With this year’s drought the wild flowers have been sparse but, in our part of the world, the one which has survived determinedly is the wild carrot.
The root of this flower is the forefather of our current, delicious carrot, although I am told that the wild carrot is rather tough and earthy in taste. It is not the root that intrigues me though. It is the flower head. I am a sucker for umbellifers. Those plants instinctively please me, with their repeating pattern of stems each with a tiny flower on the top, all joining together to form a canopy like an umbrella.
As Dainty as Lace
Cow parsley is one of my favourite wildflowers yet this year even that persistant plant struggled in the unprecedented dry weather here in Suffolk. Instead I had to turn my attention to the Queen Anne’s Lace Daucus carota, which seemed to be surviving regardless of the weather, and is another of the umbellifers. As is often the way with nature, I find that the more I look the more I see and that lacework was no exception. The miniscule flowers formed a more intricate pattern than I could have designed in a million years. Although, of course mother nature has had more time than my life would ever allow. I could see the analogy with lace work and the fine cotton spun designs. Apparently Queen Anne was an excellent needlewoman and so this was likened to her workmanship.
A Drop of Blood
There is a simple way to differentiate this flower from the other similar types in the hedgerow. If you look carefully, at the very centre of the flowerhead, there is a tiny cluster of dark red flowers. It is as if someone had pricked their finger and a drop of blood had fallen on the lace. Legend has it that poor Queen Anne (1702-1714) was fated with the terrible loss of 17 children. She sewed to comfort herself and this drop signifies her pain. The story is so poignant that I find myself checking each and every flower umbel as I pass.
Bird’s nest Seedhead
Yet there is another phase of the flower’s life which is also rather beautiful. Now, in September, this is when you can witness Queen Anne’s lace closing up like an inside out umbrella and losing the white of the lacy flowers until you see the green bracts turning to brown. To me that brittle flower head takes the shape of a goblet – perhaps similar to those Queen Anne would have drunk from. For other people they see it as a nest hence the name ‘bird’s nest’. This is again rather moving, given that Queen Anne herself was never able to have the family she so deeply desired.
Nature adapts and shows us new flowers
I wonder what other people believe it looks like or if they have other stories? I would love to hear. For me this drought year has brought me to another beautiful flower, this time, with a story to tell. It has been a reminder that nature adapts to its environment and still presents us with beauty. I feel privileged to have the chance to take time to really observe, research and appreciate it.