This is wild teasel (Dipsacus fullonum), sometimes called the common teasel, photographed in Lambrok Meadow next to Lambrok Stream.
It is called wild teasel to distinguish it from the fuller’s teasel (Dipsacus sativus), which used to be cultivated locally to provide carding brushes for the woollen cloth industry that thrived here in Wiltshire for centuries past and right up into the 1970s. The Handle House in Trowbridge was built on a bridge over the Biss especially to dry the seed heads of fuller’s teasel for Studley Mill.
Left: Handle House; right: fuller’s teasel
Teasels have composite flowers of many purple or lilac florets, each in its own stiff, spiked calyx. The wild teasel’s spikes are straight, whereas the fuller’s teasel has spikes that curve downwards, forming hooks. Dried and set into wooden frames, fuller’s teasels still make the perfect device for teasing out the surface irregularities of new-woven woollen cloth.
Nobody seems to know where the fuller’s teasel (D. Sativus) originally came from. We know the Romans cultivated and used them and may well have brought them here two thousand years ago; we also know that at some time in the past they were called Indian teasels. But, while they were cultivated and cropped all around the world, apparently for millennia, they don’t seem to be native to anywhere. For a long time they were believed to be either a cultivar or a subspecies of D. fullonum, the wild teasel, but modern DNA analysis has shown D. sativus to be a species in its own right.
Wild teasel (Dipsacus fullonum)
There is no fuller’s teasel in the park; it is a lot less common than the wild teasel in Britain despite its widespread cultivation in the past. The wild teasel, one of several native teasels, is commonplace and grows everywhere in Wiltshire, though it has a particular liking for the banks of rivers, canals and streams such as the Lambrok.
Images of wild teasel taken in the reserve by Suzanne Humphries