Meadow yellow

Meadow yellow
Bulbous Buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus) in a Devon meadow

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

A Chelsea Bastard

I had been informed by a local botanist that there was a rare plant in our Devon village called Bastard Balm (Melittis melissophyllum) and that it had recently come into bloom. This is a dead nettle standing at up to two feet in height with foxglove like flowers, cream-coloured with a pink-purple splash. So surely not too hard find for a well-trained eye. Indeed there were two of us scouring the shady hedgebanks in the locality it had been described. But no luck although the banks were vibrant with Yellow Archangel, Red Campion, Greater Stitchwort and die-back Bluebells. Some instinct dragged me back up the lane and there it was, a clump of Bastard Balm plants – how it missed it I cannot explain and it just made me wonder how many other wildflowers go “under the radar”.
Bastard Balm is a scarce and vulnerable species found very locally mainly in the south west where the steep Devonshire banks suit it very well; otherwise it is usually a rare escape from gardens (Stace, 2010). Supporting the interest from gardeners, Carol Klein wrote in the Daily Telegraph (2005) about how she included it in one of her Chelsea displays and that “the lower lip of the flower protrudes, and the broad, central, pink stripe gives the impression of a tongue being poked out rudely as though it could not care less what anybody thinks about its status.” Not that I noticed such botanical rudeness, which at least reassures me that the mini-stronghold we do have may therefore have a better chance of survival....or maybe I need an eye test!

Daily Telegraph (2005) How to grow: Melittis melissophyllum[Online] [Accessed 28/5/13] 
Stace, C.A. (2010) New Flora of the British Isles (3rd edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.