Eight maids a-milking

Milkmaids is one of the many common names of Cardamine pratensis, a spring-flowering plant that loves our damp meadows and stream edges. In Wiltshire we know it more often as lady’s smock or, because it flowers when the cuckoo returns to Britain, as cuckoo flower.

Milkmaids belongs to the brassica family and is an unlikely close cousin to the Brussel sprouts you probably ate with your turkey, on Christmas Day. All brassicas, even Brussel sprouts, are easily identified by their flowers which have only four petals, arranged as a cross, with six yellow stamens at its centre. Like most brassicas, Cardamine pratensis is edible, the leaves and flowers adding a peppery edge to a summer salad.

[1] The flower has four petals with six yellow stamens at the centre; [2] a spring-flowering plant that loves damp meadows;

This is an important food plant for the caterpillars of orange tip and green veined white butterflies, both of which have been identified in their adult form this year in the park. We hope both species are breeding here, contributing to their slowly rising population numbers.

It is also a plant beloved by the sapsucking nymphs of froghoppers. Its stems and leaves are often covered with the protective foam that froghopper nymphs make, which we call cuckoo spit because it, too, coincides with the cuckoo’s arrival.

[3] orange tip butterfly; [4] green veined white butterfly; [5] red and black froghopper.

Thank you for all your support during the terrible year that was 2020 and here’s hoping that 2021 will bring us better luck and dozens of new, fascinating and rare species of wildlife.

Happy New Year!

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