Every year the Loki Schmidt Foundation selects a wild flower to highlight as its “Wild Flower of the Year”. Loki Schmidt was a botanist and in her fortunate position as wife to one of our former Chancellors, Helmut Schmidt, (who sadly died just a few days ago) she was able to found this Hamburg-based charity. The Foundation promotes the maintaining of habitats for wildlife and works to protect endangered species through education. Amongst other projects, they have bought up small areas of land in the north of Germany where certain plants or animals are threatened.
For 2016 one of my favourite wild flowers (I do have many favourites!) has been chosen: the Cowslip, or Primula veris.
In much of Germany this little flower is on the red list, as its preferred habitat – dry meadows on alkaline soil – is dwindling due to land development, agricultural use or the intensive use of fertilizers. In choosing this flower the Foundation also hopes to bring attention to the loss of such meadows and similar habitats. In the south of Germany we are more fortunate, and cowslips are still found in the wild fairly often, although not as frequently as I would like; coming across them down near our canal is like finding hidden treasure.
Many years ago I remember being taken out by my mentor on a car ride in the south of Germany. I had no idea what the purpose of the trip was until we arrived and there they were – millions of cowslips filling a large meadow on a dry stony hillside. What a wonderful sight, and one I will possibly never see again.
Now I am cultivating a small area of our lawn where they have self-seeded…
Each spring I wait eagerly to see them appear, and this area is not to be mown until they have safely spread their seeds again. This is where the strict farming regulations and nature reserve rules in our area assist in preserving wild flowers too – certain meadows should not be mown until June in order to ensure that some species recur naturally. I don’t think this is actually an enforcable law, as I do see farmers mowing too early sometimes, but I think subsidies must be an incentive for most to stick to the rules.
Primula veris is a sun-loving plant and in our climate usually flowers in April and May. It is a protected species, and may not be picked or dug up from the wild. However, a single plant can spread quickly into a bigger clump, seeding itself around profusely.
“Beneath the sun I dance and play
In April and in merry May”
(Cicely Mary Barker)
The botanical name Primula means first and veris means spring. One of the common names in the German language is Himmelsschlüssel – meaning “heaven’s keys”; the legend goes that St Peter dropped his keys to the gates of heaven and the first cowslips grew up where the keys landed! I then looked up the English common names in Wikipedia – a long list of them that I have never heard before, including herb peter, key flower, key of heaven, fairy cups, buckles, palsywort, plumrocks, and tittypines! Wikipedia claims that “In the Middle-Ages it was also known as St. Peter’s herb or Petrella and was very sought after by Florentine apothecaries.” In herbal medicine the extract of Primula veris is used in cold remedies to relieve coughs and bronchial symptoms.
Although it will be some time before we see the Cowslip flowering again here, a close relative has decided to flower for me in November…
Are you also having such a mild autumn?