I have written in previous posts about some of the wild flowers / weeds on our allotment such as Gallant Soldier (spreads like wildfire but is good in chicken stew), Red Deadnettle (lovely spring flowers for bees) and Tree Spinach (a useful edible and self-inflicted weed).
But one of my favourite allotment wild flowers (I hesitate to even use the word “weed”) is Weasel’s-Snout, Misopates orontium.
Weasel’s-Snout is also known as Lesser Snapdragon and Calf’s Snout. It is a member of the family Plantaginaceae and is a close relative of the Snapdragon, Antirrhinum majus, which was the subject of my PhD thesis many years ago and the reason why I came to Norwich. Weasel’s-Snout’s pretty pink flowers and green hairy fruit look just like a miniature version of Antirrhinum majus.
Misopates orontium is an ancient introduction to the British Isles, and is classed as an archaeophyte – plants that were introduced here before 1500 – along with Cornflower, Corn Marigold and Common Poppy. It is a spring-germinating annual of light soils and can be found in arable and other cultivated ground. Like other cornfield annuals, however, its fortunes have declined (see map) as agriculture has intensified and autumn sown crops (such as winter wheat and oilseed rape) have become widespread. Outside the British Isles, Weasel’s-Snout can still be found in the Mediterranean region (its original home) and, as a more recently introduced plant, in North America. In warmer climates, Misopates orontium flowers as early as March but here in Norwich it appears from April and May and flowers from June until September.
I take a pretty tolerant approach to my Weasel’s-Snout. If it is growing in the middle of a row of seedlings I will remove it, but I let it grow between rows or on the edges of the plot, where it is a pleasure, not a nuisance. The seeds are easy to collect and I have passed it on to friends, including Anne and Simon Harrap at Natural Surroundings in North Norfolk, who have included the plant in their displays of cornfield annuals.
If you want to grow Misopates orontium, but aren’t lucky enough to have your own supply, you can also buy seeds from Emorsgate Seeds.