Sunday, January 21, 2007

Shepherd's Purse

I have set myself the challenge of trying to catalogue all the life in my garden (see Rules of Engagement posting). I've made a start in my two previous postings by describing two common bird vistors to my garden.

This posting marks my first foray into botany. This is a challenge. I know a little about Britain's birds and the larger fungi. My knowledge of wild flowers is very scant however. In light of this, I decided I might be best to start by finding a plant in my garden that was in flower, so as to maximise the chance of me correctly identifying it in my copy of The Wild Flower Key, Francis Rose (pub. Warne 1981). This being the middle of the British winter however (albeit an exceptionally mild one) I wasn't certain I would find one. On one edge (at 1.2, 0.8 - see Bird's Eye View ) of my lawn however I found this :

After some work I'm confident that there is Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) in my garden. The above book describes the arrangement of its tiny (~2mm) white flowers as comprising an 'erect raceme'.

A search of the internet informs me that Shepherd's Purse is an edible annual or biannual herb, with a taste reminiscent of mustard (I haven't tried it myself so can't confirm or deny this) and apparently a delicacy in parts of China.

In the course of my searching I came across the wonderful Harvard University Arnold Arboretum website, a search of which turned up an article by one Helen Roca-Garcia on the history of my humble weed. From this I learn that Shepherd's Purse was described by William Coles in 1657 in his book Adam in Eden as

'...Shepherd's Purse or Scrip after the likeness the Seed hath with that kind of letherene bag, wherein Shepherds carry ther Victuals into the field'.

The article also quotes the 16th century physician Dodoneous

"Sheepeherds Pouche groweth in rough, stonie, and untilled places"

He was obviously familiar with my lawn!

Perhaps the most remarkable comment I came across was that contained in Wikipedia's article, namely that the seeds of Shepherd's Purse when moistened become viscous and can trap insects (including mosquitos) rendering it a "bordeline carniverous plant".

Can anyone comment on this? Is it true I have a carniverous plant on my lawn ? (I would love to see a photo of it trapping insects). And what does 'borderline' mean in this context?


Laura said...

I have eaten it and I didn't think it was particularly mustardy. Bit of a Ray Mears thing, really. Mild and not unpleasant. I'm fond of the heart shaped seed pods that give it its name.

Mind you, I have been known to stuff pineapple weed up my nose as a child. Look for evidence of pineapple weed (Matricaria matricarioides). It's a common lawn weed and has a lovely smell. Maybe wait for the summer.

Laura said...

Visit Fungi Thinking for a review of your blog, Henry. Thanks for your guess at my fungi. If you mail me, I'll send you your virtual brownie points.