A range of flowers in Colins Paddock

Map of the Down

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Wild flowers at Magog Down prev  :  next

Venus's Looking-glass - Legousia hybrida

venuss_lookingglass_315The change of use from intensive arable farming to grassland and woodland has obviously greatly enriched the flora of the Downland fields. For some plants, however, the change has been disastrous. Some species thrive only where the soil has been disturbed and tend to die out in undisturbed habitats where they have to compete with the more vigorous plants of stable communities. Such plants are ideally adapted for the conditions provided by arable agriculture and, although the regular use of herbicides has brought some species (such as the cornflower) to the verge of extinction, the weed flora of cultivated fields is often still surprisingly rich.

When the Magog Down reserve was first established the absence of any herbicide application, allied to the fact that mature plant communities had not yet developed, allowed some of these weed species to flourish (remember the hillside covered with poppies in those early years?). One rather uncommon and particularly attractive little plant that I found then was quaintly named Venus's Looking-glass. A plant of light, calcareous soils in Southern and Eastern England, it is a member of the Bellflower family. It rarely grows more than six inches high, bears stalkless, wavy edged leaves and from May to August produces a loose cluster of small, reddish-purple to lilac flowers, each about 10mm in diameter, which open only in sunlight. The five lobes of the corolla tube (they are not separate petals) alternate with the long, narrow sepals of an outer calyx ring. The flowers sit atop an elongated, three-angled ovary which, after fertilisation, develops into a seed capsule. When ripe the pale brown, oval seeds have a highly polished appearance - like bronze mirrors of the goddess from whom the plant takes its name.

When Magog Wood was first planted Venus's Looking-glass used to grow by the track which separated it from the existing belt of older trees. I have not seen it on the Down for many years and I fear it may now be extinct there - a victim of an otherwise very successful conservation policy! Should you come across the plant I would be most grateful if you would let me know.

David Yarham
April 2000

Important Notice: Should you find what you believe to be a Venus's Looking-glass please do not disturb it but write a note to David saying on what part of the Down you saw it and send to the registered office: 43 Mingle Lane, Stapleford, Cambridge CB22 5BG.

Thank you.

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