Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Adder’s meat, snapper-flower and wild pink

Greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), which produces its showy white blossoms on hedge banks and woodland clearings in early summer, has accumulated more local names than any other wildflower. The Local Names page on this website lists over 140.
Some of these names refer to the plant’s flowers: granny’s nightcap in Dorset, lady’s white petticoat in Herefordshire, morning stars in Dorset, wedding flowers in Gloucestershire and white-flowered grass in Wiltshire.
Other names relate to the time of year when stitchwort flowers: Easter bell and Whit Sundays in Devon, and Whitsuntide in northeast Hampshire. Various ‘cuckoo’ names given to the plant – such as cuckoo’s meat in Buckinghamshire and cuckoo-flower in Kent and on the Isle of Wight – presumably refer to the fact that the flowers are at their best when the cuckoo starts calling.
Similarly various ‘snake’ names – such as adder’s meat in Cornwall and snake-flower in Somerset – possibly relate to the flowers being produced when snakes emerge from hibernation. However, in Cornwall and Somerset children believed that if they picked stitchwort flowers a snake would ‘run’ after them. Other names which suggest that stitchwort could be dangerous include devil’s flower in Somerset and piskie or pixy in southeast Devon, where in the 1880s children believed that the picking of the flowers would lead to being pixy-led – hopelessly lost, even in an area which you knew well.
However once the globular seed-capsules have developed it seems that stitchwort was no longer feared and young children amused themselves popping these. Names which relate to this pastime include snap-crackers in Essex, snapper-flowers in Sussex, snap-jacks in Dorset and Devon.

Adapted from R. Vickery, Garlands, Conkers and Mother-die, 2010: 110-1.

Image: Birdsmoorgate, Marshwood, Dorset; May 2016.