Big thank you from

The scientists who knew a thing or two about flowers

by Paul Cormacain

A walk through the countryside now will reveal many flowers, with the expectation of many more to come.

The dandelions do not find me particularly appreciative, because when I see them in the wild I know I will shortly see them in our own garden. And I do not like them in the garden!

The daisies in the fields look more attractive. They can clutter up a garden, but do not grow as high as the dandelion, so do not represent as much of a threat. The Latin name for daisy is bellis, or beautiful. So the folk who gave scientific names to flowers must have thought highly of the daisy. Indeed, many poets have written about this flower.

In one particular field between Belfast and Lisburn are many toothwort.


A strange looking flower, I always thought, but it was only recently I found out why.

The stem has a deathly pallor, as do the flowers and scales. There are no green leaves about it at all, which is enough to make it look strange.

The flower is a parasite, and it only sends down roots to attach to the roots of, for example, a hazel tree.

The toothwort has small pad-like suckers; which have the ability to dissolve the hazel root. When enough of it is gone, the sucker sticks to the inner part of the root and extracts nourishment from it. The plant does not need chlorophyll, which explains the lack of greenness.

Because of the strange colouring, or lack of colouring, the toothwort used to get the country name of 'corpse flower'. It was believed that such a strangely coloured flower could only be sustained by a buried corpse.

I am aware of dozens of poems written to the daisy, or about the daisy, and all flattering to the daisy. I am not aware of any poem that concerns the corpse flower!


I like the toothwort, and also the coltsfoot, and poet Tennyson had something to say about the latter. There now seems to be plenty of those flowers about, a flower which superficially resembles the dandelion.

The coltsfoot is one of our earlier flowers, and is regularly seen even in February. When it is flowering, no leaves are visible, except for some greatly reduced scales on the stems. The flowers close up at night, but I don't know why.

When the flowers die, the leaves appear. This is strange. Most things do it the other way around. Plants and flowers grow green leaves, and after a time the flowers appear.

The leaves have down on the underside, which at one time was scraped off and used as tinder.

The leaves were once dried, and smoked in a pipe, and this was considered good for the relief of asthma. The juice of the leaves was once considered good for a cough cure. How times have changed!

Other flowers can be seen around the countryside. The mildness of the weather during the winter has contributed to this, and I do believe we will have a full colourful spring and summer of flowers.

Coming Events

Saturday 17 April - Guided walk of Glenarm Estate, 2pm, details from Wildlife Trust 4483 0282

19 April - Jack Malins will talk about Winter Birding in California, at Antrim RSPB, more from Brenda Campbell on 93323657

Saturday 24 April - Anthony McGeehan will talk about seabirds at the RSPB hide in Belfast Harbour Estate, details from 9049 1547, at 7pm.

Monday 26 April - Lisburn RSPB will have George Gilliland talk about Rathlin, at 7.30 at Friends' School, more from John Scott on 90601864

Ulster Star