This is Anagallis arvensis or scarlet pimpernel discovered last week among the grass in the set-aside at the top of Kestrel Field and photographed by Ian Bushell. It is a tiny annual plant more usually found growing in bare ground under arable crops than among the reserve’s lush grasses and, like so many of our wildflowers species, it is now in serious decline due to modern intensive agricultural practices.
Its flowers open only when the sun shines. Even overcast conditions will cause the flowers to close, a habit that has lead to common names such as shepherd’s weather glass and poor man’s barometer.
For such a pretty little plant, it is surprisingly toxic. Fortunately it tastes bitter so grazing livestock, including poultry, avoid eating it if they can. If they have no alternative, for instance on over-grazed pasture or on stubble, cattle, sheep and horses that do eat scarlet pimpernel can suffer gastroenteritis. All parts of the plant are also poisonous to birds, dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs and in sufficiently high doses can be fatal. Given experimentally to human volunteers, the active constituent caused twenty-four hours of intense nausea, headache and bodily pain. Even handling scarlet pimpernel will cause dermatitis in some people.
So…. if you find it in the reserve, approach with caution!