Flora and fauna: In search of where the wild things are
Globeflower: Trollius europaeus
IN spring, you may be walking in a meadow full of buttercups and notice a plant with rather larger, more glamorous flowers. This is probably the globeflower, particularly if it is growing by a stream or in a soggy place.
Globeflowers are part of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), but differ from their more common relatives in the complexity of the flowers. The globe appearance is caused by the broad, petal-like sepals which surround the secret inner part of the flower. These showy sepals serve to attract passing insects.
Within the globe are many, much reduced petals which also function as nectaries (glands that secrete nectar). The flowers are thus, understandably, visited by many insects, and among these are small flies which crawl around inside the flowers and eventually pollinate them. Each species of Trollius has its own specific pollinating fly; but they are also self-fertile, and are almost always, later in the year, found to be bearing small pods with shiny black seeds.
Trollius europaeus, as the name suggests, is widespread in northern parts of Europe, up to 70°N in Norway, and in North America.
In England it is not found south of Derbyshire, and it is rare in Ireland – although it is found in Fermanagh where it has been named as the County Plant. It prefers damp places on limestone, and is commonly found along streams and rivers, particularly in upper Teesdale.
All species of Trollius are poisonous to cattle and other livestock, but they have a distinctively acrid taste and so beasts tend to avoid them, leaving the clumps to show off their splendour. However, there is a moth, the Silver-Ground Carpet, whose caterpillars are not put off by the taste and can thrive on the plants.
Although globeflower is usually found at higher altitudes, you can occasionally come across it in Barnard Castle, where it has been washed down from its more usual habitat. Specimens have been found along the Tees in Startforth, clinging to cracks in the limestone or dangling from the river bank, where they have to endure the tempers of the river, and are often washed away.
There are garden varieties of Trollius, but these are often larger plants of varying, often orange, flowers, and none is as attractive as our own native globeflower.
Dr Richard Warren is a botanist from Barnard Castle