Enchanter’s Nightshade

A walk from home around Haweswater. We used to live nearer to Haweswater and often walked around it. Now, although I still walk that way from time to time, I tend to think of it as a bit far for an evening, when time is often limited. TBH tells me that I should be able to walk it in an hour, but I’ve never been a quick walker and then, of course I stop so often to listen or watch or photograph etc. And then there are digressions or sometimes I turn back thinking that I have missed something. Still, even I can manage it in an hour and a quarter, so although it was quite late I decided to head that way.

I started by climbing into Eaves Wood along the edge of Potter’s Field. There is usually a bull and his harem in this field at this time of year. I’m not sure whether this is the same bull as last year, but if it is he is not as camera shy as he was.

This plant is abundant in Eaves Wood. Through the spring and early summer it is flowerless, and the leaves have always troubled me because I have never been able to work out what it is.

In the summer, when the shade is at it’s deepest, tiny white flowers appear when almost nothing else is flowering below the tall trees in the wood.

And I’ve finally managed to work out what it is: Enchanter’s Nightshade. A very evocative name for a fairly insignificant plant. It has an interesting story:

In the 16th century, a Flemish botanist named Mathias De l’Obel tried to identify a magical plant which the early Greek physician Dioscorides had named after the mythical sorceress Circe. His first choice was bittersweet, which supposedly acted as a good luck charm. But his choice later fell on the enchanter’s nightshade, which still bears the botanical name of Circaea lutetiana – lutetia being the Roman name for Paris, where De l’Obel and other botanists worked. Before that the Anglo-Saxons had used the plant – which they called aelfthone – as a protection against spells cast by elves.*

This, I think, is limestone woundwort. The more widespread and less spectacular hedge woundwort has been flowering for a while and I had wondered why I hadn’t seen any of these, but they obviously flower later.

The year is marching on and I noticed this sloe with the dusky purple of autumn, although most of the other sloes are still an unripe green…

I’ve photographed this dead tree many times – this time it was the way the sun was catching some of the uppermost branches which struck me. Haweswater is visible beyond the tree.

In the same field I found eyebright…

…and lady’s mantle. Whilst I faffed about photographing them, I could hear quite a cacophony from the woods around Haweswater. Two birds, the culprits of all of the noise, flew over and landed in the dead tree. Everything about their outline, their movements their flight, the way they clung to the tree made me think that they were green woodpeckers, but against the sky i couldn’t see any colours. However, having listened online to the call of a green woodpecker, I am now absolutely confident that I was right. I walked back to the tree hoping to see them better and to perhaps get a photograph, but they were soon away again to another tree further away.

The small open field at the end of Haweswater is dominated by hemp agrimony…

…, but there are flashes of yellow from ragwort and this flower…

…which grows very vigorously in many local gardens, and which I have yet to identify. Earlier in the year there would have been many yellow flags too, but they are done flowering now and where the flowers were there are now huge green pods which look like they ought to be a tasty addition to a stir-fry.

There are also a huge variety of umbellifers. I really must make a start at  distinguishing hogweed from cow parsley etc.

One fluffy pink and white creation played host to these black-winged yellow-bellied bugs which sadly I also haven’t found in any guide books.

Whilst I was in the field, I heard the noisy calls again and one of the woodpeckers flew directly overhead before landing in a tree across the field.

On this walk, and during my longer walk back from Nether Kellet last week, I found and munched on some very juicy dewberries. The plant looks like a bramble, but seems to be more low-growing than blackberries and as you can see the fruit has fewer segments. They are also so juicy and delicate that they really have to be eaten immediately – even between hedgerow and mouth they can disintegrate leaving you with purple fingers.

It took me a while to find some ripe blackberries for comparisons sake, and when I did it was too dark by the hedgerow to get anything other than a very shaky picture – so, in the interests of my readers I picked a few, and then ate them to dispose of them responsibly. Very nice they were too.

By the time I was crossing the fields towards home, the sun had long since set and darkness was fast descending. The walk had taken me an hour and three-quarters. But…

Leisure

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

W.H.Davies

I was reintroduced to this gem by an old poetry anthology which I picked up, with several others, at ‘a book fair’ – or a charity second-hand bookstall at Leeds Childrens’ Holiday Camp at the weekend.

* from ‘The Reader’s Digest Field Guide to the Wildflowers of Britian’

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Enchanter’s Nightshade

7 thoughts on “Enchanter’s Nightshade

  1. swanscot says:

    What wonderful pictures perfectly capturing some of the flora and fauna seen on your walk. The yellow flower is Yellow Pimpernel (Lysimachia nemorum).

  2. beatingthebounds says:

    Thanks Swanscot. It does look like yellow pimpernel doesn’t it, but doesn’t that grow very low and spread across the ground? – my yellow flowers are really quite large and the plant is very upright with lots of flowers closely surrounding a vertical stem perhaps 50 – 60 cm tall. Still – thanks for the suggestion is the best I have so far since I’ve drawn a complete blank.

  3. Nice appreciation of our countryside, like you I was sometime identifying “enchanter’s nightsade” but not for quite the same reason. It has appeared in my garden and is taking over in the sahdy areas and I am trying to get rid of it! As they say: a weed is a flower growing in the wrong place.
    Love the photos.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      Hi and welcome FB,
      I’m not surprised to hear that enchanter’s nightshade is tough to oust from a garden – I think a lot of shade loving native plants would be pretty persistent. I had ramsons (wild garlic) in a former garden of mine and they spread quite quickly. I have a little book called ‘How to Enjoy Your Weeds’ by Audrey Wynne Hatfield which I picked up at a jumble sale or somesuch, but sadly it has no entry for enchanter’s nightshade and nor do any other of my herbals so I suspect that it might actually be fairly useless sadly. How about ‘a flower is a weed growing in the right place’?

      1. A Weed is a flower in the wrong place by Ian Emberson

        A weed is a flower in the wrong place,
        a flower is a weed in the right place,
        if you were a weed in the right place
        you would be a flower;
        but seeing as you’re a weed in the wrong place
        you’re only a weed –
        its high time someone pulled you out.

        Most plants we consider weeds are quite attractive in their habitats, it is only when they cross the boundary and spoil our contrived ideas of gardening that we dislike them.

        Am enjoying your many useful links on your blog.

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