Monday, July 11, 2016

House Circuit (11) Ground oak

Note: House Circuit posts are drawn from the many 50 metre walks I make every day around our house.

One of the prettiest flowers of late spring in our area is the germander speedwell, Veronica chamaedrys.  The word 'germander' derives, through Latin and French, from Classical Greek khamai drus meaning 'ground' or 'creeping oak'.  The word 'germander' on its own is used to describe many of the plants in the genus Teucrium.  At Rye Harbour near here there is, for example, a small population of wall germander, Teucrium chamaedrys, which has mauve flowers and leaves shaped like small oak leaves.  There is also a speedwell from mainland Europe, saw-leaved speedwell, Veronica teucrium (the scientific name translates as 'germander speedwell') with bright blue flowers.  I suspect that in the past when these plants were valued by herbalists the various names were confused and our Veronica chamaedrys came out as germander speedwell.  Phew!

The word 'germander' rarely occurs in other contexts, though John Donne, the 16th/17th C English poet refers to a Sir Germander Pool in one of his letters.  May be he made it up to describe a particularly blue eyed knight.

Modern taxonomy, for those of you that like interesting information, has transferred the plant from the family Scrophulariaceae to Plantaginaceae, though it does not look anything like the plantains (but nor does it look like scrofula).  All to do with DNA no doubt.

It is the foodplant of the larvae of a tiny, but attractive Adelid moth Adela fibulella, sometimes called Frisch's gold long-horn (after, I think, the 18th century entomologist Johann Leonhard Frisch). It is  often seen visiting germander speedwell flowers and I watched one earlier this year wandering about on a bramble leaf on the lane to our village.
For a picture of the moth see here:

Unsurprisingly the plant features frequently in alternative medicine sources as being useful to staunch wounds and to alleviate, among other things, indigestion and jaundice.  I am suffering from both after political events in the UK over the past few weeks and might try a cup or two of germander speedwell tea to calm my spirits.

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