Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

News and Events

Rosemary for asperging

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

On visiting the magnificent church of St John the Evangelist, Upper Norwood, London Borough of Croydon on 16 April 2018 a small ornamental bucket of water containing a small branch of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) was observed placed on the font.

According to the church’s vicar, Fr John Pritchard, ‘the rosemary we use at the asperging [the sprinkling of a congregation with holy water] as a herb synonymous with remembering.  The use of this is quite common in Anglo-Catholic parishes (I think).  During Eastertide we asperge each week at the beginning of Mass, it is our penitential rite which reminds us that through the waters of baptism we are saved.  The congregation is asperged as a whole, so the president of the liturgy (priest) has a bucket of holy water and they walk around sprinkling the faithful.’

Blackthorn summer?

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

The flowering of blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) is said to coincide with a spell of cold weather.  At present blackthorn hedges throughout much of southern England are in full bloom, but the weather is unusually hot, with record high temperatures being recorded in some areas on 19 April.  Thus 2018 appears to be an exceptional.

Image:  Crewkerne, Somerset, 20 April 2018, when approximately 50% of the buds had opened, so there’s still a chance that the weather will become cooler as the others do so.

Hazel used as pea sticks

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

In rural west Dorset in the 1950s and 60s  the young growth of hazel (Corylus avellana) was cut and used for staking peas (Pisum sativum).

The image here shows hazel being similarly used in the Kew Palace kitchen garden, in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London Borough of Richmond upon Thames.  In west Dorset peas were always planted in rows, not in wigwams as at Kew.

Presumably the garden is planted to reflect how it looked during the time when King George III, Queen Charlotte and their family occupied the Palace in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

Wedding flowers

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |


Flowers on the meeting room table at the Westminster Quaker Meeting House for the wedding of Kyle Allen Callandra and Anna Siân O’Hanlon, 14 April 2018.


Young hawthorn leaves, bread-and-cheese

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

In common with other plants nibbled by children, the young leaves of hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) were widely known as bread-and-cheese.

We are grateful to a Poulton le Fylde, Lancashire, contributor who in June 2014 shared her her memories of when she was living in the Manchester suburb of Chorlton-cum-Hardy:

‘In 1943, during the Second World War, food was rationed.  I was then aged 10 and together with my sister and two brothers enjoyed, in spite of the difficult war despite of the difficult war-time circumstances, a happy childhood.           My very close friend Nita spent much of her spare time with me and my family.  One day she called round to tell me that she knew a place where we could have some free bread and cheese.  Collecting my bicycle and anticipating a small feast we cycled to a country lane a short distance from my home.  Nita stopped an pointing at a large hawthorn hedge announced this was the bread and cheese that could be eaten.  I was very cross and confused – I had expected a delicious cheese sandwich.  I could not see any, I was upset that my friend had at that time played a trick on me, telling me to eat the hawthorn leaves.                                                                                                It was almost 70 years later that I learned … that indeed hawthorn leaves can be eaten and are known by some as bread and cheese.’

Image:  Wandle Park, London Borough of Merton, April 2018.

REMINDER: Great North Wood Walk

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Sunday 15 April:  a six mile walk through remnants of the Great North Wood, which once ran from Deptford to Selhurst.  Meet at the Rookery Café on Streatham Common, SW16 3BT, at 12 noon, and finishing at Crystal Palace station.  Booking not necessary, but donation of £2 appreciated, to be shared between the London Wildlife Trust and the South London Botanical Institute.  Most of the walk will be on hard surfaces, but be prepared for some muddy patches; numerous opportunities to drop out and catch a bus.

Report:  Approximately 90 people gathered and set out from Streatham Common to spend four hours walking through remnants of the Great North Wood to Crystal Palace.  People from the London Wildlife Trust explained the significance of the Wood and what they were doing to try and enhance the biodiversity in what remains of it.  Plants which we saw and discussed included hazel (Corylus avellana), ramsons (Allium ursinum), cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) – which the LWT considers invasive and is trying to eradicate – and a dog’s-tooth violet (Erythronium, probably ‘Pagoda’) which had been planted and was apparently becoming naturalised.  We were informed that the last got the name ‘dog’s tooth’ because its root tubers resemble a dog’s tooth, but we did not discover where the ‘violet’ came from.

Image:  dog’s-tooth violet, Grangewood Park, London Borough of Croydon.

More on pineapples

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Ham House, in the London Borough of Richmond has a set of 12 pineapple (Ananus comosus) finials along the front wall of its garden.  These are made of Coade Stone, a hard-wearing artificial stone manufactured by Eleanor Coade (1733-1821) and her successors between the early 1770s and 1840.

Although described as ‘pineapples’ the decorations bear limited similarity to pineapple fruit.  The leaves at the base of the ‘fruit’ are nothing like pineapple leaves, but, in fact, more closely resemble the ‘Acanthus’ leaf decorations which have been used on the capitals of pillars and elsewhere since the 5th century BC.  Neither do the fruit have the ‘crown’ of leaves which pineapples produce.

‘Pineapple’ decorations which actually look like pineapples are rare, but can be found, for example, on the railings of the Fitzwilliam, Museum, Cambridge, which presumably date from 1848 when the building of the Museum was completed.


Images:  Ham House finial, April 2018; Fitzwilliam Museum railings, October 2015.

Roman pineapples?

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Earlier posts on the website have noted the use of pineapples (Ananas comosus) as symbols of welcome, hence the use of ornamental stone pineapples to decorate gateposts and other entrances to properties.  However, it has also been asked if these decorative ‘pineapples’ do, in fact represent the fruit.  They usually have bluntly rounded leaves (or bracts), instead of pineapple’s sharply pointed leaves, and they lack the characteristic ‘crown’ of leaves.

Ham House, ‘one of the grandest Stuart houses in England’, in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and owned by the National Trust, displays a painting of ‘John Rose the Royal Gardener presenting a Pineapple to King Charles II’.  This is a 1783 copy by Thomas Stewart of an original painted  in 1675 by Henrick Danckerts (c.1625-80).

It is not known when pineapples were first cultivated in England, but it is thought that the first Europeans to encounter them were people on Christopher Columbus’s voyage in 1493.  However, according to information provided in the room where the painting is hung:                                                    ‘As pineapples weren’t grown on England until 1714, this painting is probably symbolic rather than historic.  Pineapples were Roman symbols of welcome, so this painting may represent Charles II being welcomed back in England [in 1660] after his exile.’

One assumes that ‘Roman’ refers to the ancient Roman Empire, rather than seventeenth-century inhabitants of Rome.  If this is so, it is unlikely to be correct, as pineapples are believed to have originated in Paraguay and Brazil, and, as noted above, were unknown to Europeans until the fifteenth century.

National Cherry Blossom Festival

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

The London Evening Standard of 6 April 2018 includes a photograph with a brief caption:  ‘The National Cherry Blossom Festival is under way with the blossom [at the Tidal Basin Park, Washington DC] with the blossom reaching peak bloom this week.  The festival commemorates the 1912 gift to the city of 3000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo.’

Marc Bolan’s memorial

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Marc Bolan, lead singer with the ‘glam rock’ band T. Rex, died aged 29 on 16 September 1977, when a car driven by his girlfriend crashed into a sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) tree, beside Queens Ride, in Barnes, London Borough of Richmond upon Thames.  After his death the tree was decorated with flowers and memorabilia associated with the singer.  The tree no longer stands, but the site remains a place where people leave flowers and other objects in Bolan’s memory.

Photograph taken 4 April 2018.

  • Latest News

  • Recent Plants

  • Archives