Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Wall barley

1. Mouse barley – stick up sleeve of jumper when walking out in country as a child with friends, ‘creeps’ up sleeve and when you went to bed you would suddenly remember you had picked it, because it had ‘crept’ to your neck, stomach, or even trousers!!!  Presteigne, Offa’s Dyke, Mid-Border Wales [Streatham Cemetery, Tooting, London, September 2017].

2.  Wall barley – used as darts.  Nottingham, 1950s and 60s [Lichfield Wildlife Group, Staffordshire, September 2014].

3.  There was a grass which produces a whiskery stalk. If placed on or under the sleeve of the dress or jumper and you swung your arms backwards and forward it would slowly climb up. We used to have races with these [Bristol, January 2013].

0344. We used to put that [wall barley] up our sleeve and as we walked along it would work its way up. That was when I was at school [c. 1950s] in Worcestershire [Balham, London, July 2012].

5. We called it flea-grass [Southfields, London, September 2009].

6. As children in schools in Wandsworth [c.1958] we used to make darts from wall barley and throw them at other children. They stuck particularly well to woolly garments. We assumed everyone did it [Tooting Common, London, July 2003].

7. In Bermondsey as a child we called wall barley caterpillars [London, N1. February 1997].

8. [As children about 40 years ago] we used to bombard each other with grass darts which we said were flea-ridden. They stuck very well to woollen clothes when thrown, and as children we used to get very ratty if we got one on our jumper without realising it for some time, as everyone said they were full of fleas! [Totton, Hampshire, August 1993].

9. As children in north London in the late fifties/early sixties we would pick a flower-spike of barley grass (Hordeum murinum) and break it into quite effective darts which could easily get lodged in the hair or clothing of whoever we threw them at – dislodging them was, of course, another matter! [Exeter, Devon, March 1991].

Images: main, Clapham Junction, London Borough of Wandsworth, May 2014; inset, Chatham station, Kent, July 2015.