There can be few weeds or wildflowers that fill my planty heart with more joy than Anagallis arvensis, the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Whilst this cheerful and unasuming wildflower is seen by some as a weed, I would be delighted if it chose to bless me with its presence.
I am not sure why but I always think of Blake whenever I see one of these increasingly rare beauties…
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
Whilst the flowers are indeed a world in miniature, the briefest of examinations with a hand lens, or indeed with a macro lens reveal an incredible, and intricately detailed flower that is just incredible to explore.
Five pointy petals, with a reddish orange hue (as oranges had not made it to the UK, when Scarlet Pimpernel was named, we did not have the word orange and scarlet was used as the nearest descriptor of the colour) it has a centre the colour of the finest raspberry juice and the brightest of yellow anthers, which are covered in minute hairs, whose role is to confuse insects and act as lures. The trickery is required as the flower does not produce nectar.
Described in guides as a prostrate annual, the leaves are shiny and have minute black dots on their underside.
One of the infuriating, but enchanting things about this flower is its ability to tell the weather, the flowers open in the sun and close in the shade, giving it many names such as poor man’s barometer, or shepherd’s sundial as the flowers open at 8.00a.m. (ish) and close at 3.00p.m. (ish)
It may be a tiny, diminutive flower, but it packs a lethal punch, with all part of Scarlet Pimpernel are poisonous, especially the roots. It contains the same poison as White Bryony (Bryonia dioica). This may explain why it is so necessary to control it in pastures. It was however used as an antidepressant in Ancient Greece, and has many an interesting use described in herbals including a cure for haemorrhoids, rabies, leprosy and snake bite.
In very rare circumstances in the UK, the flower changes its political affiliations and becomes a true blue, this is thought to be due to biochemical changes in the flower’s chemistry with the key pigment being sensitive to pH rather than the performance of the government of the day!