A range of flowers in Colins Paddock

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Wild flowers at Magog Down prev  :  next

Wild Mignonette - Reseda lutea

mignonette_315wild_mignonetteIn high summer the greenish yellow spires of this plant are a conspicuous feature of the downland flora. Arising from a basal rosette of leaves (which soon wither) the branched flowering stems stand 12 - 30 inches high and bear spikes of small, six-petalled flowers. The lower two petals are undivided but the upper ones are deeply cleft which gives the individual flowers a nondescript, rather tatty, appearance (though, viewed as a whole, the inflorescence is not unattractive). After fertilisation, the flowers are replaced by three lobed capsules which, as they ripen, open at the top to release glistening black seeds the dispersal of which is said to be aided by birds and ants.

Wild mignonette can be either biennial or perennial. Browsing by animals both promotes vegetative growth and prolongs the life of the plants. There is a record of an old plant which had been prevented from flowering for some years by rabbit grazing and had grown into a turf-like mat. When myxamatosis killed off the rabbits the plant flowered and fruited abundantly and was estimated to have produced 220,000 seeds! While this is obviously exceptional, seed production of around 14,000 per plant is by no means unusual - small wonder that it is one of the more common plants on the Down.

Reseda lutea is one of only two members of the Family Resedaceae native to these islands. Its close relative Reseda Luteola, Weld or Dyer's Rocket (also a chalkland plant but one which prefers disturbed land to established turf) has certain medicinal properties and, more importantly, was reckoned to be amongst the best of many plants used in dyeing. Wild mignonette lacks its cousin's usefulness to the human race. It is amongst that small minority of common plants which merit no mention in either Culpeper or in more modern herbals. Surprisingly too, for so common a plant, it hasn't even collected a string of picturesque local names with their associated folklore - wild mignonette is just wild mignonette, and there's an end on't!

Perhaps it is because it has been so disregarded that I find this plant appealing. It lacks the striking beauty of some of our other summer flowers, and no one has yet found a use for it or woven a legend around it. Like most of us, it is remarkably unremarkable, but it still may enjoy its place in the summer sun - and, if it may, so may we!

David Yarham
October 1998

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