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Bog asphodel / Narthecium ossifragum / G. blioch, bliochan

Bog asphodel is a common perennial herb found on wet, boggy, acidic and peaty moorlands, up to about 1,000 m (3,300 ft) in elevation. The plant's narrow and sword-shaped leaves are up to 15 cm long, often showing a tinge of orange. Bog asphodel blooms between June and August with attractive, yellow, star-like flowers, which have short white hairs on the orange stamens. Its flowers not only brighten up the moorlands in the Summer months but also attract a range of pollinating insects.


Bog Asphodel in its winter coat / monoprint by Magdalena Choluj

The local names include clove-flower or limerick in Shetland, maiden's hair or Lancashire asphodel (where it was used as a hair dye), and yellow grass in various locations across Scotland.

Despite the plant's English name "bog asphodel", it is not precisely closely related to the true asphodels. The first part of its Latin name Narthecium, borrows from the Greek, and refers to the 'rod-like' shape of the stems. (The Orkney Book of Wildflowers', 2019). The second part-ossifragum (given by Carolus Linnaeus in his 'Species Plantarum', 1753), derives from the Latin os (bone) and frangere (to break), translating to 'bone-breaker'. It refers to the belief that grazing the plant made the bones of sheep brittle. It is now known to be the lack minerals in the sour, calcium-poor pastures where the plant grows which caused this. However, the plant can be the source of other health problems to the sheep, including a serious skin condition called alveld, "elf fire", in Norway, as the bog asphodel provokes photosensitivity in sheep that eat it. Apparently, it can be relieved by moving stock into the shade. It's worth noting that not all stands of the plant are toxic, and the toxicity may be the side effect of the plant's response to a fungal infection.


The most common use of bog asphodel was as a dye for fabrics. Additionally, throughout Britain, the deep-orange fruits of the plant were used in medicine and cooking, to substitute saffron.



Resources:

'Flora Celtica, Plants and People in Scotland' - W.Milliken & S.Bridgewater, 2013

' The Gaelic Names of Plants' - J.Cameron, 2019

'Vickery's Folk Flora' - R. Vickery, 2019

'Scottish Plant Lore' - G. J. Kenicer, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2020

'The Orkney Book of Wildflowers' - T. Dean, illustrated by A. Bignall, 2019


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