Pasque flowers among the Cowslips

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Wildflowers and other flowering plants

Below is a non-exhaustive list of some of the many flowers and shrubs to be found growing at Magog Down. Most of these articles include lovely descriptions and history about the plants, written for us over the years by plant pathologist David Yarham. Some articles have been updated recently with new photos of the plants thriving thanks to our Rangers' careful management.

We welcome visitors' photos to help enrich our website, so if you have any you'd like to submit, do send them along to photos 'at' Perhaps you've spotted a wildflower that is not yet featured here?

Flowers and Shrubs at Magog Down prev  :  next

Coltsfoot - Tussilago farfara

Coltsfoot is a low but bright, cheery early flower to look out for, flowering from February to April.  The stems have many overlapping fleshy scales.  The leaves do not appear until after the flowers have finished.

coltsfoot_web_250Just when winter is at its hardest and it seems that spring will never come, some sun will encourage the buds to open. There are only a few patches of Coltsfoot on the Down ( it does generally favour clay soil), with the easiest to see on the bank in the car park opposite the first gate onto the North Down, nearest Fairfield. It will also be scattered across Bagfield, possibly amongst early dandelions which look similar! The flowers close up towards evening when would-be pollinators are not on the wing.

Photo by Claire Beale, March 2020

David Yarham wrote about this plant:coltsfoot_238

Coltsfoot is one of the earlier flowers to appear on Magog Down. From late February to April you may find scattered clumps of its bright, pale yellow flowers borne on downy stems clothed with purplish, rather fleshy, scales. There is a particularly large patch on the south side of the hill a few hundred yards from the belt of trees.The flowers have some resemblance to those of the dandelion and, like those of all other members of the dandelion family, they consist of masses of florets borne on a terminal 'receptacle'. The florets are of two types: in the centre is a disc of tubular florets all of which are male (producing pollen but no seeds) and around these are up to 300 strap-like 'ray florets', all of which are female and are pollinated by bees and flies. Like those of dandelions and daisies, the flowers close up at night.

Elongated, purplish bracts enfold the buds and, when the ray florets have been fertilised, protect the developing seeds. After fertilisation, the heads droop for a while but then become erect again on elongating stems. The bracts then open to reveal a fluffy 'pappus' of pure white hairs which act as 'parachutes', enabling the seeds to which they are attached to be blown far and wide by the wind.

It is not until flowering is over that the coltsfoot's large green leaves appear. This reversal of the normal progression from leaves to flowers gave rise to the name "Son afore Father" by which the plant was once known in parts of the west country. It is from the shape of the leaves (supposedly like the outline of a colt's hoof) that it gets the name by which it is more commonly known.

coltsfoot_250The scientific name Tussilago (from the Latin tussis, a cough) derives from the historical use of the plant as a cure for coughs. The dried leaves, gathered in June and July, have also been used as a constituent of herbal tobaccos prescribed for asthma sufferers, and Syrup of Coltsfoot was once included in the British Pharmacopoeia as a cure for chronic bronchitis.

In addition to their medical value, coltsfoot leaves once had another and rather curious use. When they first emerge they are covered with a white down which is soon lost from their upper surfaces but which persists on their undersides all summer. This down used to be converted into tinder for use with flint and steel. The recipe is given by John Pechey in his Complete Herbal of 1694: the down should be "wrapped in a rag, and boyl'd a little in Lee, adding a little Salt-Petre, and after dried in the Sun".

So, if at any time you find yourself with a bad cough and out of matches, the coltsfoot of Magog Down can supply your needs.

David Yarham
February 1994

See also...

Report of the visit from Cambridge Natural History Society in August 2017

News about a visit by the local branch of Butterfly Conservation charity taking place in August 2016

News about the very special area of Colin's Bank, published in February 2015

Pasque Flower

One of our Friends sent us this beautiful picture of some Pasque Flowers taken in amongst the Cowslips in May 2016.pasqueflower_jb_may2016_crop_453

Photo by Jill Butler