Common Hemp-nettle

Common Hemp-nettle
by Zachary Sheep

When feed for livestock is in short supply, hedgerows and vegetation growing between shrubs provides a useful alternative source of nourishment. But since clover is not always readily available, an emergency diet will obviously include some unwelcome plants.

Less often seen, although equally attractive, is its sub-species, the Blue-flowered Pimpernel. Both have a practically cosmopolitan distribution, although the Blue-flowered Pimpernel has a preference for more lime-rich soil. Some authorities believe each is a separate species whereas others think they are two colour forms of the same species – scarlet and blue.

The generic name Anagallis is derived from the Greek word Anagelae, meaning to make one laugh, and the Scarlet Pimpernel certainly looks merry enough.

Chickens, however, were not amused if a careless farmhand fed them chickweed seeds mixed with the seeds of Scarlet Pimpernel, since, commonly called ‘chicken plague’ (Morbus gallinae in mediaeval Latin), the Scarlet Pimpernel is a poisonous plant, particularly its seeds. The toxic effect of the Scarlet Pimpernel is to lower blood pressure and slow the action of the heart; paradoxically, though, it also lowers the level of adrenalin in the body, thereby raising the blood pressure.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a very hardy and undemanding plant. In a congenial site, particularly in warm regions, it flowers throughout the summer, from June until October. The fruits are capsules which release seeds through a circular opening capped by a lid.

A single plant produces as many as 700 seeds. The Scarlet Pimpernel is an annual herb but in mild winters it may survive and commence growth again in spring. Since it does not have a deep root system, winter does not pose as much of a threat as summer drought. It is a weed of field crops – root or grain.

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