Friday 20 April 2018

Flowering Field Pansy one of the prettiest weeds

The Field Pansy
The Field Pansy

Jim Hurley - Nature Trail

With its yellow-eyed cream petals often blotched, streaked or suffused with hues of violet ranging from subtle tints to deep shades, the spring-flowering Field Pansy must rank as one of the prettiest of our native weeds.

It is a wild flower that thrives as an annual weed in cultivated and waste ground and is in flower now. It is found throughout the island of Ireland, most abundantly so in the deep, fertile soils of the sunnier south-east. Populations fall off in the Midlands and the plant is recorded as being quite scarce in the normally cooler and wetter north-west of the country.

A member of the large violet family, 'pansy' is an anglicisation of the French 'pensée' meaning 'thought'. The name is believed to originally refer to small bouquets of wild flowers given to travellers setting off in horse-drawn coaches in days of yore.

The little floral gifts were given as keepsakes, mementos or symbols of remembrance pledging those leaving to 'think of me' or 'remember me'. Forget-me-not is another wild flower with a name derived in the same way.

The Field Pansy and other closely related species of violets are also known by the name 'Heartease', plants to comfort, ease and heal a breaking heart or, at least, bring some peace of mind.

All of these names imply remembrance, a desire not to be forgotten, faithful love and fond memories bundled with hope, luck and best wishes for the future.

The flowers of all members of the violet family are characteristic in shape. Each flower consists of five petals. In the Field Pansy pictured above two petals point up like rabbit ears, one points down and one sticks out both left and right.

The one pointing down is often broader and lobed. It has a yellow eye and violet streaks that, like lights on a runway to guide an incoming aircraft, in this case, lead visiting insects into the heart of the flower. The lower petal also has a short, backward-pointing spur.

Plants often have spurs to hold nectar, the sugar-rich liquid produced to attract pollinating insects like bees. The nectar is manufactured by glands called nectaries.

The nectaries are located at the base of the tube-like spur. Through the process of evolution different plants have evolved spurs of different lengths to attract different species of insects, for example, nectar at the base of a long spur is only accessible by butterflies with long tongues.

Drogheda Independent