The Willow family or Salicaceae and their uses. Part 1: The Willows or Salix spp.

The Salicaceae or Willow family is now a much larger family.

It just used to include the willows, poplar, aspen, and cottonwoods.

Pollarded Willows (Salix alba) in a very Dutch Landscape (MS)

Genetic studies summarized by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) have greatly expanded the circumscription of the family to contain 56 genera and about 1220 species, including the Scyphostegiaceae and many of the former Flacourtiaceae.

BUT; fortunately for us, in the British Isles it  has only two main genera, namely the Poplar and the Willow. Although the flowers (as always in traditional classification) determine the ultimate genus and whether it is a Willow or Poplar, most of us can easily tell the difference from the leaves. All the Poplars have a triangular, broad oval, to heart-shape outline with often a long leaf stem (petiole) whilst most of the Willows have long, narrow leaves or roundish, much smaller leaves than Poplars.

When there are no leaves in winter the tree could be identified by the winter buds, where Willows just have one outer scale and the Poplar has several. However as there is much to say about the Willow, I will leave the Poplar for another blog in the future!

Pictures by Matt Summers (MS) and Mike Poulton unless stated. The links provided on the scientific and common plant names provide more detailed information as well as good pictures on each species. Also special thanks to PFAF which provides a wonderful plant database of not just native plants but any useful plants all over the world.

This time I will include all the records of the entries of the ‘Online Atlas of the British and Irish Flora’ (BRC) or National Biodiversity Network link (NBN) next to the scientific and common names.

Continue reading “The Willow family or Salicaceae and their uses. Part 1: The Willows or Salix spp.”

The very useful Nettle family or Urticaceae.

The nettle is a most useful plant for many different purposes. The Nettles are part of the Nettle family (Urticaceae) and has some other native genera as well, which you will find out below.

The Common Stinging Nettle early in the year (Picture by Matt Summers)

This time of the year the nettle is just emerging again from its wintersleep!

It is family number 54 in Stace and besides the genus Urtica, which has 2 native species, it also has 2 other genera + species occurring in the B.I. namely the useful Parietaria judaica (Pellitory-of-the-wall) and an ornamental, low creeping plant with very small leaves, sometimes seen as a houseplant, called Soleirolia soleirolii with the very funny common name: ‘Mind-your-own-business’.

I have seen this plant much more frequently in the last few years in Walsall gardens too and many gardeners find this a menace!

“ The 3 genera appear very different vegetatively, but are characterised by their inconspicuous, unisexual flowers with 4 perianth segments, 4 stamens, 1-celled superior ovary with 1 ovule, 1 style and densely branched stigma”. The Common Nettle (Urtica dioica) is very variable, especially in leaf shape and hairiness, stingless, subglabrus and monoecious variants are known.” (Stace)

The other native nettle is not as well-known and is the annual Small Nettle (Urtica urens). Apparently this is an archaeophyte and often occurs in cultivated and waste ground. As with many leafy plants, they are often an indicator of good soil.

I use colour coding for easy reading! Blue background is general interesting info (although I hope you find it all interesting!!). Green is about all the uses except for medicinal uses or if there is a warning in which case I use a pink background

Continue reading “The very useful Nettle family or Urticaceae.”

Toadflax or Linaria vulgaris

I would like to talk about a very attractive plant today called the Common Toadflax or Linaria vulgaris. At the moment (end of August) it is flowering in profusion all along the motorways and other big roads. 

The Toadflax or Linaria vulgaris is a common enough, but very handsome plant with several uses!

The plant is widespread also on ruderal spots, in dunes, and on disturbed and cultivated land.

It used to be in the Scrophulariaceae family and you may well still be finding this in most floras, but this family has been split into five families. More about this later.

In the Netherlands we call this ‘Lion’s Mouth’, which I think is a nicer name for this pretty yellow wild flower! However when I looked in Mrs Grieve’s book, ‘A Modern Herbal’ (page 815)  I noticed it is also one of the many other names for Toadflax.

