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Spring Flowers in Christ Church Meadow

Written by John James, posted on Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Two of our most notable successes in re-introducing lost plant species in Christ Church Meadow have been the establishment of colonies of Cowslips (Primula veris) and Snake’s Head Fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) in the lightly wooded and previously barren area to  the west of New Walk at the river end.

Cowslips in the Meadow fieldThe Cowslips were re-introduced in a seed mix sown in the autumn of 2014 and they are now firmly established and spreading well with more and more coming up every year. Equally positive is the area of Cowslips that have established in the north-west corner of the main Meadow fields near the Broad Walk, which are also spreading well across the field.

The common name of 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 plan.

This plant has been used for medicinal and herbal purposes for centuries being mentioned as far back as Pliny the Elder and the Celtic Druids.

The occasional white Fritillary also appearsSnake’s Head Fritillaries are named after their supposed likeness of the nodding flower heads to a snake, mainly when in bud. The well-known plants woman Vita Sackville West referred to them as “a sinister little flower, in the mournful colour of decay”, I guess she was not a fan! The Latin name Fritillaria meleagris translates to “dice-box” and “spotted like a guinea fowl”. These plants were voted by the public in a Plantlife poll in 2002 to be the county flower of Oxfordshire

The Snake’s Head Fritillaries have long been a feature of Christ Church Meadow, but had largely died out until recently, when we began to plant 1000’s of new bulbs, something we have now been doing for the last six autumns and will continue to do so. It is great that the earliest planted ones are now well established and are self-seeding around themselves adding to the display.

The Town Hall Clock PlantAnother success story, albeit a much less conspicuous one, and one for which for some reason I have a very soft spot for, is the Town Hall Clock Plant (Adoxa moshcatellina).

This tiny plant only grows a few centimetres high and has a flower head with four flowers facing outwards at 90 degrees like a town hall clock, plus another flower facing straight upwards. We planted five small plants three years ago and they have already spread to form a couple of small patches. I very much doubt if anyone spots this plant growing quietly in the shade of the trees.


Larger versions of these images are also featured in the gallery below.