A range of flowers in Colins Paddock

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Pea Family - Leguminosae

This family contains trees, shrubs, herbs, water plants and climbers. 16,400 species are found world wide and are widely exploited by man. Many have edible seeds, others are valuable fodder crops. Those from warmer climates provide timber, fibre, dyes, gums and resins. Some of the more exotic species found in the kitchen cupboard are the Indian spice, Tamarind, (Tamarindus indica) and Liquorice, (Glycyrrhiza glabra).

Historically legumes have had an important role in the rotation of crops. They provide a food crop or fodder for animals while at the same time fertilising the soil for the next crop. Bacteria in nodules on their roots fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and this is released into the soil when the plants die or are ploughed in. Until artificial fertilisersbecame more readily available, cereal crops were often undersown with White clover, (Trifolium repens), to be grazed by sheep following the harvest of the cereal, then ploughed in for green manure. This is probably the origin of the plants found on Magog Down.

Field beans (Vicia faba) and peas (Pisum sativum) have been cultivated since the Bronze Age and remain important crops - beans being grown mainly on 'heavy' (clay) soils and peas being more suited to lighter (more sandy) land. Some varieties of peas are harvested green (vining peas), others with a combine harvester when they have ripened and dried. Apart from a relatively small acreage of broad beans, most field-grown (Vicia) beans are combine harvested and used in animal feeds. Many will remember the fragrance of the bean crops on the south field in June. One of the most delicious perfumes of the summer countryside, it has inspired poets such as John Clare whose poem "To a Summer Morning" mentions the scent of the "blossom'd bean" and its attraction to bees and butterflies.

A number of colourful Leguminosae species once used for forage crops or undersowing now grow wild on Magog Down or the nearby roadside verges. Sainfoin, (Onobrychis viciifolia), which produces its pink flowers at the end of May. Named from the French 'St. Foyn', it was also known as Holy hay. We know there was a Sainfoin crop on the Down in the mid 1940s.

Two colonies are now found on the North Down. The colour ranges from a pale pink, which is the fodder form, to the deep pink of the native form. Another attractive forage plant is Lucerne or Alfalfa (Medicago sativa ssp sativa) which bears its intense blue or lilac flowers in July. Lucerne was introduced from the Mediterranean area in about 1650 and is now widespread throughout Europe. Other fodder plants introduced from Europe include the yellow or white melilots, (Melilotus ssp), which may be seen in mid to late summer on the Sawston by-pass, and a larger form of Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus ssp.var. sativa) which often grows nearly a metre high on the South Down. The native Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is frequent on the North Down.

On the South Down one may find Common Restharrow, (Ononis repens) with its attractive pink-purple flowers and small hairy leaves which exude an oil reminiscent of petroleum jelly. The name comes from the long, tough rhizomes, which were enough to stop horse drawn harrows. A number of vetches may also be encountered on a walk on the Down. The bright blue-violet flowers of Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca) can be found on the far side of Youth Wood climbing up the tall grasses. Kidney vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) with its white, woolly calyces surrounding the yellow flowers is found throughout the summer,and the bright yellow flowers of tiny Horseshoe Vetch (Hippocrepis comosa) can be seen in April on the South Down (the name reflects the shape of the seed pods). And as you return to the car park area, look out for the Hairy Tare (Vicia hirsuta), a delicate plant with minute flowers and short, hairy black pods.
 

sainfoin_thumb_60 birdsfoot_trefoil_thumb_60 restharrow_thumb_60 tufted_vetch_thumb_60 kidney_vetch_thumb_60 horseshoe_vetch_thumb_60 hairy_tare_thumb_60
Sainfoin Bird's-foot
Trefoil
Common
Restharrow
Tufted Vetch Kidney vetch Horseshoe
Vetch
Hairy Tare
Onobrychis
viciifolia
Lotus
corniculatus
Ononis
repens
Vicia
cracca
Anthyllis
vulneraria
Hippocrepis
comosa
Vicia
hirsuta

 

 

 

 

 

Lucy Evans and David Yarham
April 2006

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