Cuckooflower

Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis), also known as Lady's-smock due to its emergence around Lady's day, is an unbranched perennial (lasts for 2+ years) that can grow up to 60cm tall. It is incredibly variable and its flowers can be any shade of white, yellow, pink or purple. The flowers themselves are 12-18mm across, with each of the 4 petals being about 3x as long as the sepals. There are two types of leaves, with the basal leaves being pinnate and forming a rosette, with the terminal (end) leaflet being larger than the lateral leaflets. The leaves on the upper part of the stem are all narrow (as can be seen in the photo below).

The upper stem leaves of Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis)

C. pratensis is a common, native species, which is widespread throughout the UK and all of Europe (except the Mediterranean). It is not overly picky in its preferred habitats, and as such, can be found up to 1080m in damp grasslands, marshes, roadsides, hedgerows and stream sides. The flowering season of Cuckooflower is between April and June and it gets its common name because the emergence of the flowers often coincides with the spring arrival of the first Cuckoos in the UK.

The lilac coloured flowers of Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis)

There are many wive's tales associated with the Cuckooflower in different countries. Legend has it that the plant is sacred to fairies and anyone who took them indoors would be hit with bad luck. In Germany, it was believed that anyone who picked the Cuckooflowers would be struck by lightning and in France, the Cuckooflower was thought to be the Adder's favourite and so if you picked them, you would get bitten by an Adder before the following May.

Many species of pollinating insects are attracted to Cuckooflowers, and it is one of the food plants for the Orange Tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines). There is some historic medicinal use of Cuckooflower, whereby it is said to be slightly excitant and anti-scorbutic as well as sometimes being used as a diuretic. However, by 1900, the use of Cuckooflower in herbal medicine had greatly declined, except that an infusion was taken to aid digestion. Modern day uses of Cuckooflower mainly revolve around dried samples being used in infusions or as a compress to help treat rheumatic pains. The young leaves, young stems and flowers are all edible and are often included in salads as they are said to taste like watercress.


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