An early evening walk from last Friday (I’m almost as behind with my blogging as I am with my work – the two are not entirely unrelated), from the bridge over Quicksand Pool, around Jenny Brown’s point and back along the Woodwell cliff. There were many shelduck on the mud of the bay and I wondered whether a number of large burrows along the edge of the foreshore where home to shelduck nests.

At Jack Scout I noticed these tiny flowers down amongst the grass. The blue parts (which I’m sure were a deeper blue and less purple in the flesh) are sepals and the white parts are the actual flowers. There are several milkworts but I’m reasonably sure that this is common milkwort, polygala vulgaris.

I think that I saw milkwort on the hillsides when I was walking from Cockley Beck last year, and perhaps again on walk around Mosedale a few days ago. That may have been heath milkwort. Before that however, I have to confess to having been completely ignorant of its existence. It is small and, I suppose, relatively easy to miss, but not without some interest. Polygala is ‘much milk’ apparently and as a herb it has been thought to assist in the production of breast milk.


In the north of England, milkwort is called ‘gang flower’ and was a favourite plant for Rogation Week, a festivity also known as Gang Week, from the Saxon word gang, ‘to go’. The purpose of Rogation Week was to give a blessing to surrounding fields and livestock, and often involved a day when parishioners would walk (‘go’) around the edge of the parish, confirming the boundaries. This of course was in the days before maps. As part of the procession, children would carry a long pole decked with a profusion of flowers, among which milkwort was especially prominent. Records of these Rogation processions occur as early as AD 550 and the practice continued until the eighteenth century.

from Hatfield’s Herbal

Rogation Sunday is the fifth Sunday after Easter, so coming up soon. And another name for these parish boundary walks would be ‘beating the bounds’. I’m half tempted to adopt this little flower as the emblem of this blog, both because of its connection to beating the bounds and because I will associate it from now on with my growing awareness of what is around me as I walk.

For quantity and variety of birdsong Jack Scout is hard to beat. I tried and failed to get a photo of any one of several marsh tits which were buzzing busily about. Two song thrushes were having a duelling banjos moment; one was particularly loud and voluble and impressive. Perhaps it was the same feathered Paganini whom I’ve been beguiled by here before.


6 thoughts on “Milkwort

  1. You are a mine of useful information (as opposed to my mine of totally useless information – knowing the stars of 70’s crap adverts isn’t going to help me in later life). I still prefer my alternative approach to Taxonomy. Incidentally, I’ve never asked you this, where did you get the “Beating the Bounds” name from?

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      Is it really useful? Interesting (to me at least) anyway.
      When I started the blog walks like the one on the next post were out of the question (which is why it gave me such satisfaction last weekend) , so I anticipated lots of posts short local walks. I knew about the Rogation Sunday tradition of walking the parish bondaries and that it was known as Beating the Bounds and it seemed appropriate.

      1. I was partly attracted to your blog when I first ran across it because of the title. I do history of the 18th century American frontier – along the Alleghenies, mostly – and the old court records are full of “processionings” where each landowner’s boundaries are walked. Now I wonder if they were embellished with ceremony or merely practical.

  2. Lovely pictures of the milkwort.

    Milkwort is a flower that is easily missed. I noticed it and photographed it a couple of years back and it took me a while to identify it. When I posted a picture to Flickr a contact confirmed it was Heath Milkwort growing in the acidic foil of Glen Feshie. Acording to ‘Flora Celtica’ milkwort was thought to increase the yield of milk from a cow.

  3. Good shots of the milkwort. This grows on the downs near me and I have utterly failed to capture its likeness. It being so small, I wonder which other flowers Hatfield is talking about in his Herbal when he says milkwort figures prominently among them – anything else would bury it surely.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      Hi Rob,
      This is not my first attempt. They are so tiny that my camera’s autofocus seems to struggle. There were some equally tiny yellow flowers – a bit like a small yellow clover which I failed to get at all.

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