythimnia impura) is one species whose larvae will munch their way through the leaves, hairs and all, before overwintering as a tiny caterpillar. I love the very marked veins on the wings of this moth, and the fringes around the edges – it looks rather like upholstery fabric!
And how about this little chap, with his ridiculously long antennae? Coleophora otidipennella is a micro moth without a common name, and the larvae feed only on the seeds of the wood-rush.
You might sometimes find yet another Luzula, Greater Wood-Rush (Luzula sylvatica) in woodland, and there are several ornamental varieties. I think it could be a fine choice in a particularly shady spot where nothing else will grow.
I keep seeing references Field Wood-Rush as being ‘one of our commonest grassland plants (and for some rather lovely photos of the plant in situ, have a look here). I am astonished that I’ve never noticed it before, and I love that even after seven years of a more-or-less weekly ‘Wednesday Weed’ I am still finding new plants. I also love that the Lorn Natural History Group website refers to it as ‘a happy little plant’ as this was exactly the impression that I got. I know that anthropomorphism is deeply unfashionable, and for sure most of the time I am projecting: this plant makes me feel happy, so how could it not be happy itself, flowering away on a sunny spot? There is a deep satisfaction from both finding out what on earth a plant ‘is’ according to our classification, and also noticing our own reactions, and being curious.
And so, to a poem. As you might expect, finding a poem about ‘Field Wood-Rush’ proved to be impossible, but looking for ‘Good Friday Grass’ brought up this vignette by Edwin Morgan. Morgan was a wonderful poet who wrote extensively about the poor and dispossessed of Glasgow, but I think this poem can be read on many levels – it’s about an incident that I’m sure will feel familiar to many of us, but it’s about lots of other things too. See what you think!
by Edwin Morgan
Three o’clock. The bus lurches
round into the sun. ‘D’s this go –‘
he flops beside me – ‘right along Bath Street?
– Oh tha’s, tha’s all right, see I’ve
got to get some Easter eggs for the kiddies.
I’ve had a wee drink, ye understand –
ye’ll maybe think it’s a – funny day
to be celebrating – well, no, but ye see
I wasny working, and I like to celebrate
when I’m no working – I don’t say it’s right
I’m no saying it’s right, ye understand – ye understand?
But anyway tha’s the way I look at it –
I’m no boring you, eh? – ye see today,
take today, I don’t know what today’s in aid of,
whether Christ was – crucified or was he –
rose fae the dead like, see what I mean?
You’re an educatit man, you can tell me –
– Aye, well. There ye are. It’s been seen
time and again, the working man
has nae education, he jist canny – jist
hasny got it, know what I mean,
he’s jist bliddy ignorant – Christ aye,
bliddy ignorant. Well –’ The bus brakes violently,
he lunges for the stair, swings down – off,
into the sun for his Easter eggs,
Photo One By Krzystzof Ziarnek, Kenraiz – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47451611
Photo Two by Ilia Ustyantsev from Russia, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Three by Patrick Clement from West Midlands, England – 37.072 BF578 Coleophora otidipennella, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63729084)
Photo Four By Cwmhiraeth – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47073845
Photo Five By Pablo Alberto Salguero Quiles (Alberto Salguero) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=731186