What's in flower... September
Devil's-bit Scabious © Nick Gray
Kingcombe’s in residence wildflower folklore expert, Nick Gray reports on what's out in the meadows with this months '70s inspired purple haze!
Some of the grazed fields at Kingcombe are now washed with a purple haze of Devil’s-bit scabious Succisa pratensis. Powerstock Common is also a stronghold, where the plant feeds a renowned population of marsh fritillary butterflies, Devil’s-bit being the sole food plant of this fritillary’s caterpillars. Devil’s-bit scabious is a Dorset notable, only occurring on relatively unimproved grassland in the county, and is an excellent late season pollen and nectar source hoverflies and other pollinators are making a bee-line for, now that so many of Kingcombe’s other wild flowers have gone to seed.
Like other deep-rooted herbs which draw up trace elements and minerals from lower soil horizons, Devil’s-bit scabious is said to have healing properties for humans and livestock. It’s a central character in Kingcombe’s ‘well ground’, pasture which, according to some farmers, can benefit an animal that’s a bit off-colour with the antibiotic qualities of a diverse sward. In fact, the story of the name Devil’s-bit scabious would have us believe that the devil was so jealous of the beneficial traits of the plant that he reached up from below and bit the root off a few centimetres below ground! Apparently the root does stop abruptly, but it’s such a beautiful and bountiful flower, it’s hard to bring ourselves to uproot one to double-check!