The Cuckoo Flower

Cardamine pratensis, Cuckoo Flower also known as Lady’s Smock.

This is a flower that blooms in early Spring in damp rich soil, especially on road verges and in damp fields. It is abundant in the meadows of the Severn and Avon floodplain.

It comes up every year (ie it is a perennial) from a short underground stem (a rhizome).

It is a crucifer, meaning it is a member of the cabbage family and it has four petals in the shape of a cross. They come in various shades of lilac, pink or white.

Cuckoo Flower is easy to see in April but by mid May when the flowers will have faded and the surrounding vegetation will be taller it can be hard to find. The trick at any time other than early spring is to recognise the leaves at the base of the plant which have paired leaflets and a round end lobe, very different from the skinny leaflets on the stem of the flowering plant.

  • Fun facts:
  • The Gloucestershire local name is Cuckoo Flower because it comes with the Cuckoo.
  • It is one of the food plants of the Orange Tip Butterfly that lays its eggs on the flower buds and the caterpillars feed on the developing seed pods.
  • Shakespeare refers to it in the song from Love’s Labours Lost

When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he:
“Cuckoo; Cuckoo, cuckoo!” O, word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

Love’s Labours Lost, William Shakespeare


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