The Marsh-marigold (Caltha palustris)

A murky morning so my eyes were drawn closer to earth seeking for signs of the vernal awakening.

This spring, in the old Slack’s Quarry, seems to be a favourite spot for the marsh marigold, its vivid yellow flowers already in bloom. Wikipedia says it should flower between April and August, but I suspect the stream is slightly warmer after passing underground through the whinstone workings 1Wikipedia Contributors (2022). Caltha palustris. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caltha_palustris [Accessed 16 Mar. 2022]..

A member of the buttercup family, marsh marigold’s scientific name is Caltha palustris — from Kathos the Greek for a cup and palustris a marsh2Voice of the Moors. Issue 119, Spring 2015. North York Moors Association. Available online at https://www.nyma.org.uk/_webedit/uploaded-files/All%20Files/Voice%20of%20the%20Moors/VOICE-119.pdf. It was once very widespread, flourishing on marshy fields, cattle wallows, ditches and wet woodlands before the agricultural revolution necessitated extensive drainage. It is thought to have been around since the last ice age3Mabey, Richard. “Flora Britannica”. Reed International Books Ltd. 1996. ISBN 1 85619 377 2..

This ubiquitousness probably accounts for the plants abundance of local names. Every county, every village seems to have its own. Golden Knobs from Berkshire is a nice example4Wright, E.M., “Rustic Speech and Folk-lore”, lccn=14004537, H. Milford, 1913, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=deWBAAAAMAAJ..

Big buttercup, Boots, Bull’s Eyes, Butter-bleb/blob, Chirms, Claut, Cow-cranes, Crazy, Crazy-bet, and Crow-cranes5“The English Dialect Dictionary, Being the Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect Words Still in Use, or Known to Have Been in Use during the Last Two Hundred Years; Founded on the Publications of the English Dialect Society and on a Large Amount of Material Never before Printed”. In six volumes edited by Joseph Wright, 1898. Volume I. Internet Archive, 2014, https://archive.org/details/englishdialectdi01wriguoft. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021..

Halcup, King-cup, Horse-bolb, Johnny-cranes, King’s-cob, and Lucken golland6 “The English Dialect Dictionary, Being the Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect Words Still in Use, or Known to Have Been in Use during the Last Two Hundred Years; Founded on the Publications of the English Dialect Society and on a Large Amount of Material Never before Printed”. In six volumes edited by Joseph Wright, 1898. Volume III. Internet Archive, 2014, https://archive.org/details/englishdialectdi03wriguoft. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021., that’s a good one too.

Marsh-mallice/mallish/mallus, May-blob, Meadow-bright, Moll-blob, Molly-blob, Open-gowan, and Paddock-flower7“The English Dialect Dictionary, Being the Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect Words Still in Use, or Known to Have Been in Use during the Last Two Hundred Years; Founded on the Publications of the English Dialect Society and on a Large Amount of Material Never before Printed”. In six volumes edited by Joseph Wright, 1898. Volume IV. Internet Archive, 2014, https://archive.org/details/englishdialectdi04wriguoft. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021..

Water-bleb, Yellow-boots, Bublicans, Bull-dogs, and Mary-bout8“The English Dialect Dictionary, Being the Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect Words Still in Use, or Known to Have Been in Use during the Last Two Hundred Years; Founded on the Publications of the English Dialect Society and on a Large Amount of Material Never before Printed”. In six volumes edited by Joseph Wright, 1898. Volume VI. Internet Archive, 2014, https://archive.org/details/englishdialectdi06wriguoft. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.. The Bublicans is a Yorkshire name, by contrast, across the Pennines, Lancastrians call the plant Publicans9Mabey, Richard. “Flora Britannica”. Reed International Books Ltd. 1996. ISBN 1 85619 377 2.. It seems odd, but I’ve checked the spelling.

Whatever the name, Marsh marigolds are toxic, yet the young leaves have been eaten as a spinach and the young buds pickled as a caper substitute, the toxicity negated by cooking10Voice of the Moors. Issue 119, Spring 2015. North York Moors Association. Available online at https://www.nyma.org.uk/_webedit/uploaded-files/All%20Files/Voice%20of%20the%20Moors/VOICE-119.pdf.

But it’s for its protective powers that the plant was most celebrated. It was considered a good Spring charm for the flowers to be picked on old May eve and made into garlands or just simply strewn round the cottage, providing protection against evil, fairies and witches11Mabey, Richard. “Flora Britannica”. Reed International Books Ltd. 1996. ISBN 1 85619 377 2..

  • 1
    Wikipedia Contributors (2022). Caltha palustris. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caltha_palustris [Accessed 16 Mar. 2022].
  • 2
    Voice of the Moors. Issue 119, Spring 2015. North York Moors Association. Available online at https://www.nyma.org.uk/_webedit/uploaded-files/All%20Files/Voice%20of%20the%20Moors/VOICE-119.pdf
  • 3
    Mabey, Richard. “Flora Britannica”. Reed International Books Ltd. 1996. ISBN 1 85619 377 2.
  • 4
    Wright, E.M., “Rustic Speech and Folk-lore”, lccn=14004537, H. Milford, 1913, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=deWBAAAAMAAJ.
  • 5
    “The English Dialect Dictionary, Being the Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect Words Still in Use, or Known to Have Been in Use during the Last Two Hundred Years; Founded on the Publications of the English Dialect Society and on a Large Amount of Material Never before Printed”. In six volumes edited by Joseph Wright, 1898. Volume I. Internet Archive, 2014, https://archive.org/details/englishdialectdi01wriguoft. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.
  • 6
     “The English Dialect Dictionary, Being the Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect Words Still in Use, or Known to Have Been in Use during the Last Two Hundred Years; Founded on the Publications of the English Dialect Society and on a Large Amount of Material Never before Printed”. In six volumes edited by Joseph Wright, 1898. Volume III. Internet Archive, 2014, https://archive.org/details/englishdialectdi03wriguoft. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.
  • 7
    “The English Dialect Dictionary, Being the Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect Words Still in Use, or Known to Have Been in Use during the Last Two Hundred Years; Founded on the Publications of the English Dialect Society and on a Large Amount of Material Never before Printed”. In six volumes edited by Joseph Wright, 1898. Volume IV. Internet Archive, 2014, https://archive.org/details/englishdialectdi04wriguoft. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.
  • 8
    “The English Dialect Dictionary, Being the Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect Words Still in Use, or Known to Have Been in Use during the Last Two Hundred Years; Founded on the Publications of the English Dialect Society and on a Large Amount of Material Never before Printed”. In six volumes edited by Joseph Wright, 1898. Volume VI. Internet Archive, 2014, https://archive.org/details/englishdialectdi06wriguoft. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.
  • 9
    Mabey, Richard. “Flora Britannica”. Reed International Books Ltd. 1996. ISBN 1 85619 377 2.
  • 10
    Voice of the Moors. Issue 119, Spring 2015. North York Moors Association. Available online at https://www.nyma.org.uk/_webedit/uploaded-files/All%20Files/Voice%20of%20the%20Moors/VOICE-119.pdf
  • 11
    Mabey, Richard. “Flora Britannica”. Reed International Books Ltd. 1996. ISBN 1 85619 377 2.

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