I found the following 16 names: Fluellin, Pattens and Clogs, Flaxweed, Ramated, Snapdragon, Churnstuff, Dragon-bushes, Brideweed, Toad, Yellow Rod, Larkspur Lion’s Mouth, Devils’ Doggies, Calves’ Snout, Eggs and Bacon, Buttered Haycocks and last but not least; Monkey Flower.

The name Toadflax originated in the resemblance of the flower to little toads, there being also a resemblance between the mouth of the flower and the wide mouth of the toad. The general resemblance of the plant in early summer to a flax plant, accounts for the latter part of its name.

I use colour coding for easy reading! Blue background is general interesting info (although I hope you find it all interesting!!). Green is about all the uses except for medicinal uses or if there is a warning in which case I use a pink background. Pictures by Matt Summers unless stated.

Continue reading “Toadflax or Linaria vulgaris”

The Blackberry: a most useful weed!

Blackberry, Bramble or Rubus aggr.

Some healthy and juicy blackberries on my former allotment!

The genus Rubus is part of the Rose family which is family number 48 in Stace. See for more about the woody Rosaceae in my post here.

The Brambles, which is one of the common names of Rubus has several native species but the one we know best is called the Blackberry (the useful, edible one) or Bramble (the nasty, spiny one).

I use colour coding for easy reading! Blue background is general interesting info (although I hope you find it all interesting!!). Green is about all the uses except for medicinal uses or if there is a warning in which case I use a pink background. Pictures by Matt Summers unless stated.

Continue reading “The Blackberry: a most useful weed!”

The Horsetails: weeds or useful plants!

The main horsetail I’ll be writing about today is Equisetum arvense or the Field Horsetail otherwise known as Shavegrass, Bottlebrush and Pewterwort!

This plant often gets a lot of critiscism.

Especially if it grows in your own garden or on the allotment!

So I decided I must research the horsetail and write this post!

I read a nice chapter in one of my older books and start off with this and then list all its virtues on the next page.

The green sterile stems of the horsetail (courtesy of MPF Wikipedia)

Contents:

Equisetaceae or Horsetail Family

Extraordinary (extract from ‘Grandmother’s Secrets; her green guide to health from plants’  by Jean Palaiseul)

Equisetum arvense or Field Horsetail

E. hyemale or Rough Horsetail

Uses as from Wikipedia:

  • Domestic
  • Music
  • Medicinal
  • In cultivation
  • E. palustre or Marsh Horsetail
  • E. pratense or Shady Horsetail
  • E. ramosissimum or Branched Horsetail

E. sylvaticum or  Wood Horsetail

  • E. telmateia or Great Horsetail
  • E. variegatum or Variegated Horsetail
  • E. × ⁠trachyodon (E. hyemale × variegatum) or Mackay’s Horsetail
Continue reading “The Horsetails: weeds or useful plants!”

 Scientific Classification of our Native plants

In my blogs, you may have noticed that I write about native plants and mostly refer to their scientific or latin names as well as the family in which they fit.

The reason is that I do not wish to make it just another piece concerning the uses of native plants, but one where I would like to place them into a Binomial nomenclature, a system which is essential for the idea of order in my ‘virtual ethnobotanical garden’!

Continue reading ” Scientific Classification of our Native plants”

Three more Common ‘Weeds’ in Walsall.

Enchanter’s-nightshade showing burrs and flowers and one of the more common weeds found on my rounds in Walsall gardens (picture by Christian Fischer- Wikipedia)

Just thought I’d write about a few weeds found here commonly in the base rich soils of Walsall gardens!

I do feel a bit guilty doing my day-job at people’s gardens, tidying up their patch! Especially when I need to remove weeds out of their borders. Sometimes I apologize to the weed in question, taking it away, as it could possibly be a food source of insects and other creatures!

It is not so bad when I have to put other plants in their place or if I have to take out really damaging weeds such as Goosegrass (Galium aparine) or Bindweed (Calystegia spp.) which are totally swamping ornamental plants.

Continue reading “Three more Common ‘Weeds’ in Walsall.”

Useful Grasses in Britain

Two common grasses in a local meadow: Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus) and Sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum)

The family of Poaceae, which is the last family in Stace’s  and most other modern Floras) has 5 Sub-families and 16 tribes.

