Wednesday, May 06, 2020

upon May

Stachys sylvatica. Swindon, 4th May 2020.

Together we will find a way
In the first days of May . . .

The 4th of May. These celebrated early days of May, invoking so many snatches of lyric but not where they came from.

Accelerating climate change means it feels more like late May. The cherry blossom is long gone, the grasslands swell. But I'm still scratching around in the deepening shade of the woods, where there are secrets to be found. The woods of West Swindon are rather mysterious places.

Here's a shapely group of fresh Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica, Sw: Stinksyska).

Stachys sylvatica. Swindon, 4th May 2020.

Valborgsmässoafton, Walpurgisnacht, is the evening of 30th April, and then it's May Day, the first of a clutch of family birthdays: my nephew Nick on 1st May, and my sister Miranda on 3rd May.

Chaucer seems to have attached some importance to 3rd May, too. He selects it as the date  that Palamon broke out of his prison (The Knight's Tale), the date of the action of The Nun's Priest's Tale), and the date Pandare was afflicted by love-sickness (Troilus and Criseyde).

John P. McCall (MLN vol 76, No. 3 (Mar 1961), pp. 201-205) suggested that Chaucer thought of it as a day when lovers feel their desires with especial keenness, and that Chaucer inferred this from Ovid's Fasti, where 3rd May is assigned to celebrations of the goddess Flora.

But May, of course, was when most stories happened.

Ac on a May morwenynge on Malverne hilles     (William Langland, Piers Plowman, Prologue, line 5)

But love, whilst that thou mayst be loved again --
Now, whilst thy May hath filled thy lap with flowers,
Now, whilst thy beauty bears without a stain --
Now use the summer smiles, ere winter lowers.   (The beginning of Samuel Daniel's Delia Sonnet 32)

No doubt they rose up early to observe
The rite of May, and hearing our intent,
Came here in grace of our solemnity.       (A Midsummer Night's Dream, IV.1.137-139)

[Shakespeare momentarily forgetting the date implications of his title?]

Silene dioica. Swindon, 4th May 2020.

In dappled sunlight on a woodland edge, Red Campion (Silene dioica, Sw: Rödblära). 

Common throughout GB. Its distribution in Sweden is rather peculiar; it's common through most of Sweden, including most of Norrland, but less so in the east of the country from Stockholm southwards (the region that is typically richest in plant species), and rare in Gotland and Öland. I can only suppose that some other plant or plants are so favoured by Baltic conditions that they contest its niche. 

Cynoglossum germanicum. Swindon, 4th May 2020.

Green Hound's-tongue (Cynoglossum germanicum). Rare in the UK, absent from Sweden.

The photo below gives a better idea of the plant's size at this time of year.

Cynoglossum germanicum. Swindon, 4th May 2020.

Aquilegia vulgaris, Anemone nemorosa, Stachys officinalis. Swindon, 4th May 2020.

A classy grouping, on a woodland edge, of Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris, Sw: Akleja), Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa, Sw: Vitsippa) and Betony (Stachys officinalis formerly called Betonica officinalis, Sw: Humlesuga).

Aquilegia vulgaris. Swindon, 4th May 2020.

Stachys officinalis. Swindon, 4th May 2020.

Shady conditions usually mean that plants take longer to flower, but since shade also means shelter, it sometimes triggers an individual plant to flower exceptionally early, like the Betony above.

Betony is common through most of GB, except Ireland and northern Scotland. In Sweden it's an extreme rarity, known only in a handful of southern sites.

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