Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Sugar Daddies

Plants, People, Places – ‘a cultural flora for the North-west’, inspired by Richard Mabey’s Flora Britannica – was produced by the Natural History Centre of Liverpool Museum from February 1993 until January 1998.
In no. 4 (June 1994) Mike Palmer reported that while demonstrating seed dispersal at the Museum one girl identified the fluffy seeds of rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) as sugar daddies. Another contributor remembered the name being used in north Manchester in the 1950s, while a third remembered: ‘Sugar daddies were a regular feature of still summer days. They were always though the very large floating seeds of spear thistle, Cirsium vulgare. I don’t remember us having a name for willowherb seeds.’
Another ‘sugar’ name was sugar stealers, recalled as being used for rosebay willowherb seeds in Darwin, dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) seeds in Westhoughton, and ‘both thistle and dandelion seed heads’ in Bolton, all in Lancashire.
Further memories were recorded in issue no. 8 (February 1996). In Manchester ‘the children called all thistle and willowherb type seeds sugars’. In Blackley, north Manchester, in the 1950s, ‘there was a local opinion, very firmly held by both children and adults, that sugar flies, as the seeds of rosebay willowherb were locally called, ate sugar. Proof of this I think, was that they would drop into and collect in open sugar bowls!’ Similarly, in Hapton, Lancashire, ‘we referred to rosebay(?) seeds as sugar eaters. This I understood to be because they invariably drifted on to the large sugar bowls which would stand on the table or dresser (sideboard)’.
It seems that various ‘sugar’ names were commonly given to rosebay willowherb and similar seeds in Lancashire; were these names also known elsewhere?

Image: fruiting rosebay willowherb, Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, August 2017.

Updated 12 August 2017.