Photo Blog

I love observing nature and the changing seasons at home in my wildlife garden and in the Norfolk countryside often accompanied by my loyal canine companion Starrydog. I enjoy taking photos of Norfolk butterflies, wildflowers and other flora and fauna that I happen across and learning about them. Bookmark my Norfolk nature photo blog to keep up to date with my photographic adventures.

Cheery Cowslips

Cowslips are invaluable to early pollinators and have a long flowering period

The mid-Spring superstar of our wildflower meadow this year was undoubtably the humble Cowslip, Primula veris. I’d always hoped to see them in my wildlife garden, as not far up the lane from my cottage is a little tucked away-clearing near a small copse that is too small to farm and in springtime always seemed to be bursting full of rich custard-coloured Cowslips mixing in beautifully with the deep indigo of native Bluebells.

Disappointingly, despite their inclusion in my native seedmix for clay soil, for the first two years not a single one materialised. I philosophically put it down to the soil conditions or an unlucky batch mix and thought I might sow some plugs another year.

Then unexpectedly, the very next spring just a smattering appeared! I was overjoyed to learn that it was simply that their seeds can take several seasons to germinate and interpreted it as an encouraging sign our meadow ecosystem was establishing itself well naturally.

Since then they’ve gone from strength to strength, spreading almost right across the small sward. They must particularly like cool dry springs as this year, our meadow’s sixth season, has been their best appearance to date.

Aside from their cheerful colour and long lasting flowerheads, they have a healthy wildlife value. Their flowers are a vital resource for pollinators, particularly for early solitary bee species, quite a few of which frequent our garden, but also for butterflies such as the Brimstone butterfly and other insects such as beetles. They are also the caterpillar plant for the Duke of Burgundy butterfly, which is unfortunately not resident in Norfolk.

A member of the Primula family, the Cowslip shares more than a passing resemblance to it's cousins the Primrose Primula vulgaris and the Oxlip Primula elatior, however both of these lack its pleasant apricot perfume and have more open paler lemon-hued flowers.

Cowslips can take several years to establish in a new meadow

Amusingly the Cowslip’s latin name Primula veris romantically deems it the “true” primrose, while its established English name more, ahem, rustically refers to its habit of growing near “cow’s slops” or cowpats in grazing pasture. It does have over two dozen pleasanter names in traditional folklore including other farming references such as Milk Maidens, descriptive names such as Freckled face, Golden Drops and Long legs as well as biblical names mentioning Mary or alluding to a myth that Cowslips sprang up where St Peter dropped the keys to heaven, perhaps in a cow pat!

Cowslips’ varied folklore names include: Artetyke, Arthritica, Buckles, Bunch of keys, Crewel, Drelip, Fairy Cups, Fairies' flower, Freckled face, Golden drops, Herb Peter, Hey-flower, Paigle, Peggle, Key Flower, Key of Heaven, Lady's fingers, Long legs, Milk maidens, Mayflower, Mary's tears, Our Lady's Keys, Palsywort, Password, Petty Mulleins, Plumrocks, Tisty-tosty. Welsh: dagrau Mair meaning Mary's tears, Anglo-Saxon: Cuy lippe, Greek: Paralysio.

The Cowslip has a rich cultural and culinary history too; traditionally it decorated Mayday garlands and was strewn along churchyard pathways at weddings and religious festivals. The Cowslip was used medicinally to aid sleep and heal coughs as well as to make Cowslip wine and “Tisty-tosty”, little balls of crushed up Cowslip flowers.

In the literary world the Cowslip’s honours include mentions in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and “Henry V” plays as well as featuring in Keats’ poem of Springtime romance “Hither, hither love”.

Hither, hither, love —

‘Tis a shady mead —

Hither, hither, love!

Let us feed and feed!

Hither, hither, sweet —

’Tis a cowslip bed —

Hither, hither, sweet!

'Tis with dew bespread!

Hither, hither, dear —

By the breath of life —

Hither, hither, dear!

Be the summer’s wife!

Though one moment’s pleasure

In one moment flies —

Though the passion’s treasure

In one moment dies —

Yet it has not passed —

Think how near, how near! —

And while it doth last,

Think how dear, how dear!

Hither, hither, hither

Love its boon has sent —

If I die and wither

I shall die content!

John Keats