Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In the beauty of the lilies

No, not Updike's novel, but yesterday I went in search, very locally, of the Loddon Lilly or, more commonly, 'Summer Snowflake'. Flora Britannica describes the quest exactly: "South of Sandford Mill, the river-edge (i.e., of the Loddon) grows wilder. There are bigger, taller stands of snowflake growing among marsh marigolds under the trees. Follow their trail through the dark alders and nettles, and you enter a quite different habitat, a shifting, humid swamp, caked with a flood wrack of willow branches and leaf litter. And amongst this debris are sheaves upon sheaves of snowflakes, in patches sometimes hundreds of yards square. It is an astonishing sight, but an inhospitable place, and not one likely to tempt an early botanist (Richard Mabey means here, 'one of the early botanists') in a wet April".

This in the context of a dispute as to how such a eye-catching flower escaped all notice until the late 18th century, when it seems to have been described by William Curtis: is it native, or a garden escape? Mabey thinks that the plant is native, and highly particular in its natural habitat (though it is now a common garden plant able to put up with more or less anything).

All I can say is that these stands of the Loddon Lily are protected by outerworks of fast growing stinging nettles, full of spring potency. In a few days from now, I would not have been able to see them in number, unless I had Wellington boots on against the mud and nettles.

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