This is common fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica); it is a plant that grows all over the place but nobody ever seems to know its name. As the reserve’s wildflowers go to seed at the end of the summer, the fleabane is a welcome splash of colour beside the paths.
The leaves have a soapy smell, and were used in mediaeval times to repel fleas and other insects; hence the plant’s common name: fleabane. The dried leaves were mixed in with the rushes that were used to cover earthen floors, or were burned as a fumigant to rid a house of pests and parasites.
The root of its genus name, Pulicaria, is the Latin word for flea: pulix. The species name, dysenterica, comes from its past use in herbal medicine as a treatment for diarrhoea. Often a botanical name contains the history of a plant’s usefulness to humankind.
Fleabane is still used today as a herbal remedy for digestive problems and to ease coughs and bronchial infections.
All images by Suzanne Humphries
Pulix dysenterica is native to Europe, common and widely distributed. Its range stretches from the Mediterranean in the south and reaches its northern limit in eastern Demark. It is sufficiently common in southern Britain to be regarded as a weed, rarer in the north and absent from Scotland but it is probable that climate change will extend its range northwards.