Rare Suffolk Plant – A Touch of Spring for the New Year
Did you know Suffolk has its own adopted plant, the Oxlip, and it is found nowhere else in the UK except for some small parts of East Anglia, mostly in Suffolk?
The Oxlip was adopted by Suffolk in 2002 and is related to, but not to be confused with, the Cowslip. Unlike the flowers of the Cowslip, the Oxlip flower heads all hang in the one general direction. The bell-shaped flower heads are bright yellow with red dots on the inside.
It is an early flowering plant and the Oxlip provides nectar for early emerging bees and butterflies. Oxlips were traditionally used to treat coughs and rheumatism and its compounds may have antibacterial properties.
It grows in damp woods and meadows and favours nutrient-poor and calcium-rich soil. It is often associated with ancient woodland.
However, if you are fortunate enough to come across them, you should not pick them as the flowers are now on the Red Data List for plants – meaning it is on the verge of extinction.
In fact, a Sudbury author, Charlie Haylock, launched a campaign in 2018 to preserve the county flower so it could be enjoyed for future generations.
According to the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, the flower’s numbers had diminished after alien species were introduced to the Suffolk countryside – disturbing the delicate ecosystem at work and its demise has been attributed to damage caused by deer and pheasants who graze on the flowers.
In addition, its meadow sites were completely lost, mainly in the nineteenth century and many woods were grubbed up for agriculture after the second world war.
Two of the Trust’s ancient woodlands are a stronghold for the species, at Bull’s Wood, Cockfield, and at Bradfield Woods and are at their best in April and May.
There is a rare mention of the Oxlip by Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which Oberon, King of the Fairies, is talking to his messenger Puck about where Queen Titania is sleeping:
“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows…”
Perhaps the Oxlip was more widespread in Shakespeare’s time