Collecting the folklore and uses of plants


1. [Tetbury, Gloucestershire] My daughter learned a rhyme in her playgroup in 2020 that involves grass flowers, such as false oat-grass [Arrhenatherum elatius].  You pick the whole flower stem and say ‘here’s a tree in summer’.  You then rub your thumb and finger tips up the stem stripping the flowers off so they are bunched in your fingers saying ‘here’s a tree in winter (show the bare flower stalk), ‘here’s a bunch of flowers (show the bunch of flowers between the thumb and finger tips), ‘and here’s the April showers’ (throw the flowers into the air) [e-mail, August 2022].

2.  [Easington Colliery, Co. Durham, 1970s]  We would scatter grass flowers over each other, by holding the bottom of the stem, stripping the the flowers and scattering them over your unsuspecting friend.  This was accompanied by the cry of ‘Shabby wedding!’ as it was to imitate throwing rice [Oryza sativa] or confetti [e-mail, April 2016].

3.   [Germany, 1978-85]  As children we would cut long grass, put it between our lips, blow and try to get a tone out of it.  It could be a loud and sharp tone [Natural History Museum, London, June 2015].

4.  As school kids (1960s/70s in a village on the Kent/East Sussex borders) we used to run our fingers up the stem of a grass in full seed to pull off the grains in a little bunch, then chant ‘Here’s a pretty bunch of flowers … April showers!’ as we threw the seeds all over a friend’s head.
We blew blades of grass to make ‘musical’ sounds [Bristol, September 2013].

5. I spent most of my childhood in Cumbria, nearest city Carlisle … in the 1950s. Grasses could be held between the thumbs and blown thru’ to make an orchestra of sounds if a few of us got together [e-mail, January 2013].

6. We played music on blades of grass, picking a sturdy stem the length of your thumb, then putting your other thumb up to it with the blade of grass acting like a reed between the two thumbs. By altering the angle of your thumb slightly as you blow you can change the sound a bit, or just blow hard to make a loud noise [Old Basing, Hampshire, September 2012].

7. From the 1940s when I was at a village school in Somerset …
Grass – broad blades were held between thumbs and then blowing sharply between to produce an ear-piercing squeak, guaranteed to annoy! [St Marychurch, Devon, August 2011].

8. Children’s games with wild plants .. whistles from blades of grass between cupped hands [Ipswich, Suffolk, August 2011].

9. Children’s games … whistling between a blade of grass between two thumbs [Harrow on the Hill, Middlesex, October 2003].

10. I learnt lots of folklore … during my 30 years in Cumbria, but now I am 90 years old I find it difficult to recall things from that period of my life …
On St Mark’s Eve (24 April) if a young girl picked three tufts of grass from a churchyard and put it under her pillow she would dream of her future, but she must say:
Let me know my fate whether weal or woe,
Whether my rank’s to be high or low,
Whether to live single or be a bride
And the destiny my star doth provide
[Methringham, Lincolnshire, April 1994].

Image: Acton Park, London Borough of Ealing; May 2014.