Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

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REMINDER: Plant walk, 20 June

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

The second of a series of plant walks on Tooting Common, London Borough of Wandsworth will take place on Wednesday 20 June, starting at 7.00 p.m.  See the Events page on this website for details.

Report:  About 20 people turned up and enjoyed a stroll, mainly at the edge of Graveney Woods, discussing the trees and a few of the herbaceous plants – stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) and greater plantain (Plantago major) – found there.  £52.60 was kindly donated to be shared between the Friends of Tooting Common and the South London Botanical Institute,

Holy grass offers protection

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

According to a report in the London Evening Standard of Friday 8 June 2018,  the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, was presented ‘with the traditional gift of sweetgrass’ when she arrived in Canada for the G7 summit.  Known as holy grass in Britain, sweetgrass (Anthoxanthum nitens, formerly known as Hierochloe odorata) is a healing herb used by First Nation indigenous peoples, and is ‘said to offer protection and cleanse “negative enery” and its considered sacred’.

Image:  W.H. Fitch, Illustrations of the British Flora, Ashford, Kent, 1949.

REMINDER: Midsummer Wildflowers, 13 June

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Report:  About 10 people arrived at the start and others joined later to spend about 75 minutes looking at some of the plants growing both in the Garden and on the grass verge outside which the Friends of the Garden have ‘adopted’.  Plants included two species of vetch – Vicia tetrasperma, smooth tare, and V. sativa, common vetch –  a comfrey (Symphytum sp.) formerly known as knitbone and used for healing broken limbs, and corn cockle, Agrostemma githago, formerly an injurious weed in cereal fields, but now almost extinct due to better seed-cleaning processes.                                    £28.55 was collected in aid of  the SLBI, which is grateful to the Friends of the Garden for their help in arranging and publicising this event.

Corpus Christi carpet, St Mary’s Bourne Street, 2018

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

The Corpus Christi carpet prepared at St Mary’s Bourne Street, Belgravia, London, for their  ‘Solemn Evensong, Procession and Benediction of the Most Holy Sacrament’ on Sunday 3 June 2018 was similar to that prepared in 2017, composed mainly of small twigs of lime (Tilia x europaea) and various garden shrubs, but was  enhanced by the addition of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and rose (Rosa cvs) flowers and rose petals.

Memorial to motorcyclist

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Roadside memorial to Krzysztof Kizysiaczek, who died on 13 October 2016, following a crash, junction of Morden Road with Jubilee Way, London Borough of Merton.

Photographed June 2018.


Plant-lore Archive: May 2018

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Despite experiencing computer problems which caused chaos early on, May was a successful month during which 35 items of information were received from 34 contributors, so that the Archive now contains 7,735 items of information from 2247 contributors.  Thank you everyone.

As is usual for May a large number of searches of the website were made during the month: 13,966, well up from the 8784 made in April, but down on the record 14,914 made in May 2017.   706 searches, the most ever in one day, were made on 12 May.  It is disappointing that despite so much use being made of the website, no one contributed new information as a result.

Images were selected for possible use on the dust jacket of Vickery’s Folk Flora, and two minor publications were produced:                                                            Cemetery Plants: Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) & Chickweed (Stellaria media), Friends of Brompton Cemetery Magazine 60: 2-3.                                            Oak Apple Day and stinging nettles, Cercidology 33: 18.

Image:  flowers attached to memorial bench to Robert Prowse, lost at sea 17 May 2012, Weymouth Old Harbour, Dorset, photographed 18 May 2018.

REMINDER: Woodfield Plants

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

On Saturday 2 June Roy Vickery will be leading a stroll,  Woodfield Plants: Natives, Guests and Invaders, around Woodfield Recreation Ground, in Streatham, London, SW16, starting at 10 a.m.  For further details see the Events page on this website, or the Woodside Project website:

Report:  About 15 people turned up and  spent an hour wandering around the perimeter of the site discussing some to of the plants growing there.  We admired fox-and-cubs (Pilosella aurantiaca) which was coming into flower, discussed stinking iris (Iris foetidissima) and enjoyed other plants, including eight which had not been recorded from the site previously.

Yew – symbol of eternal life

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |



Label screwed to a yew (Taxus baccata) tree in the churchyard of the Church of the Holy Rood, Wool, Dorset, May 2018.



REVIEW: Plants before the Revolution

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Sue McDowall, Plants before the Revolution: Food, Remedies, Festivals and Beliefs in Pre-Industrial England, Hurstwood Publications (, 2018.

Although recently published this attractive book dates from the 1970s, when its author studied at the University of Leeds.  Consequently it does not take advantage of Ronald Hutton’s work on folk customs,  Iona Opie and Moira Tatem’s 1989 Dictionary of Superstitions, and other recent studies.  Indeed the most recent publication cited is Roy Judge’s Jack-in-the-Green, published in 1979.  Rather strangely the author suggests that Jack ‘was a figure of ancient origin’, whereas Judge’s work showed that it evolved towards the end of the eighteenth century.

The problem of establishing when a belief or practice was current recurs throughout the book; often the author seems to assume that a practice recorded in Victorian England, or sometimes later, must have also been known in pre-industrial times.  An extreme example of this is the assumption that the legend  that the fig tree which grows from the wall of St Newlyn East church in Cornwall grew from a staff carried by St Newlina, was current before 1800.  In fact it appears to have been first collected (or perhaps invented) in the 1930s.

The work is embellished by a number of attractive drawings of some of the plants mentioned, but the illustration on p.46, labelled ‘Primrose’, (Primula vulgaris), in fact depicts the unrelated evening primrose (Oenothera sp.).  The lack of an index is a major drawback.

REMINDER: Half-term activities in Peabody Woods

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

On Tuesday 29 May Roy Vickery will lead a plant-lore walk in Peabody Woods, London Borough of Lambeth (near Tulse Hill station) for children aged 6+ and their carers: ‘introducing children to delightful stories about common plants’.  Places limited, £5 per child, and booking essential –   See the Events page on this website for further details.

Report:  Continuous heavy rain throughout the afternoon forced a change of plan, instead of visiting the Woods we stayed indoors where we examined and played games various common plants.  We held privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) leaves between our thumbs and blew to produce a variety of noises, looped the stems of ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata), and blew bubbles using the stalks of dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) as pipes.

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