It seems that everywhere I walk at the moment there’s Cuckooflower. With its penchant for damp soggy ground, it can be found sprinkled amongst the reeds at the edge of Cardiff Bay wetlands, underlining the willow scrub along the edges of the River Taff, accentuating the lines of a drying drain at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park. And it’s such a pretty little thing, with its pale lilac flowers sitting high on an upright stalk, all the better for the bees and butterflies to find them.
Its scientific name is Cardamine pratensis and, if you don’t know it as Cuckooflower (it flowers at the time the cuckoos return to Britain), then you may know it by its other popular names, Milkmaid and Lady’s smock. Milkmaid is the older name, possibly a reference to its feminine colour and blousy shape when the flowers are first opening and I read, in an article in the Darlington & Stockton Times 23 June 2006, that
‘When Christianity came to these islands, that feminine association was transferred to the Virgin Mary, which led to a host of other names for the flower, such as my lady’s smock, lady’s glove and dozens more.
There is one old story which says that St Helena found Our Lady’s smock in a cave near Bethlehem, an article of clothing she left behind. It was later taken to St Sophia and then to Aix la Chapelle, where it was venerated for centuries, with this little wild flower being named in several European countries in honour of that relic.
‘In Europe, a lot of superstition used to surround this flower. It was thought that if anyone picked it, a thunderstorm would break out. It was also thought to generate lightning and for this reason was never taken into a house. In parts of England, it was believed to attract adders, Britain’s only poisonous snake, with a notion that anyone picking the flower would be bitten before the year was out.’
Luckily, I prefer to leave wildflowers where they are for everyone to enjoy so haven’t picked any, though I’m now almost tempted, just to see what happens … almost.