Sunday, July 5, 2009

Scratch and Sniff Botany



The Weardale Way footpath that runs from St.John’s Chapel to Cowshill passes through some delightful riverside locations, including this bridge over the river Wear at West Blackdene (bottom photo), with an interesting riverbank flora along the way. Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria is in full bloom now. I can never pass this plant without crushing a leaf between finger and thumb – the sap has the distinctive antiseptic aroma of a healing ointment called Germolene (can you still get it?), which was the standard treatment for grazed knees when I was a kid. I probably reeked of the stuff through my formative tree-climbing years. The scent is strongest in the young foliage of meadowsweet, particularly in spring. The other wonderful aroma that we encountered along this walk was the fragrance of fragrant orchid Gymnadenia conopsea. Most orchids lack a distinctive scent – they put all of their energies into elaborate flower structures instead – but this is a species that you could identify with your eyes shut after just one sniff. The scent seems to attract long-tongued bees and butterflies that extract nectar from those long nectar spurs behind the flower. These were particularly fine specimens – probably the tallest that I’ve ever encountered.

9 comments:

  1. Beautiful photos, Phil. And that goes for the previous post.

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  2. Ah! Meadow Sweet. From a scent point of view, my favourite of flowers.

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  3. Beautiful pictures Phil.
    Never knew about the scent of crushed leaves from Meadowsweet; I'll have to try that when I'm out next time. A lovely plant. Plenty growing here round one of the lakes.

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  4. Ah. Germolene that cure all was a boon to the young explorers mum. There is a part used tube in my medicine cabinet. I don't think I have knowingly come across Meadowsweet - must look out for it.

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  5. Thanks for the kind comment Dean - the whole dale is particular photogenic when the weather is as good as it has been this weekend

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  6. Hi Keith,I introduced it into my garden a few years ago - meadowsweet seeds itself around a bit, but its a great plant for growing beside a pond - attracts plenty of insects

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  7. Hello Emma, many years ago I was taught by a botanist who always insisted that I should smell every plant I tried to identify. Quite a few have memorable scents, pleasant and foul (like hedge woundwort, for example - once smelled, never forgotten!). The other plant that resembles meadowsweet that has a memorable fragrance is meadow rue Thalictrum flavum, whose flowers always smell to me like the talcum powder we used to use on our kids when they were babies. It's very rare as a wild plant in Durham but I always grow a few plants in the garden, just for the pleasure of the scent.

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  8. We haven't got any Germolene, John, but we have got an old tin of a similar ointment called Zambuk in the cupboard, that my mother used to use. It has a strong scent of eucalytus and was great stuff for soothing stings and bites.

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  9. Hi again, Phil. Many thanks for the id and your help. I have revisted the 'Key' and it seems to agree with your id. I am actually finding the 'Key' very hard to use but imagine I will get better at it as I go along. It's all a little to scientific for me I fear and living up here, I can't easily get to a wild flower id course, assuming one exists with todays cuts in further education courses. I have been trying to take pictures with greater depth of field which show more of the plant so that leaves and other parts can be used for id. I will have to go out and spend some time in the field with the 'Key' and a magnifying glass and see it I can teach myself plant-by-plant.

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