3 Jul 2024

From Past to Present: Meadowsweet & Betony

El James

It’s Wales Nature Week and today I thought I’d share with you two plants that have caught my attention that are about to flower or already flowering in our meadows on the Waun Las National Nature Reserve. To spice it up a little I’ve also imaged herbarium specimens of those plants from our 1800s collection, which we are busy digitising at the moment thanks to a Heritage Lottery grant.

The first plant I’d like to focus on is something we see fairly often at this time of year, Filipendula ulmaria or more commonly known as Meadowsweet. You may see it growing in hedgerows, woodland or meadows in your area, especially if they’re damp. I find it very eye catching, with its big creamy white flower heads swaying in the breeze and although it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, It’s sweet scent!

Meadowsweet is of great value to lots of pollinators and is a very good food source for caterpillars of multiple species of moth.

This herbarium specimen perfectly captures the characteristics of this plant, showing the silvery underside of the leaf, the shape and the small flowers. For those that have eagle eyes and have started to read the label, you may notice that it has a different scientific name, Spiraea ulmaria which is slightly different to what it’s named now. This is because plant species have been named differently by different botanists over the years, however nowadays this is based on the DNA of a plant, one of the many reasons for preserving these historic herbarium collections as a research resource.

The next plant I’d like to focus on is Betonica officinalis or more commonly known as Betony or Hedgenettle. This is a lovely little plant that belongs to the mint family and it’s just about to come into flower!

Keep an eye out as you’re meandering around our mown paths in the meadows where they’re dotted all along the edge – you won’t miss the vibrant purple pink flowers.

You might even spot it in some of the borders along the Broadwalk as you make your way up to the Great Glasshouse. As with most things in the mint family, bees absolutely adore this plant!

We have lots of people behind the scenes in the Herbarium transcribing the labels of these specimens, which means being very patient at trying to decipher handwriting from the 1800s. It’s harder than it looks but incredibly addictive! We collect all the data including the scientific name, collection location, collection date and the collector themselves. I challenge you to try – keep an eye out for us launching our remote transcribing opportunity later in the year!