Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Ragged Robin

Ragged robin (Silene, formerly Lychnis, flos-cuculi) is a plant which is widespread and, when flowering conspicuous, on marshy ground throughout the British Isles, but has attracted little folklore.  Collecting plant-lore for over 40 years has produced nothing, but the Local Names page on this website provides a list of some 30 names.  These include bachelor’s buttons, the name which has been applied to the largest number of plants in the British Isles, in Somerset, and a small number of ‘cuckoo’ names, including the widespread cuckoo, and cuckoo’s flower in Worcestershire. Names, like ragged robin, which refer to the deeply lobed petals include ragged jack in Essex, Somerset and Sussex, ragged urchin in Devon, ragged willie in Shetland, and shaggy jacks in Devon.

In his Ireland’s Generous Nature (2014) Peter Wyse Jackson notes that ‘it is said to be unlucky to pick the flowers of this species and take them indoors as bad weather (thunder) may follow.’  The name thunder-flower, recorded from Yorkshire, might refer to similar beliefs.

William Milliken and Sam Bridgewater, in their Flora Celtica (2004), mention that a double-flowered form of ragged robin was grown in Scottish gardens before 1600, and recommend the species as a plant which brings wildlife into gardens, attracting a variety of butterflies, long-tongued bees and hoverflies.

David Allen and Gabrielle Hatfield in their Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition (2004) note a solitary record, from Cardiganshire, of an ointment made from ragged robin used to treat snakebites, but since the name ragged robin has also been given to red campion (Silene dioica) they suggest that the record ‘may probably safely be presumed to belong to that’.

Image:  Wildlife Garden, The Natural History Museum, London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea; May 2017.