Cuckooflower Cardamine pratensis

Status Green - Least concern
Best Time to See April, May, June
Colour
Habitat Grassland

'Tender cress and cuckoo-flower: And curly-haired, fair-headed maids, Sweet was the sound of their singing' - From a 15th or 16th Century Irish poem in Kenneth Jackson's "Early Celtic Nature Poetry"

Also known as 'lady's smock'.

An attractive wildflower with pale lilac - or occasionally white - petals.

It generally comes into bloom around the time the cuckoo starts to call, hence the name. Using a table in his Flora Britannica Richard Mabey shows how the first full blooming of the cuckooflower is a remarkably accurate predictor of the first hearing of the bird itself. In Cheshire (where it is the County Flower) it is traditionally known as 'milkmaid' - no doubt harking back to the county's strong dairy heritage.

Cuckooflower if also the County Flower of Brecknockshire/Sir Frycheiniog.

To find out what your county's flower is click here.

Distribution

Common throughout the UK.

Habitat

Wet grassland, damp meadows, pond margins and along the banks of streams. It is also found on roadsides, in ditches and along river-banks.

Best time to see

Cuckooflowers can usually be seen blooming in the south of the country in the first days of April. As you travel north this may become later, but most will be out by the beginning of May.

Did you know?

There are a vast number of vernacular names but they include Our Lady's smock, Milkmaids, Fairy flower, May flower and Coco plant. Whilst the name 'lady's smock' might refer to the pale, pinkish and slightly cupped nature of the petals, it might have another more debauched explanation. Similar to 'a bit of skirt', 'smock' was a slightly suggestive and rather derogatory term for a woman and it may be this name was applied due to the things young people got up to in the meadows in the spring! Paradoxically this wild flower is also associated with the Virgin.

In parts of Devon, flore pleno (the double-flowered) form and hose-in-hose form (where one normal bloom grows through the centre of another) are fairly common.

Young leaves of the Cuckooflower have a rather peppery taste and can be a useful substitute for cress in sandwiches and salads. In some parts of England picking Cardamine pratensis was considered unlucky. With this characteristic, the plant was little used in medicine.