Sunday, March 28, 2010

Alive and Kicking

This weekend we walked past a derelict patch of rubble-strewn ground in Newcastle that was smothered in the golden yellow blooms of coltsfoot Tussilago farfara. This must surely be one of our most irrepressible wild flowers, since it seems to thrive on the most unpromising brown field sites and it only takes the merest hint of spring for its flowers to erupt through hard-packed ground. I once saw a newly created car park whose freshly laid, thick layer of  tarmac had been punctured by scores of coltsfoot flowers that had forced their way to the surface. The plant spreads via an underground rhizome that's full of starch and when the call of spring arrives it takes a lot more than tarmac to contain its pent-up energy. Coltsfoot's common name comes from the hoof-shaped outline of its leaves, while its Latin name Tussilago is derived from tussus, Latin for a cough; a mucilaginous extract from this plant has a long history of use in herbal medicine, as John Gerard noted in his herbal of 1597: "A decoction made of the greene leaves and roots, or else a syrrup thereof, is good for the cough that proceedeth of a thin rheume", he wrote.

6 comments:

  1. Beautiful flower Phil.
    I love the way nature takes over some of the mess humans leave behind.

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  2. This flower also thrives in the clay landslides at Yaverland, IoW - the more the land slides the better it seems to do.

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  3. It's certainly a cheerful sight at this time of year Keith .... nothing like a patch of colt'sfoot for brightening up a pile of rubble!

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  4. Hi Rob, interesting - maybe that's the basis of its adaptation to fighting its way up through compacted surfaces...?

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  5. I've never really got my head round how it is that a plant I can crush between finger and thumb can force its was through tarmac?

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  6. Hi Nyctalus,Maybe it's a combination of the power of hydraulic forces and the fact that the plant tissues are highly compacted until it surfaces and its cells inflate.....?

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