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Lords Ladies and Gentlemen

22nd February 2021 @ 6:06am – by Adrian Leighton
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turnpike field

Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen by Adrian Leighton

It's a cold blustery February afternoon, the hurrying clouds tease me with rain. Is that the sun peeping out to entice me for a walk? I take the plunge and step into my wellies. A turn round Turnpike Fields will do me no harm; indeed, breathing in the chemicals in nature's air and absorbing the green environment could do me a world of good. I wonder if the natural world thinks its spring yet.

There is not much to catch my attention, although I have no doubt that it's as busy as market day underground competing for supplies, negotiating with partner plants, warding off the bad guys.
I come across a solitary patch of crocuses standing defiant and alone, looking like they're wondering if they have the wrong time for the bus! All around small green leaves hint at things to come but not quite yet. Yet there is one plant that is determined to be the first to declare. Hugging the wooded edge a population of Lords and Ladies (I wonder what the collective name should be – an Aristocracy perhaps) call us to attention.

Now the Lords-and-Ladies plant, or Arum Maculatum, to give it its scientific name, is a really peculiar plant. It flowers in about March and then dies down before producing a striking red fruit head in August/ September. That striking red cluster of fruit on a stem is matched by an equally strange purplely brown tongue like flower head enfolded by green lily like leaves. As the proper name implies it belongs to the family that also includes garlic and onions, without the characteristic smell, to us anyway, To pollinating insects it has a delicious urine smelling odour.

turnpike field flowers

The plant also goes by other names, the most common of which is Cuckoo Pint. Then there is Arum, Snakeshead, Adder's Root, Arum Lily, Devils and Angels, and Sonsie-give-us-your-hand (a Sonsie is a term for a buxom wench!). This leads me to other names, and those with a sensitive disposition should look away now , for they refer to the fact that the plant is thought to resemble male and female "bits and bobs". So we have Naked Girls, Naked Boys, Adam and Eve, Cows and Bulls, and Soldier's Diddlies -all very saucy.

Unlike its other relations in the Arum family, Lords and Ladies, is definitely not one you would want to eat, due to the presence of toxic oxalate crystals. Although in the past the root was used to make Saloop, a common drink before tea and coffee. It also has small irritant hairs on the leaves, and as it has been put "it is best avoided as woodland toilet paper!"

It is amazing that even when all around us seems dull and empty , the natural world throws up for us amazing and unexpected interest. If you are walking in the Fields in the next couple of weeks, look out for the Lord's and Ladies flowering on the wooded canal bank as you walk down to the brook. You will also see them on the wooded bank between Locks 14 and 15 on the canal. I suggest that you definitely look and admire and not touch!
With longer days and shorter nights
Our hope is full of warmth and light;
We glimpse in nature , plants and earth
The promise of eternal worth.

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