Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Beaked Hawk's-beard (Crepis vesicaria)


Crepis vesicaria. Frome, 25 May 2021.

Beaked Hawk's-beard (Crepis vesicaria, Sp: Achicoria). The young leaves and shoots are eaten, boiled, in Crete. A thoroughly Mediterranean plant that was recorded in Kent in 1713 and has since become very common in the southern half of the British Isles, but much less so in Northern England and Northern Ireland, and apparently Scotland is not an option. (Crepis vesicaria doesn't occur in Sweden either.)

In mid-May it produces breathtaking swathes of golden yellow, rivalling the peak dandelion blooming of late April or the ragwort frenzy of late summer. 

As it favours urban waste and roadsides, it's a characteristic sight of our modern May, though not the Mays of Chaucer or Shakespeare or Milton. But it's one that's rarely noticed specifically and still more rarely mentioned. 

I suppose most passers-by see plants like this as falling into the elastic category of dandelion-like and trouble no further. A name like "Beaked Hawk's-beard" is never going to take off in popular culture, no matter how common the plant is. 


Those English generic names Hawkweed, Hawkbit and Hawk's-beard come out of the learned tradition. 

The first of them is basically a direct translation of the classical word Hieracium, from the Greek Ierakion (Ierax = hawk). In Pliny and Galen it appears to mean an eye-salve, but Dioscorides used it to refer to a couple of plants that certainly sound like members of the Asteraceae.

The names Hawkbit and Hawk's-beard were extensions to designate genera that resembled (but were not the same) as Hawkweeds. That's all I know: the OED is disappointingly uninformative. (And in case you were wondering, no, hawks don't have beards . . .) 

Dioscorides' De Materia Medica (50 -70 CE), in the online translation by Tess Anne Osbaldeston (2000)


SUGGESTED: Hieracium maius, Sonchites [Fuchs], Sonchus arvensis [Linnaeus] — Corn Sowthistle [other usage] Hieracium sylvaticum, Hieracium murorum — Wood Hawkweed, Wall Hawkweed 

The great hieracium produces a rough stalk — somewhat red, prickly, hollow. It has thinly-jagged leaves at distances, similar in circumference to sonchus [2-159]; and yellowish flowers in somewhat long little heads. It is cooling, indifferent, and gently astringent. As a result it is good applied on a burning stomach, and for inflammation. The juice is sipped to soothe pangs of hunger in the stomach. The herb (with the root) is applied to help one bitten by a scorpion. It is also called sonchiten; the Romans call itlampuca, and the Africans, sithileas.


[SUGGESTED: Hieraceum minus [Fuchs], Crepis tectorum [Linnaeus] — Hawksbeard [Mabberley] [other usage] Hieracium pilosella — Mouse-ear Hawkweed]

The little hieracium also has jagged leaves at distances. It sends out tender little green stalks on which are yellow flowers in a circle. It has the same uses as that previously spoken of [3-72]. Some call this sonchiten, others, entimon agrion, the Romans, intubus agrestis, and the Africans, sithilesade

Crepis vesicaria. Frome, 25 May 2021.

In afternoon the flowers half close up. 

Crepis vesicaria. Frome, 25 May 2021.

If you want to weed them out of your garden, these plants can often be pulled up with the whole tap-root intact when the soil is reasonably moist. 

Crepis vesicaria. Frome, 25 May 2021.

Crepis vesicaria. Frome, 25 May 2021.

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