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Cowslips and Fritillaries

Written by John James, posted on Friday, March 29, 2019

As the days and nights are becoming consistently warmer and the days are becoming longer more and more of the spring wild flowers in Christ Church Meadow are coming into bloom.

Coming to the forefront at the moment and following on from the native Daffodils are Cowslips (Primula veris) and Snake’s Head Fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris).
Both of these are British natives and thrive in damp, dappled shade such as the lightly wooded area next to New Walk towards the river. The Fritillaries are the result of us planting 1,000’s of bulbs over the last few years, but the Cowslips have come from a seed mixture sown in 2015 and they have been spreading ever since.

The genus name of Fritillaria comes from the Latin fritillus meaning dice-box, possibly referring to the chequered pattern on the flowers and the species name meleagris means spotted like a Guinea fowl. The common name "Snake's Head" refers to the somewhat snakelike appearance of the nodding flower heads on their long stems. The renowned horticulturalist Vita Sackville-West called it "a sinister little flower, in the mournful colour of decay". Snake’s Head Fritillaries were chosen as the county flower of Oxfordshire in 2002.

The common name Cowslip may derive from the old English for cow dung, probably because the plant was often found growing amongst the manure in cow pastures, but an alternative derivation simply refers to slippery or boggy ground; again, a typical habitat for this plant. The species name of veris means spring. Cowslips are closely related to Primroses which prefer to grow in more heavily wooded areas than Cowslips and are not, as yet, so prolific around the Meadow.