Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

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Events 30 July – 1 August

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Two events coming up in Shropshire at the end of the month:

Friday 30 July, Plant-lore of our English Hedgerows , 2-4 p.m.  at Treverward, near Clun.

Saturday 31 July, Plant-lore of of our English Hedgerows,  10 a.m. – 12 noon, at Bishops Castle.

And one event in London on 1 August:

Tree Walk on Tooting Common, London Borough of Wandsworth, 2.30 – c. 4 p.m.

For further details see the Events page on this website.

Weeds & Folklore in Roehampton

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

On Saturday 24 July 2021 the Roehampton Gardens Society organised two Weeds & Folklore walks at Pleasance Allotments in the London Borough of Wandsworth.  10 people turned up to each walk.  As most of the paths on the site are narrow we were restricted to the main path across this delightful and hidden site, but we were able to find sufficient plants to keep us happily occupied for about 90 minutes each time. Rather unusually sun spurge, Euphorbia helioscopia, seems to be more common than petty spurge, E. peplus, in the allotments, and it was explained that both species could be used to treat warts.  We also discussed several plant-lore favourites, such as stinging nettle Urtica dioica, ivy Hedera helix and ribwort plantain Plantago lanceolata.

At the end of each walk several participants kindly wrote down their memories.

One recalled using rye-grass, Lolium perenne, to predict the future, pulling off spikelets while reciting ‘This year, next year, sometime, never’, in south Wales in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Another recalled popping out the corollas of bindweed, Calystegia sp., saying ‘Granny pops out of her knickers’, in Balham, London, a previously unrecorded version of the widespread children’s pastime.

And a third recalled ‘milk the cow’ – pulling the stem of a greater plantain, Plantago major, leaf so that the veins cause the leaf-blade to crinkle up, in the early 1970s.  This is a late record of a pastime which seems to have been popular in Surrey in the 1940s.

Feedback from the Society was positive:  ‘Thank you so much for taking the time to share your fun and fascinating knowledge of weed folklore with us. These are the kinds of stories that bring nature to life – may we never lose them!’

Flowers for St Volodymyr

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Flowers – altar lilies, Zantedeschia aethiopica, and rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis (or Salvia rosmarinus) – placed at the base of statue of St Volodymyr, at junction of Holland Park Avenue and Holland Park, London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

The inscription on the statue’s pedestal reads: ‘St Volodymyr, Ruler of Ukraine, 980-1015; erected by Ukrainians in Great Britain in 1988 to celebrate the establishment of Christianity in Ukraine by St Volodymyr in 988’.

Photographed 23 July 2021.

Upcoming events, 19-25 July 2021

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Plenty of events coming up, for details see Events page on this website:

Monday 19 July:  South London Botanical Institute visit to St Mary’s Merton Park, London  churchyard, London Borough of Merton, starting at 7.00 p.m.

Report:  Six of us gathered on a pleasantly cool evening after a very hot day.  Unfortunately the churchyard had been mown leaving little of interest to be seen, so we wandered around the surrounding area, paying particular attention to the varied plants in John Innes Park,  admired a fine dawn redwood, Metasequoia glyptotroboides, and generally enjoying each other’s company.

Thursday 22 July:  Pavement Prowl, looking at wild plants growing on the pavement and in front gardens, in Dafforne Road, Tooting, London Borough of Wandsworth, starting at 2.30 p.m.; as we are not expecting to find many plants this walk will be particulary suitable for beginners.

Report: Five people gathered on an extremely hot afternoon to spend about an hour walking along pavements and recording what grew on them and in front gardens.  32 species of flowering plants, two species of ferns, one liverwort, and three lichens were seen.  Despite the heat it was agreed that the event was worthwhile and we agreed to meet in September to continue our exploration of the local flora.

Friday 23 July:  Looking for, and at, plants on Clapham Common, London Borough of Lambeth, starting at 11 a.m.

Report:  Only two people had booked for this event, but both turned up and we spent a pleasant 90 minutes wandering around the south end of the Common, enjoying a fine colony of soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) which was in its prime, an area devoted to the encouragement of wild flowers, and two small mistletoe (Viscum album) which had been sown on  an ?apple tree just inside an area of woodland. As mistletoe usually prefers to grow on more isolated trees it will be interesting to see how these survive in woodland; at present they look healthy.

Sunday 25 July:  Plant hunt in West Norwood Cemetery, London Borough of Lambeth, starting at 2 p.m.

Report:  Although the weather ranged from wet to very wet, six of us spent a couple of hours exploring the corner of the Cemetery nearest its entrance.  66 plant species were recorded, and it was generally agreed that the South London Botanical Institute should go ahead with an extensive survey of  the Cemetery’s flora.

Image:  spotted medick, West Norwood Cemetery, June 2021.

REMINDER: Events 16 and 17 July

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Two events coming up, neither of which are directly associated with plant folklore:

Friday 16 July, 11.00- c.12.30 p.m.:  Plant hunt in St Leonard’s churchyard, Streatham, London Borough of Lameth.

