Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Alexanders


Katrina and I have just returned from a short break down in Cornwall. No binoculars, no social media (just as well as there was little wi-fi), although I did smuggle the compact camera with me, 'just in case'. Our trip was largely one of visiting relations, although we did manage one bracing walk across the sand dunes and cliff tops at Perranporth. There was one plant in particular that caught the eye across this most south-western county, and that was Alexanders (above).

This umbellifer does not naturally occur in the UK, but was brought over as a pot herb and vegetable by the Romans, then cultivated in monastery gardens. I remember reading once that where the Romans went, this Mediterranean plant was left in their wake. Today it is largely coastal, but can be found well inland, commonly in the south-west. I have rarely seen it in Surrey, and when I have it has always been in small numbers.

Because it is an early flowerer, the modest yellow-green flower heads shine out from the dark hedgerows amongst the sober winter colour palette. Along a stretch of bridleway that swept down to Perranporth beach it was by far the commonest species in flower.

7 comments:

  1. It's a very common plant on Sheppey, especially along the sea walls and is a favourite food plant of the St. Mark's Fly for the brief time that they are flying.

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  2. Is it a tasty herb? Never heard of anyone eating such a thing.

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  3. Apparently it has a flavour part way between celery and parsley but it fell out of favour when celery became fashionable. The stems and leaves don't look unlike celery.

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  4. Just back from a few days at Portland Bill, Dorset where the plant is ubiquitous along hedgerows, footpaths and roadsides (there's also Wild Cabbage on the West Cliffs yet another Roman introduction to Britain). Being one of those accursed Pan-species Listers (go on go on now Derek, you know you want to join our ranks really!) I couldn't help but notice the pale yellowy-orange spots on the leaves. This is a fungus that only occurs on Alexanders and so presumably also moved around by the Romans? It is Puccinia smyrni also known as Alexanders Rust. Steve, I bet it's in most of the pics you have of the plant. It can twist and contort whole leaves and stems when larger. Also ubiquitous on Portland. What did the Romans ever do for us, eh?

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  5. The only lists that I have Mr. G. are the ones for Morrisons each week.
    The Romans did build us a nice garden wall across the north and introduced us to sandals although the Brits then spoilt it by wearing white socks with them.

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  6. One of the things that I like about blogging is that the comments left by visitors can take on a life all of their own. Priceless!

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  7. And yes Seth.... the fungus shows up in the images! Result!

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