Monday, July 3, 2017


There has been some debate about whether cornflowers Centaurea cyanus are native to the British Isles. According to the New Atlas of the British Flora there is archaeological evidence that they have been here since the Iron Age. They have certainly acquired a range of regional common names, usually an indicator of long-term presence; John Gerard in his Herbal of 1633 lists Blew-bottle, Blew-blow, Corn-floure and Hurt-sickle, the latter referring to the way in which the tough stems blunt the edges of sickles and scythes in cornfields.

It has been part of the landscape long enough to acquire numerous regional names. Geoffrey Grigson, in The Englishman's Flora, lists twenty five, including Witch Bells and Witch's Thimble, which were used here in northern England.

It was once as common as poppies in corn fields, until  improved methods of seed cleaning and then, in the last decades of the 20th. century, modern herbicides rendered it a rare sight in arable fields. There are now few naturally self-sustaining populations in the wild.

It was always an unpopular plant with farmers. Gerard describes how it 'hindereth and annoyeth the reapers, by dulling and turning the edges of their sickles in reaping the corn'.

George Sinclair, gardener to the Duke of Bedford, writing at the height of the agricultural revolution in the 1840s, describes it as being amongst a class of weeds [which also included corn poppy. mayweed, corn marigold and charlock] that ' with their gaudy colours, like heralds of spring and summer, proclaim bad farming to the landlord, the tenant and the passenger; and announce the neglect of using clean seed-corn, judicious manuring, fallowing, the row culture, and horse-hoe husbandry'

Today it's mostly grown as a garden flower, usually as the the wild blue form although even in Gerard's day white, pink and double cultivars were also known in gardens. It makes a very attractive cut flower.

The best displays are in cornfield weed wild flower plantings, like this one established by the Woodland Trust at Low Burnhall farm near Durham city a few years ago, when the arable land was being replanted with native trees.

For a year or two the display of cornflower, corncockle,corn marigold, corn poppy and mayweed was simply stunning - and a reminder of the appearance of cornfields in the landscape before the advent of modern farming techniques.


  1. It gladdens my heart to see a meadow again.

  2. Superb meadow images! It would be a joy to see more and more meadows with such colourful and beneficial displays as in your images.

    1. Thanks! I think the Woodland Trust often tends to plant flowers like this in places where it is establishing new woodlands, while they wait for the young trees to establish


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.