Tag Archives: wildflowers

What’s in a Name?

June 1st, 2018 | 4 Comments »

I saw this wildflower in the woods last week and was surprised to learn its botanical name, Cardamine diphylla.


cardamine diphylla (1 of 1)


I was surprised because only a week or so ago, I looked up the name of another plant, now growing in damp areas in the garden and in the fields at Glen Villa. Its botanical name is Cardamine pratensis.


Lady's smock or milkmaids is growing Glen Villa pond.
Lady’s smock or milkmaids is growing beside the Glen Villa pond. It has bloomed for several weeks.


What is the relationship between the two Cardamines? Are they first cousins or distant relatives? Or, as Shakespeare would have us ask, do their names make them enemies?

Cardamine diphylla is a spring woodland plant found in moist woodlands in most of eastern North America. In Quebec it blooms in mid to late May, and into June in cooler years. The word diphylla means the plant has two leaves or leaflets.

Cardamine pratensis is an alien, native throughout most of Europe and Western Asia.  The word pratensis, Latin for meadow, identifies its preferred location. It blooms when cuckoos arrive in the U.K., which explains one of its common names, cuckoo flower. Other common names are lady’s smock, milkmaids and mayflower.

C. pratensis is a food plant for the orange tip butterfly, and its botanical name  (Anthocharis cardamines) marks that connection.  (Since humans once used it as a substitute for watercress, I suppose it might have been called Anthocharis hominis.)

In folklore the flower was said to be sacred to fairies; because of that, it was unlucky to bring it indoors and the flowers were never used in May garlands.


Milkmaids are happily growing in the field in front of Lilac Cottage.
Milkmaids are happily growing in the field in front of Lilac Cottage.


The native plant, Cardamine diphylla, goes by the name crinkle root, or pepper root, or (less colourfully) broadleaf toothwort. Like lungwort or butterwort, the ‘wort’ in its name suggests it was once used as food or medicine — ‘wort’ comes from an old German word related to ‘root.’

Broadleaf toothwort or (my favourite) crinkle root, was used by many indigenous people in North Ameria. The Abenaki who lived in my part of Quebec used it as a condiment. The Algonquin used it to treat fevers and heart disease.  The Iroquois chewed the raw root as a remedy for stomach gas and drank a cold infusion of the roots for “when love is too strong.”


This photo shows the favoured environment of Cardamine diphylla, in moist woodlands.
Does anyone know why an infusion made with Cardamine diphylla would cool the blood?



What unites these plants, apart from their ‘surname’? Both have small white flowers with four petals, and are members of the mustard family, which includes all plants with four-petaled flowers. But the mustard family is large, and the genus Cardamine grows worldwide in diverse habitats. In northeastern America, there are 15 species with that name. Looking at photos, it is easy to see family resemblances between some, but as with families in general, other members look quite different.

Less scientifically, both of the Cardamines growing at Glen Villa are edible, either by insects and humans. I’m not planning to serve either at dinner, though — the native plant’s most frequently used name is bittercress.


The Big Meadow, Year 3

May 24th, 2018 | 13 Comments »
Saturday late afternoon-020
In 2016, in order to discourage Canada geese from 'littering' the  lawn, we began to transform it into a meadow. We didn't follow the advice given by experts on how to create a meadow -- their process involved too much work and too much expense. Instead we simply stopped cutting the grass. We let it grow throughout the season and cut it only once in the fall, to mulch the leaves and to cut down any trees that were taking root. Now, entering the third year of this experiment, it is fascinating to see what is appearing. From a


The Big Meadow, 2017

September 25th, 2017 | 8 Comments »
I took this photo near the end of July. The mown path remained green all summer, thanks to the amount of rain we received.
Is it accurate to call The Big Lawn at Glen Villa The Big Meadow? If you use an American definition, the answer is yes.  If you consult an English dictionary, the answer is less clear. Webster's Dictionary defines a meadow as a tract of low or level land producing grass which is mown for hay,  and that definition fits precisely. Allowing the sweep of grass beside our house that was tended for decades to remain untouched produced six large bales of hay last year, the first year we didn't mow regularly.  Those bales were


Garden Envy

June 20th, 2017 | 19 Comments »
The Upper Field at Glen Villa is a what dieticians argue against, butter spread thick on the ground.
Coming home from a tour of English gardens I felt a short, sharp shock. Everything in my garden looked inadequate, not up to the standard I had come to expect. I moped. I complained. Why can't I grow the hundreds of plants I saw and admired?  Some of them must surely suit my climate. So why don't the garden centres around Glen Villa stock them? Then I faced the facts. My garden will never match the perfection of an English estate that employs six or seven full time gardeners.  The garden centres will


A Change of (Ad)dress

May 23rd, 2016 | 14 Comments »
A froth of white dresses the fields and roadsides in Hertfordshire. What do you call this wildflower -- Queen's Anne's Lace, wild carrot or something else entirely?
  The weather at this time of year does strange things to the mind -- and to the wardrobe. One day is cold, the next is hot. Changing locations makes the uncertainties even worse. What do I pack? Summer dresses or winter woolies? I arrived in England a few days ago on a chilly morning that felt much like the mornings I'd left behind in Canada. But looking out at the countryside, it was obvious that summer was now dressing the fields.   [caption id="attachment_3982" align="aligncenter" width="3888"] A froth of white


Wild Names Flavoured with Wild Garlic

May 10th, 2016 | 6 Comments »
I don't often walk in this section of the woods in spring -- it is too wet. So it was a surprise to come across such a huge colony growing wild. That means it is a good spot for wild garlic.
  NOTE: Several readers have let me know that this blog post only had photos without any words so I'm posting it again.   A walk in the woods at this time of year is a journey of discovery. So many things are there in miniature, waiting to be spotted if you take the time to look closely. Trilliums, for example. Not many are yet in bloom but they are beginning to open up as the days grow warmer.   [caption id="attachment_3890" align="aligncenter" width="2317"] Red trilliums (Trillium erectum) go by many common


Following my tree, down a colourful garden path

September 7th, 2014 | 9 Comments »
It's that time of month again, time to write about the tree I started following in March this year. My corkscrew hazel (Corylus avellana 'Red Majestic') is looking about as tired as the rest of the garden -- late August and early September are not prime times at Glen Villa.Something is eating the hazel leaves.Something likes the leaves of this corkscrew hazel.They are welcome to it.The leaves are looking decidedly weary. Not to mention spotty and full of holes.So instead of writing about this unattractive tree, I'm writing about some


Gardening on the Wild Side

June 15th, 2014 | 4 Comments »
When I look at the wildflowers blooming in the fields and woods at Glen Villa, I wonder why I plant a garden at all. How can I hope to compete with this?Buttercups turn the Upper Field to gold.The partially visible metal structure is a sculpture called Bridge Ascending,by Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito. Simple buttercups now cover the field, splendidly cheerful en masse, and so yellow and shiny that they brighten the dullest day and lift the heaviest spirits.There are many varieties of buttercups. I haven't tried to determinewhich this one is.This past


Identifying spring wildflowers: why bother?

June 1st, 2014 | 6 Comments »
My last two posts have been about some of the Italian gardens I visited recently while leading a small group of women on a 9-day tour. I still have a lot to write about what I saw, and what I thought of it, but in the Eastern Townships in Quebec, where my garden Glen Villa is located, it is full, glorious spring. Finally.Crabapple trees bloom in the lower field, by the old split rail fence.The daffodils are like icing on the cake of spring.Or rather, it was spring. The season