tempus fugit

By ceridwen

Grim the Collier

I've always known this flower (Hieracium aurantiacum or Orange Hawkweed), as Fox-and-Cubs. The reason for the name seems to be that while there are always one or two flowers fully open, several buds lurk like cubs close behind them - and the petals are the most rufous of vulpine russets imaginable. In fact these little flowers seem to glow like hot coals which is why they are so appealing. Added to that is their habit of growing in cemeteries, right among the graves: they seem to like the hard, dry, gravelly surfaces.

Despite its attractive qualities, it's not a popular plant. Native to the alpine regions of Southern Europe, it was introduced as a garden plant in the 17th century, escaped into the wild and has been annoying farmers and gardeners ever since. To me it's something of a rarity and I was surprised to find a large patch of it growing by the roadside in my nearest village, but in Australia and North America it's regarded as a serious problem, smothering other plants and tainting the hay. Ada E. Georgia in her A Manual Of Weeds: With Descriptions Of All The Most Pernicious And Troublesome Plants In The United States And Canada (1914) sternly instructed that
Plants in roadsides and waste places should be looked [out] and destroyed. If possible, the sentiment of an entire neighborhood should be aroused against Orange Hawkweed, for, with a plant of this quality, the careful farmer is largely at the mercy of any slovenly cultivator who chooses to be regardless of communal welfare.

It has another odd name: Grim the Collier. Uniquely, the plant bears a pelt of black hairs, like the sooty stubble of a coal miner or dealer. 'Grim the Collier of Croyden; or, The Devil and his Dame' was a play published in 1662 that drew upon a despised character in folklore and popular culture: the grimy coal merchant who cheated good folk with substandard or short-weight fuel supplies.

So, the ramifications of this little ?weed stretch rather further than might be imagined - far around the world and back into history.

Sign in or get an account to comment.