“The nodding oxeye bends before the wind” – John Clare, “The Fear of Flowers“.
Spring starts with the white flowers of Snowdrops and the theme continues throughout spring and summer with a series of white flowers, including Blackthorn blossom, Wild Garlic, Garlic Mustard, Cow Parsley, Hawthorn, Hogweed and Wild Carrot.
In late May and June in our wildflower meadow, it is the turn of the Oxeye Daisy, Leucanthemum vulgare. This member of the Daisy family, the Asteraceae, will sometimes continue to flower into September. It can be found throughout the British Isles, up to 845 metres (nearly 2800 feet) above sea level, on Great Dun Fell in Cumbria. Further afield, it is native to temperate parts of Europe and Asia.
The Oxeye Daisy (sometimes spelt Ox-eye Daisy) is like a much bigger version of the Common Daisy (Bellis perennis) that flowers on lawns and it grows to 40 centimetres (16 inches) tall. Each flower head can be five to six centimetres (2 – 2.4 inches) across and consists of lots of yellow disc florets in the centre and about twenty white ray florets around the outside. The leaves are dark green and toothed, and the lower ones, which stay green in winter, have a distinctive spoon shape and long leaf stalks. Further up the stem, they are thin and jagged.
Oxeye Daisies like to grow in grassy places, such as in meadows, pastures and waste ground, and on dunes and cliffs. They will quickly colonise open ground and can sometimes be seen on road verges and by railway lines. Oxeye Daisies can persist in shorter grass without flowering and I remember when, at our old house, next door’s lawn was allowed to grow long one summer and became a meadow of Oxeye Daisies.
Unless Oxeye Daisies can spread by seed they will die out if there is too much competition from other species. Grazing, mowing or low soil fertility will allow them to persist. They are “particularly rampant in fertile soil“. In our garden, a clump I planted in the wildflower meadow when I established it in late 2013 is doing very well and has seeded into other parts of the meadow.
Oxeye daisies like a sunny spot and neutral to basic soils that aren’t too wet. This year I am going to grow some in pots in the front garden, where I hope they will seed into cracks between paving slabs in the drive. Even if they don’t, they should form a longer-lived version of the wild flowers in a pot I grow every year.
Oxeye Daisies are particularly good for wildlife and in our garden the flowers have attracted a range of insects from moths and flies to beetles and solitary bees, often with two or more species on the same flower at once, as in the photo above. Along with Wild Carrot, Oxeye Daisies are one of the best plants you can grow to attract insects to your garden.
Other English names for Oxeye Daisies include Dog Daisy, Moon Daisy, Horse Daisy, Moonpenny and Marguerite. The “Moon” names probably arise from the way that Oxeye Daisy flowers seem to glow in the twilight on midsummer evenings. Leucanthemum comes from the ancient Greek leucos (white) and anthos (flower). Other members of the genus include Leucanthemum x superbum, the Shasta Daisy, which is like a supersized Oxeye Daisy and is often grown as a garden flower. It is better behaved but I prefer the subtlety of Leucanthemum vulgare. The name “Marguerite” is also used for the daisy Argyranthemum frutescens.
Oxeye Daisies have been introduced to North America, Australia and New Zealand, and in places are an invasive weed. Leucanthemum vulgare is listed in the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States. The influence of cattle in their spread is rather interesting. If cattle pastures are grazed continuously with a low density of animals, cattle will avoid Oxeye Daisies because don’t really like the taste. They will eat the plants they prefer, and this reduces competition and allows Oxeye Daisies to spread. Around 40% of any Oxeye Daisy seeds that cattle do eat remain viable after passing through the gut, so can be spread to new areas.
I haven’t tried eating Oxeye Daisies yet but the Plants For a Future website tells us that the young leaves can be eaten either raw or cooked. They are “rather pungent [and] should be used sparingly or mixed with other salad plants“. In his book “Around The World In 80 Plants“, Stephen Barstow lists Leucanthemum vulgare as one of 56 species he added to a “tasty” calzone (filled pizza) in June 2010. The roots can be eaten raw as well, and the Plants For a Future website also lists a variety of medicinal uses for the plant. The Raw Edible Plants website says that the whole flower tastes good but numbs the tongue, and that the buds can be used as a substitute for capers.
The Eden Project website has a recipe for Tempura Battered Oxeye Daisies and Wild Food Girl, based in Colorado in the United States, says that “Ox-eye Daisies Are Good Eatin’” and has used them in salads and stir-frys and on tacos. She says they “have a strong and unique, somewhat sweet flavor that I like“. On that recommendation, I think I will give them a try.
If you are in a part of the world where they aren’t an invasive weed and want to grow your own Oxeye Daisies, they are easy to grow from seed in spring or autumn and here in the UK I recommend Emorsgate Seeds as a source for these or other wild flower seeds. Naturescape sell Leucanthemum vulgare as plant plugs.
Once you have some plants and allow them to seed you should never be without them. Each flower head can set up to 200 seeds but seedlings are easy to weed out if you don’t want them.
On our allotment, the plants seed into open soil and, when they grow in the wrong place, I try to move them to where I want them. Now is a good time to do this; they are easy to transplant and will reward you with their lovely flowers and accompanying insect life if you spare them.