Friday, 10 July 2015

a pirates rattle

Out in our orchard there's pirate's treasure. And I'm bagging it.

Yellow rattle (rhinanthus minor) is a parasitic plant that swings into the meadow and whose roots suck the juice out of surrounding grasses. The Captain Jack Sparrow of the plant world - stealing the life blood from vigorous grasses around it.

That's great for those of us passionate about meadows and wildflowers. The last thing we need is thuggish, verdant grass swamping our delicate wildflowers. Yellow rattle takes the energy from its host plants leaving space for wildflowers to grow. And it's the food plant for four species of our native moths. In the spring it has pretty yellow flowers ... but I'm most interested in its seed heads.

We grabbed a handful of rattle seeds during a walk three years ago and have been nurturing it the plant the orchard ever since. Yellow rattle is an annual, so it is important that it is allowed to seed. Ours have seeded abundantly and after three years its influence is spreading well.

The seed heads rattle to tell us that they are ready to spill their seed for next year. It is said that farmers would rattle the seed heads to see whether hay was ready for collecting. A good dry rattle would tell the farmer it was time to mow.

And there's a-rattling in the orchard. So swift as a cannonball I'm in, swishing off the seedheads with my cutlas (ok - scissors) and paper-bagging them.

Our newly sown wildflower meadow is waist high in grass so I'm going to sprinkle rattle seed into the grassy ground in the hope that Captain Jack can work his yellow magic next year!

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