Tuesday, April 21, 2020

speed well

Veronica arvensis. Swindon, 16th April 2020.

1. A new visitor to my garden, the diminutive Wall Speedwell (Veronica arvensis, Sw: Fältveronika).  The OED says of the English name speedwell, "apparently speed + well" but speculates no further.  (The earliest record is 1578.) One suggestion is that the name refers to the rapid fading of the flowers, but I doubt that, surely this must be speed in the sense of thriving or prospering. However, it's quite true that the individual flowers don't last long. You can see a faded corolla on the left.

Veronica, the name Linnaeus adopted for the genus, was another popular name in various European languages including Swedish. The name is thought to allude to Saint Veronica, who lent Jesus her veil to wipe his face on the way to his crucifixion; the veil was miraculously imprinted with his features. Perhaps it's only the name's familiarity that makes this seem to me rather appropriate, the blue flowers imaging the gaze of heaven.

One of the distinguishing ID features of Wall Speedwell is that all four of the corolla-lobes are identically blue. Another is that the flowers emerge from leafy terminal racemes, not from leaf axils all along the stem like the next three species shown below. Another is its small size, which the photo above misrepresents. Each flower is only 3-4mm across and you could easily not notice them at all. The photo below gives a better impression. The guides often describe it as upright but quite a few plants, like mine, are almost procumbent.

It occurs throughout the UK and most of Europe but, like so many other species, finds Norrland a step too far, so only gets about half-way up Sweden.

Veronica arvensis. Swindon, 16th April 2020.

Veronica filiformis. Swindon, 16th April 2020.

2. This is a much more noticeable speedwell: Slender Speedwell (Veronica filiformis, Sw: Trådveronika). It's a mat of long slender stems with neat round leaves, from whose axils the long-stalked and rather showy flowers arise.

It was introduced from the Caucasus and is now common throughout the UK, also Denmark and the Alps, but rather infrequent elsewhere in Europe. In Sweden it's restricted to the extreme south.

Veronica filiformis. Swindon, 16th April 2020.

Veronica filiformis among daisies. Swindon, 23rd April 2020.

Veronica hederifolia. Swindon, 16th April 2020.

3. This is Ivy-leafed Speedwell (Veronica hederifolia, Sw: Murgrönsveronika). It now occurs throughout most of Europe including the UK and the southern half of Sweden, but is thought to be native only to southern Europe and an archaeophyte (ancient introduction) elsewhere.

The lower photo shows subspecies lucorum (white or pale lilac with white anthers). The photo above may show the other subspecies hederifolia (pale blue with blue anthers) but the anthers aren't visible so I'm not particularly confident.

Veronica hederifolia ssp. lucorum. Frome, 18th March 2020.

Veronica persica. Swindon, 23rd April 2020.

4. This is Common Field Speedwell (Veronica persica, Sw: Trädgårdsveronika). Flowers springing from leaf-axils again; three blue corolla-lobes and a white lip. (It seems to be a chancy business with speedwells whether I ever manage to get the flower in sharp focus, and with this one I failed.) The fruit is distinguished from a couple of other similar species by being wider than long. The fruit is also supposed to have rather pointed lobes -- the one in my close-up didn't, but you can't have everything, and probably this fruit is still not fully developed.

Native to the Caucasus and N. Iran -- hence the specific name --, but now found throughout mainland Europe, the UK (first recorded in 1826) and the southern half of Sweden (first recorded in Lund in 1918).

Veronica persica. Swindon, 23rd April 2020.

Ripening fruit of Veronica persica. Swindon, 23rd April 2020.

Veronica serpyllifolia. Swindon, 23rd April 2020.
5. Thyme-leaved Speedwell (Veronica serpyllifolia, Sw: Majveronika). Perennial, ascending, leaves elliptical and virtually untoothed, flowers in terminal leafy racemes. This is the lowland subspecies serpyllifolia with pale blue or white flowers, streaked with dark blue or lilac. Common throughout Europe, including nearly all of Sweden.

 [The alpine subspecies humifusa has deeper blue flowers, among other differences. It's in the Scottish highlands and more rarely on mountains elsewhere in the UK. In Sweden (where it's called Lappveronika) it occurs only in the most northerly mountains, though across the border in Norway it occurs further south.]

Veronica serpyllifolia. Swindon, 23rd April 2020.

Veronica chamaedrys, 26th April 2020.

6. Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys, Sw: Teveronika). I suppose for a lot of us this beautiful species is the plant we visualize when we imagine a typical speedwell.

The blue flowers are in axillary racemes. The leaves are stalkless and the hairs don't grow all round the stems but in two opposite tufts (both features that distinguish it from Wood Speedwell (7)). My experience is that the latter feature is often not apparent on the upper stems (to check it out, zoom in on the lower stems in the photo below).

Common in woods and waste ground throughout the UK and most of Europe, but with a slightly more northerly distribution than most of the other common species; for example it's absent from all of Spain except the north. In Sweden it's common as far up as Ångermanland, scarcer in the far north.

The Swedish name alludes to its leaves being used to make a herbal tea. It was once a very popular tea (and apparently it tastes a bit like real tea, i.e. bitter and astringent); I have read that in the 18th century it became scarce around London because of over-harvesting. Veronica officinalis (Heath Speedwell) was the other species commonly used.

I suppose it's because of the tea connection that it acquired the name Germander which is also used of the unrelated Teucrium genus (e.g. Wall Germander), formerly another very popular herbal tea. [But in 1992 Teucrium was shown to be damaging to the liver, though this was only discovered when it was sold in supplements, so perhaps the concentration in traditional teas was too low to do much harm.]

Veronica chamaedrys waking up. 26th April 2020.

Veronica montana, 25th April 2020.

7. Wood Speedwell (Veronica montana, Sw: Skogsveronika). Restricted to woods and shady places.

The flowers, in axillary racemes, are lilac rather than blue, but it nevertheless resembles Veronica chamaedrys in general appearance. Other differences are: the stalked, noticeably pale green leaves; hairs all round the stems (but see above); larger leaves and somewhat smaller flowers. (In the photo below, compare the size of the leaves with those of the Ivy-leaved Speedwell in the bottom left corner!)

Throughout most of the UK. Similar European distribution to many of the other species, but more limited at the extremes. It doesn't seem to like being near the coast, it scarcely ventures into the Iberian peninsula, and in Sweden it occurs only in the far south.

Veronica montana, 25th April 2020.



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