Friday, 18 March 2011

Dogs

A walk through the woodland which used to be known as "Dog Kennel Coppice" and which now makes up a part of the footpath around Shipley Country Park, reveals the emergence of hundreds of small, bright green plants.
These are Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis) and are always among the first green shoots to be seen in Spring.  Looking quite 'perky' in the deep shade under the trees, they are already in full flower as you can see.
The flower buds are a distinctive, triangular shape opening to reveal a bunch of yellow-tipped stamens.  Poisonous to most animals, it has proved fatal to sheep.  Fortunately it has a nasty smell and an extremely acrid taste so ingestion is rare.  Culpepper, speaks of it's 'rank poisonous' qualities in his famous "Herbal".
The name derives from the medicinal virtues of the plant which were first revealed by the God Mercury - apparently!  The Greeks called it Mercury's Grass.  The prefix 'dog' probably comes from the old English way of putting 'dog' before the name of any plant which lacks fragrance (such as Dog Violet, Dog Rose, etc), or other, useful properties normally associated with plants of the same family.  Not bad for a common, garden 'weed'.
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