Collecting the folklore and uses of plants


1.  When I was a nipper (from Leeds) I was taught that Cardamine pratensis was called milkmaid.  At Uni on a botany course we were told that it was called lady’s smock/cuckooflower; the lecturer had never heard of milkmaid.  A lad from the Keighley area on the course … also knew the plant as milkmaid, so we wondered if it was a name local to a specific part of West Yorkshire [Glasgow, May 2016].

2.  I spent most of my childhood in Cumbria, nearest city Carlisle … in the 1950s. Picking cuckooflowers … would make it thunder. They were also called thunder-flowers [e-mail, January 2013].

3. My interest [in wildflowers] started at a very early age. I was brought up in a village in Essex, now part of Harlow town. I then had ‘pet’ names for various flowers … lady’s smock – milkmaids [Hereford, April 2012].  Name also recorded from Hampshire [Lambeth Country Show, London, July 2015].

4. If one picked cuckooflower one would be attacked by a snake. This was a popular belief here, as cuckooflowers grew abundantly in The Close in Stradbrook and grass snakes were also found in this field [Bratton, Wiltshire, January 2007].

5. Cuckooflowers … never taken indoors by my grandmother – ‘They bring sickness’ [Taunton, Somerset, April 1994].

6. My mother was not superstitious, and loved the cuckooflowers; we picked masses for her. Neighbours, though, would not have them in their houses, as they brought ‘bad luck’ [Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, August 1992].

7. Lady’s smock, or milkmaids, or dancing lady, or cuckoo flower = Cardamine pratensis [Stocking Ford, Warwickshire, January 1982].

Images: Compton, Surrey, April 2014; inset, Ducklington, Oxfordshire, April 2017.