An introduction to one of our prettiest spring flowers – greater stitchwort.

Greater stitchwort by Anna Allum

This pretty starry white springtime flower that grows to calf height is often found thriving alongside red campion and bluebells on our woodland floors and grass verges.

The plant’s name ‘stitchwort’ refers to its alleged ability to cure the pain associated with runners stitch. However there are many more documented medicinal properties of this wildflower throughout the history books. Other names include; ‘popguns’ as its seeds fire off noisily when ripe, ‘poor man's buttonhole’ and ‘daddy's shirt buttons’ suggest it was once used as a buttonhole and names such as ‘snapdragon’ and ‘snapcrackers’ refers to the ease with which the stalk breaks.

In Cornish folklore, greater stitchwort was believed to belong to the pixies and the act of picking them would cause lightening. Collecting the flowers was believed to anger them exceedingly – so much so they were likely to use their pixie magic to charm an adder snake into biting you hence its other colloquial name ‘adders spit’!

Whilst this plant is intrinsically wrapped up in our culture from its medicinal, practical and magical properties let’s not forget what an important plant it is for our local fauna too. Greater stitchwort is visited by honeybees, butterflies and hoverflies looking for spring nectar, and is the foodplant for many of our moths including the yellow underwing moths.

See greater stitchwort: I particularly enjoy exploring Black Wood on the wooded heathland trail at this time of year as the wildflowers are beautiful. The bluebells are just beginning their lovely annual show.

‘Heathland heroes’ is a series of blogs celebrating some of the fascinating creatures that we find on our wooded heathland. Lowland heathland is an incredibly rare habitat; less than 1% of England’s area is lowland heathland. Just 16% of the heathland that existed in the UK in 1800 is left, so what is left is incredibly precious.

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