Report:  Four of us spent about 90 minutes wandering around the churchyard, where despite grass mowing and building works going on we were able to record almost 100 species, including a number which had not been recorded in previous years, including annual mercury, Mercurialis annua and lady’s bedstraw, Galium verum.

Saturday 17 July, 11.00 a.m. – c. 1.00 p.m.: Wildlife recording in Battersea Rise Cemetery, London Borough of Wandsworth.

Report:  Again four people turned up, and again we spent about 90 minutes recording any birds, butterflies and plants which we felt we could accurately identify.  The lists have not yet been compiled, but we agreed it had been an enjoyable and worthwhile morning.

For further details see the Events page on the website.

Image:  examining ash, Fraxinus excelsior, during a Herbal Heritage walk in St Leonard’s churchyard, September 2017, © Carlos Bruzon.

Remembering Diana at 60

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |


Photographs and flowers placed at the gate to Kensington Palace, London, to commemorate what would have been the 60th birthday of Diana, Princess of Wales (1 July 1961-31 August 1997).


Photograph taken 4 July 2021.



Plant-lore Archive: June 2021

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

June was another successful month with 80 items of information being received from 75 contributors, 66 of them being new.  Thus the total now stands at 8901 items from 2987 contributors.  Thank you everyone.

With the easing of lockdown restrictions it was possible to hold more events and permit more people to attend these events.  Particularly enjoyable were a walk around Battersea Rise Cemetery, and two walks organised by the Friends of Woolwich Common, both of which received favourable feedback:

‘Those of us who signed up for Roy Vickery’s wild plant safari on the Common were treated to a morning of great erudition, humour and insight into the uses our forebears put common plants to’ [FoWC].

One minor publication was produced:

English names for spurge in Ireland, FLS News 94: 15-16.

An extremely favourable review of Vickery’s Folk Flora, by Gabrielle Hatfield, herself a prolific writer on plant folklore, was published in Folklore 132: 222-23:

Vickery’s Folk Flora is a major achievement and will form the basis of future British folklore of plants for many years to come … countless people will have reason to be grateful to him in the coming years for sharing his extensive knowledge and research, and for presenting it so readably.’

Image:  altar (or arum) lily, Zantedeschia aethiopica, naturalized in West Norwood Cemetery, London Borough of Lambeth, June 2021.

Jean Tsushima (1926-2020)

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Jean Tsushima, an enthusiastic supporter of Plant-lore Archive, died in December 2020.  She was a woman of tremendous energy, who claimed to be an active member of 21 learned  and other societies.  At one stage she was the Folklore Society’s Publicity Officer, and would tramp around London’s independent bookshops asking them to display posters promoting the Society’s lectures and other events.

Jean always considered herself to be something of a rebel, and perhaps this partly explains her marriage to a Japanese journalist shortly after the end of the Second World War.  She would also proudly announce that she was an atheist, long after people were likely to be shocked by such admissions (and, indeed, when it might have taken more courage to admit to being a believer).  However, she did not approve of the writer  W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) because of his homosexuality.

Jean contributed her vivid memories to P-LA, and often sent photocopies of  extracts from biographies and obscure publications, with her handwritten notes and interpretations scrawled along the margins.  As she got older her sight deteriorated, and regrettably  we lost contact; her last contribution to the Archive was in 2013, thirty years after her first contribution in 1983.

An obituary by George Monger can be found in FLS News 94: 6 (2021).

Another record Echium?

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

On 3 June 2021 it was reported that a giant viper’s-bugloss, Echium pininana, in Cornwall had reached 18ft.  This was claimed to be a record height for this species,  ‘the previous record being 16ft’.

This stimulated Scott Walker to send us a photograph of an Echium in his Dublin garden which has achieved 19ft 6ins, and which he believes might be a record for Ireland.

It is not known who, if anyone, ‘officially’ records the height of  giant viper’s-buglosses.

The Alban Pilgrimage, 2021

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The 2021 Alban Pilgrimage, which commemorates St Alban, Britain’s first saint, took place in St Albans, Hertfordshire on Sunday 27 June.  The day started with a patronal eucharist in the Cathedral at 1o a.m.  At 3 o’clock in the afternoon a procession depicting scenes from the Saint’s martyrdom, gathered at St Michael’s church, and processed to the Abbey, stopping three times along the way to tell the story of his arrest, his crossing of the River Ver (which ‘ran dry in its bed and left him a way to cross’), and his execution.  On reaching the Abbey a hymn was sung by the Abbey choir, and those who wanted to were invited in for a festival evensong.  Participants were told to wear face-coverings and leave two seats between groups or individuals.  At the conclusion of the service the clergy led the congregation past the Saint’s shrine and out of the building.  Usually people toss red roses onto the shrine as they pass, but this year only the clergy and a very small number of other people did so.

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