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An inconspicuous beauty...

Ground-ivy (Glechoma hederacea), which is not actually related to ivy, is a relatively inconspicuous little plant, rarely reaching more than a few inches in height. It is easily overlooked, and yet its whorls of bluish-purple flowers match the beauty of any garden plant, albeit in miniature. It mainly flowers in spring, but I found a patch still in flower last week on a walk near Zennor. It occurs in patches in woods, in shady places at the foot of Cornish hedges, beside footpaths, on roadside verges, and sometimes grows on open ground.

Historically, it was considered an important medicinal plant, being employed as a treatment for a range of ailments, including sore throats and coughs, stomach pains, poisoning, sciatica, gout, ulcers, jaundice, illnesses of the lungs and kidneys, and even the plague. Perhaps more importantly though, prior to the introduction of hops (Humulus lupulus) into Britain in the 15th Century, it was ground-ivy that was used to flavour beer!

In the right-hand photograph, you can see the white pollen-bearing anthers attached to the top lip of the flower. Nectar is produced at the bottom of the flower tube, and when a sufficiently large insect enters the flower to feed on the nectar, it brushes against the anthers and pollen is deposited on its back. The pollen will then be carried to a flower on another plant and deposited on the female stigma, enabling fertilisation to take place. The hairs on the lower lip of the flower deter the entry of smaller insects that would otherwise feed on the nectar without disturbing the anthers, and which would therefore be of no benefit to the plant.


Budding Nature Team

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