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Dr Johnson’s mulberry tree – update

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Following a report that much of the tree fell down yesterday (12 July) Dr Johnson’s mulberry (Morus nigra) on the Streatham Park Estate in south London was visited this evening.   As a post elsewhere on this website explains, the dictionary-compiler Dr Johnson is said to have known this tree when he visited his friends Henry and Hester Thrale.

In fact a substantial part of the tree’s crown remains intact, and although the centre of the trunk is hollow inside and obviously rotten there is a healthy layer of hard wood around the outside.  There are also small twigs emerging from the trunk below where the bulk of the crown broke off, so with careful treatment the tree should survive.

King Oak, Epping Forest

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

A pub called King Oak has stood at High Beech, in Epping Forest, Essex, for over 200 years.  It is said that the original oak was planted in memory of King Harold, who died at the Battle of Hastings in 1066; alternatively in 1536 King Henry VIII waited here for the news of Anne Boleyn’s execution.

The original tree (if it ever existed) has been long gone, but a fine red oak (Quercus rubra), planted to commemorate a visit by Victoria in 1882, dominates the grassy area in front of the pub.

Image: July 2017.

QUERY: Hollyhock lore

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) can be considered to be an archetypal cottage garden plant, which features on numerous paintings and embroideries of idealised rural gardens.  But it appears to have attracted little, or no, folklore, and very few alternative names. Macmillan in his Popular Names of Flowers, Fruits, etc. (1922) lists five names, three from Somerset: billy buttons, Jacob’s ladder and rose mallow, and two unlocalised: hock-holler and holly-anders.  No other compilers of dictionaries of local plant names mention the plant.

Other names, or folklore concerning hollyhock, would be appreciated; please send it to

Image: cultivated, Hinton St George, Somerset; July 2017.

REPORT: Wildflower Walk, Cranham Marsh

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

About 15 people turned up for Roy Vickery’s Wildflower Walk through Cranham Marsh Nature Reserve, in Upminster, on 12 July.  Despite heavy rain earlier in the day, the evening was fine and warm (as usual for this event) and we spent about two hours discussing some of the plants on the site.  These included spindle (Euonymus europaeus) formerly used for skewers and to kill  head-lice, and rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) which was formerly a rare plant but is now widespread.

£150 was collected for local Green Party funds, and it was reported that ‘feedback afterwards was enthusiastic’.

REMINDER: Wildflower Walk, 21 July

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Roy Vickery will be leading a Wildflower Walk on Tooting Common, London Borough of Wandsworth, on Friday 21 July 2017; meet at the junction of Emmanuel, Fernlea and Cavendish Roads (c. 10 minutes walk from Balham stations), at 7.00 p.m.  The event will finish at about 8.30.  Voluntary collection in aid of local Green Party funds.  All welcome!

Image:  tufted vetch (Vicia cracca), Tooting Common, July 2017.


Commemorating victims of 1906 anarchist bomb

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |


Olive (Olea europaea)  and bay (Laurus nobilis) placed on the memorial to the almost 30 people who were killed, and the 100 people injured, when an anarchist threw a bomb, disguised as a bunch of flowers, at the wedding procession of King Alfonso XIII of Spain and Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, on 31 May 1906.

Photographed 3 July 2017.



Plant-lore Archive: June 2017

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

June 2017 was a relatively quiet month, with only eight items of information being received from seven correspondents.  Particular thanks to Brian Wurzell for information about the use by London’s Turkish community of common mallow (Malva sylvestris) as food.  The Archive now contains 7,488 items of information from 2,078 contributors.

Use of the website was down from the record 14,914 searches in May to 9,252 searches in June.  This appears to be an annual pattern and the number of searches made in June 2017 is significantly up on the 8,395 searches made in 2016.

Visits were made to Corpus Christi events at Arundel, West Sussex, and St Mary’s Bourne Street, London, and to the Alban Pilgrimage in St Albans Hertfordshire.

Steady progress was made on The Folk Flora, and it is seems very probable that this work will be be  finished before its projected completion date of 31 December, so please send any appropriate information for possible inclusion to without delay!

Sweetheart plant, Valentine’s hoya, lucky hearts

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Sweetheart plant (Hoya kerrii) is sold on Valentine’s day as single rooted leaves.

A householder in St Albans, Hertfordhire, displays three sweetheart plants, along with other succulents and cacti, in her front window.

Photograph taken 24 June 2017.




The Alban Pilgrimage, 2017

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

For many years a Rose Service was held at St Albans, Hertfordshire, on the Sunday nearest the feast day (22 June) of St Alban, Britain’s first Christian martyr.  It is believed that this event started early in the twentieth century and was promoted more actively during the 1970s to give ‘an opportunity for children from all over the diocese to attend their mother church’ and celebrate the day.  During the service people would process pass the shrine of St Alban, and place roses (Rosa cvs.), mainly gathered from their gardens, on it.

In recent years the event, now known as the Alban pilgrimage, has been moved to a Saturday.  At 11 a.m. a procession, consisting of clergy, a band, and giants representing the saint and people associated with his life, leaves St Michael’s church and reaches the Abbey for a Festival Eucharist service which begins at noon.

In 2017 the Pilgrimage was held on 24 June.  It was said that the event gets bigger every year, and certainly there was a good attendance at the noon service.  From 2.00 p.m. there was an Orthodox ‘service of intercession’ at the shrine, followed at 3.00 p.m. by prayers for healing at the shrine’, and the final service of the day – Festival Evensong – which started at 4.00 p.m., and, like the morning service, attracted a large congregation.  At the conclusion of this service the clergy and choir led a procession past the shrine, and people were able to leave roses on it.  Unlike the former Rose Services, the Evensong was not child-focused (indeed the preacher’s emphasis on the beheading of the saint could have upset younger listeners).  Also, whereas at the Rose Services people would bring roses from their gardens, in 2017 long-stemmed red roses were on sale at £1 each in the Abbey between the two main services, and most people used these; there were only one or two home-grown blooms.  It was interesting that, perhaps because of the speed at which the procession moved, it seemed that people were not to be carefully placing their roses on the shrine, but simply tossing the flowers at its base.

Corpus Christi, St Mary’s Bourne Street

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

The Anglo-Catholic church of St Mary’s Bourne Street, in Belgravia, London, holds its Corpus Christi Festival on the ‘Sunday in the Octave of Corpus Christi’ – the Sunday after the feast of Corpus Christi.

According to a member of the parish’s clergy, writing in 1987:

‘The carpet on the floor is of leaves and herbs.  The herbs are sweet smelling, but most of them are straight kitchen herbs and then occasionally the odd spot of verbena or scented geranium gets included …  the smell of the church is like something in an especially aromatic wood.’

The 2017 celebration, on 18 June, was a highly theatrical event involving about 20 robed clergymen, which culminated in the removal of the Most Holy Sacrament from the High Altar and processing it to the Chapel of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady, before returning it to the High Altar.  The procession included a couple of small children dressed in white who threw rose [Rosa] petals in front of the Sacrament.

A carpet was placed along the route of the procession, but few, if any, herbs appear to have been used in 2017.  Leaves and small flowering twigs of lime (Tilia europaea) seemed to form the bulk of the carpet, other leaves used included ash (Fraxinus excelsior), oak (Quercus), a yellow-leaved form of Mexican orange (Choisya ternata), and a variegated form of kohuhu (Pittosporum tenuifolium).  Compared with the carpets prepared elsewhere with their elaborate floral designs, the St Mary’s carpet is simple and almost primitive.

Photographs taken after the processions, thus showing scattered rose petals on the disturbed carpet.

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