Photographs and text by Elisabeth Bletsoe
Holnest churchyard supports a diverse range of flora and fauna, some of which include:
Meadow vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis)
A scrambling perennial with lance-shaped green leaves, this can be found on rough grasslands, verges and waste ground. Groups of four to twelve yellow flowers appear between May and August attracting bees and wasps. The flowers are supplanted by green pods turning to black.
Cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium)
A harbinger of the shorter autumnal days, the cyclamen, although native to the southern Mediterranean, has been naturalised for centuries and was mentioned in early herbals. It has pretty ivy-shaped foliage with petals fused at the base, and was said to have aphrodisiac properties.
Greater knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa)
Knob-shaped flower heads with bright purple-red florets from July to September, with erect downy tall stems. Can be found on road sides and scrub land. Traditionally, the plant was used for bruises, wounds, ruptures, scabs and sore throats. It often grows alongside the scabious plant.
Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)
The flower is making a welcome resurgence after being driven out of agricultural pastures. Known as the ‘Moon Penny’, it tends to glimmer or glow on summer evenings. Solitary upright habit and dark green leaves, it can be seen flowering from June to August. Attracts many pollinating insects.
Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica)
An upright hairy plant, with magenta coloured whorls of flowers forming loose spikes. It has heart-shaped and roughly toothed leaves. Since ancient times it has been used to staunch bleeding and heal wounds, although it is known for its particularly pungent smell when crushed.
Bird’s-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)
This has many folk-names, including ‘Bacon and Eggs,’ due to red streaks on the yellow flowers which appear from June to September. It supports the caterpillars of a number of butterflies but is more likely to be pollinated by bees. The pods, when developed, resemble birds’ claws.
White clover (Trifolium repens)
The flowers are carried in heads from June to September, and the creeping root-stock supports long stems and hairless trefoil leaves. The abundant nectar at the bottom of the deep flower-tubes is invaluable to bees after the first spring flowerings of dandelions and sycamore.
Devil’s-bit scabious (Succisa pratensis)
Related to the daisy family, it is the food plant for a number of caterpillars and the mauve flowers form a striking display. This plant is said to have been so successful in curing many ailments that the Devil bit away part of the root in fury. It flowers continuously from June to October.
Creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens)
A spreading plant with creeping runners that root at the nodes, it can soon cover a broad area of ground. It has hairy three-lobed leaves, deep yellow flowers, and is common in grassland, damp places, woodlands and field edges. They are often found in medieval church carvings.
White dead-nettle (Lamium album)
This plant relies particularly on bumble-bees for pollination and the flowers have special features to accommodate them. In turn it is a crucial food plant for these bees, providing nectar, especially early in the year. It lacks the stinging hairs of the true nettle, hence the term ‘dead’.
Rough hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus)
A commonly found bristly herb with lance-shaped wavy toothed leaves, which has golden-yellow florets that turn into dirty white pappae. Also present is the Autumn hawkbit (L. autumnalis), which has much narrower, deeply-indented leaves and continues flowering until October.
Pignut (Conopodium majus)
A wild relative of the carrot, the hazelnut-flavoured tubers were once foraged on by the poor. Pigs were used to unearth them, as with truffles. It is becoming rarer owing to loss of habitat, and it is now illegal to dig up the roots except with permission of the landowner.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
A dense, thorny shrub with lobed leaves, white flowers, and deep red haws. It is steeped in folklore, being much used in protective magic, although its flowers are associated with dire consequences. It is the tree most frequently mentioned in Anglo-Saxon boundary charters.
Ivy (Hedera helix)
The Victorians loved ivy and encouraged its growth, but it is now viewed with ambivalence. Although not a parasite, it uses other plants and trees as scaffolding and has many magical associations, including in Christmas rituals. One of the few sources of nectar for late flying insects.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
This plant has deep tap roots, feathery leaves and white, flat clustered heads. The Anglo-Saxons believed it was a cure for wounds caused by iron weapons. The herb, combined with elderflower and peppermint, is used to make a tea to help soothe colds and ‘flu. It flowers June to August.
Blackerry bramble (Rubus fruticosus)
An aggregate of many micro-species, the bramble is a scrambling shrub with arching and angled stems, bearing hooked spines, with oval leaves of varying prickly hairiness. It is home to the shield bug and the larvae of the moth, Nepticula aurella. According to folklore, the Devil spits on the berries after Michaelmas.
Speckled wood (Pararge aegeria)
A butterfly of woodland, it often basks in sun-dappled areas but when its wings are closed it has the appearance of a dead leaf. Both sexes feed on honeydew in the tree tops and are rarely seen feeding on flowers. The caterpillar’s food plants consist of a variety of grasses.
Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
A velvety black upper side, with distinctive red and white markings, this butterfly is found in flower-rich places and is very fond of ripe fruit. Its food plant is the nettle. British populations are replenished by annual migrations from the south, as most adults don’t survive the winter.
Yellow shell (Camptogramma bilineata)
A geometer moth, it belongs to the second-largest macro-moth family. It is common from June to August and found throughout the British Isles. The larvae feed on cleavers, docks, sorrels, dandelions and bedstraws, which can be found in Holnest churchyard in abundance.