Beware Lords and Ladies

March 6, 2011

Along Brampton’s verges at the moment, one plant appears to be developing faster than all of the others. This is the Cuckoo Pint or Lords and Ladies. It’s broadly arrow-shaped leaves line all the verges, but with greater concentrations on banks along the run up to the church.

Later on in the year the plant will develop a cowled inflorescence (it cannot be called a flower) with an erect central “spadix”.  It’s perceived similarity to a male organ so titillated those that observed it that it gave rise to a great number of other names of varying degrees of bawdiness; amongst these are Cows and Bulls, Wake Robin, Jack in the Pulpit, Devils and Angels, Adam and Eve, Bobbins and Naked Boys. Just take your pick. I expect that there are many more that are unpublishable.

The fun does not stop there. The berries which the plant develops in the autumn are bitter and cause great irritation if eaten.  They are reputedly one of the most common reasons for admission to A & E for accidental plant poisoning. One seventeenth century herbalist recommends grating some of the root over meat offered to an unwelcome dinner guest in order to send him packing. This does seem a bit severe and should not be encouraged at the dinner parties of Brampton.

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