We’re a couple of weeks into April and the first flowers to bloom in the semi improved fields at Caramel are now in evidence. Cuckoo flowers, Lucy lockets, Lady’s smocks. Milkmaids, Meadow cress, Bread and milk. However not quite the exhibition of biodiversity you might suspect on first reading. They’re all names for the same species, Cardamine pratensis a member of the cabbage family and a common wild flower in the UK especially in damper fields and verges. If you think the English names make for potential confusion here in Wales there’s another long list of Welsh names to go along with them. Blodyn bara llaeth and Blodyn llefrith have a milk theme, Blodyn y gwcw, Blodyn y gog, Blodyn y cegid bychain link the plant to the cuckoo and Ffedog y forwyn translates as The maid’s apron. Apparently the species holds the record for the highest number of common names of any plant found in the UK though it appears that variations on maids, cuckoos and milk constitute the large majority of them.
The main flowering period for Cuckoo flowers is in May and early June in this part of Wales and the plants are then usually thirty to fifty centimetres high. The ones that are flowering now are rather dwarf like being only ten to fifteen centimetres in height. This may be because of wide fluctuations in temperature we’re experiencing at the moment. Though perhaps because the grass species around them are still short they don’t need to grow any taller to stand out and advertise themselves to pollinating insects. Cuckoo flowers are one of the main food plants of the larva of Orange-tip butterflies, another “early riser” and commonly seen on the Carmel reserve from late April to mid June.
It’s not only the larva of a number of butterfly and moth species that appreciate the taste of the leaves of the Cuckoo flower. Despite its “bitter and pungent flavour” (apparently that’s not necessarily a bad characteristic when constructing a salad) it’s young leaves and shoots are used by wild food enthusiasts as a water cress substitute. However the caveat “when used use in small quantities” appears to say rather a lot and will probably mean pre-packed Cuckoo Flower/ Lady’s smock/Blodyn bara llaeth salads won’t replace the Rocket on your supermarket veg counter anytime soon.
Charli Evans, Community and Volunteering Officer