It is by far the largest family in the temperate world as grasses flourish in nearly every habitat!

Stace does mention many obvious non-natives which have naturalized in several places, as well as crop plants which have been grown in the B.I. for many centuries.

Many people find grasses hard to identify and this is mostly due because of their small parts, which often need  be looked at through magnifying glasses and of course they are mainly all green!

However with a bit of practise and knowledge into which diagnostics to look for, they are not too difficult. It can get adictive as the flowers are often beautiful!

I use colour coding for easy reading! Blue background is general interesting info (although I hope you find it all interesting!!). Green is about all the uses except for medicinal uses or if there is a warning in which case I use a pink background. Amber coloured background is for all the cereal grasses this time. Pictures by Matt Summers and Mike Poulton unless stated.

Contents

Gallery of grasses (by Mike Poulton)
Identifying Grasses
Ornamental Uses of Grasses
How to make a standard lawn more attractive!
Mixes of grasses for hard wearing and fine turf
Wildlife Uses
Main uses of Grasses

Main important grasses:

Marram Grass or Ammophila arenaria

Leymus or Leymus arenarius

Common Reed or Phragmites australis

Floating Sweet grass or Glyceria fluitans

Small Sweet-grass or Glyceria declinata

Perennial Rye Grass or Lolium perenne

Italian Rye Grass or Lolium multiflorum

(Mainly) Medicinal Grasses

Sweet Vernal Grass or Anthoxanthum oderatum

Sweet/Holy Grass or Hierochloe odorata

 Darnel or Lolium termulentum

Couch Grass/Twitch or Elytrigia repens

Cultivated Grains in our temperate world:

Wheat or Triticum

Rye or Secale

Barley or Hordeum

Oats or Avena

Food and Drink
Fodder and Bedding
– Other Uses
– Medicinal Uses
An edited account of our cultivated grains
Continue reading “Useful Grasses in Britain”

Useful members of the Brassica (Cabbage!) Family. Part 1

Part 1 of the Brassica or Cabbage Family is an introduction to some of the members of this large family.

A more thorough account of all the members can be found in part 2 and part 3.

Family 87: the Brassica or Cabbage Family, scientifically known as the Brassicaceae, has approx 52 native genera according to Stace!

Crambe maritima or Sea kale is an impressive member of the Brassicaceae here on Chesil Beach, Dorset.

This family has a good representation on the British Isles mainly with annuals and perennials. It is easy to recognise as the former family name was Cruciferae which means the flowers always have 4 petals and 4 sepals forming a cross or crucifix. If not in flower the fruits are also a distinctive feature useful for identification.  Many have both the flowers as well as the fruit at the same time, making identification even easier!

Several improved members of this family have been in cultivation for hundreds of years for their food value especially in winter-time such as all the different cabbages and kales. Throughout the year there are vegetables available of this family from salad leaves such as Rocket, Mustard, Cress and their peppery tasting roots such as in the Turnip and Radish!

I use colour coding for easy reading! Blue background is general interesting info (although I hope you find it all interesting!!). Green is about all the uses except for medicinal uses or if there is a warning in which case I use a pink background. Pictures by Matt Summers unless stated.

Contents

Some uses of the native Brassicaceae

Draba verna (syn: Erophila verna) or Common Whitlowgrass

Cardamine pratensis or Cuckoo Flower & Lady’s Smock

Capsella bursa-pastoris or Shepard’s purse

Arabidopsis thaliana or Thale Cress

Cochlearia danica or Danish Scurvygrass

Cardamine hirsuta or Hairy Bitter-cress

Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum or Water-cress

Continue reading “Useful members of the Brassica (Cabbage!) Family. Part 1”

Introduction to My Wonderful Weeds Blog

To talk kindly about the weeds in my blog, we first need to identify those weeds of which many people despise…!

Common Ragwort is despised by horse owners in particular but lots of wildlife, including this house sparrow is depending on it! See more in this post. (Picture by Matt Summers)

A useful place to find this information is on the RHS website please see here. You can also find out how to tackle them. It mentions over 20 most troublesome weeds, for which I will hope to do a write up in the coming weeks.

Continue reading “Introduction to My Wonderful Weeds Blog”