Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A bit of a stink

Few of our native wild flowers have such beautiful fruits, but such an unpleasant name, as stinking iris Iris foetidissima. I grew some plants from seed a few years ago and planted them in dry sandy, sun-baked soil under our garden hedge, where they've thrived ever since and produce these lovely seed capsules that open in late November to reveal their spectacular seeds.

Two other common names, gladdon and roast beef plant are also in common usage and the latter refers to the smell of the crushed leaves that have a powerful aroma of beef (though to me they smell more of roast beef-flavoured crisps, rather than the real meat). In The Englishman's Flora Geoffrey Grigson listed no less than seventeen further common local names used in various parts of the British Isles. A proliferation of such names for a plant is usually a sign that people once found it useful and gladdon has a long history of applications in herbal medicine, mentioned by Dioscorides, William Turner and John Gerard in their herbals. One popular use was as a purgative, made from a decoction of gladdon root and beer.

In his Botanical Arrangement the 18th. century doctor and botanist William Withering, always a good source of contemporary anecdotes, mentions that "the juice of the root of this species is sometimes used to excite sneezing; but it is an unsafe practice, violent convulsions sometimes having been the consequence."

I rather like the flowers that are unspectacular and reminiscent of faded denim, but Withering wasn't so impressed, describing them as being "of a disagreeable purplish ash colour", also mentioning that in his day there was also a variegated-leaved form which now seems to have disappeared from cultivation.


  1. Have just found your blog when I was looking to name some Liverworts I have found at my park. It is great to find some one who likes the same things in nature as I do.
    Have been looking through your blog and I hope to name some of my specimens with the help from your blog posts.
    If you get chance have a look at my Blog
    Will be back soon.

  2. Hi Amanda, Thanks for visiting. I think I know the names of some of the liverworts so will leave them in a comment on your blog.

  3. Thanks Phil, I will have a go at naming my Liverworts, getting a book for Christmas so that will help.spent all summer finding wild flowers so mosses,lichen and liverworts are new to me, there is so many... I. Never new.... Having fun finding them (well it rocks my boat!!)
    Thanks again for the help. Amanda.

  4. I don't think I have ever seen these in the wild - I thought the first shot remeniscient of Lords and Ladies, shows what little I know!


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