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

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

The Salicaceae or Willow family is now a large family.

The traditional family Salicaceae  included the willows, poplar, aspen, and cottonwoods. 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, 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 outline and a long leaf stem (petiole) whilst most of the Willows have long, narrow leaves or roundish leaves.

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.

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The useful Urticaceae or Nettle family

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!

A most useful plant for many different purposes, which you will find out below.

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 more frequently in the last few years in Walsall gardens as well.

“ 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

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Toadflax or Linaria vulgaris

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

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 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.

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The Blackberry: a most useful weed!

Some healthy and juicy blackberries on my former allotment!

Blackberry, Bramble or Rubus aggr.

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.

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The Horsetails

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

Equisetum arvense or Field Horsetail, Shavegrass, Bottlebrush and Pewterwort!

Other species of Equisetum with a traditional medicinal use in Britain are              E. sylvaticum or  Wood Horsetail and E. hyemale or Rough Horsetail.

These are found in the Equisetaceae family which is family number 5 in the Calomophyte group of the Pteridophytes (or Ferns & Fern allies)) and are one the most primitive of vascular plants.

This plant often gets a lot of critiscism. Especially if it grows in your garden or on the allotment! On the far side of my allotments the plant grows everywhere, whilst it does not seem to grow much at all on mine or the rest of 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 before listing all its virtues on the next page.

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

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 Scientific Classification of our Native plants

In my blogs, you may have noticed that I write about native plants and mostly refer to their 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’!

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Three common weeds or wild-flowers I have found in Walsall gardens.

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.

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Grasses or Poaceae

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

The family of Poaceae (number 177, or  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.

Here a gallery of pictures by Mike Poulton of various grasses from different habitats.

For the main text see page 2.

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Some native members of the Brassica (Cabbage!) Family

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

Family 87 Brassicaceae has approx 52 native genera according to Stace

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!

Some general uses on the next page, followed by more detail description of the more important members of this large family! There will be a part 2 in the future.

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.

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Introduction to My Wonderful Weed Weekly Blog

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

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

I found the RHS website very useful please see here.

and how to tackle them:

This website mentions over 20 most troublesome weeds, upon which I will hope to do a write up in the coming weeks. As my partner is going through 1000’s of pictures taken by him in the last 10 years, I will occasionally stray to another weed/native plant which I think is worth you knowing about!

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