Plantwatch: A great year for wildflowers
June 21st 2016
This has been a fantastic year for wildflowers, and for anyone driving on holiday it's well worth stopping to look at road verges, where the plants are stunning. Now is the time for the towering spikes of purple foxgloves and pink rosebay willow-herb. The climbing plants are also bursting with flowers, and the heavenly scent of honeysuckle fills the evening air in hedgerows.
Bindweed, another twining plant in flower, is the curse of gardeners, strangling everything its stems can twist around and sinking rhizomes so deep as to be almost impossible to dig out completely. But the trumpet-shaped flowers make a dramatic splash wherever they sprawl; if those flowers close during the day, it's often a sign that rain is on the way. The little scarlet pimpernel also makes the same weather forecast, which earned it the nickname "poor man's weather glass".
The ragworts are bright daisy-like yellow flowers, but have a much darker side. Their flowers are highly poisonous to cattle, horses, pigs and chickens, and even dead ragwort plants remain poisonous, although livestock find them immensely attractive to eat. All ragwort species are toxic, including the Oxford ragwort. This was famously brought here from Mount Etna and planted in Oxford University's gardens; the seeds escaped to Oxford train station and then spread far and wide along railway tracks, ballast being a good substitute for its native rocks.