Arnside and beyond

By gladders


"I love Paris in the Springtime.."

Herb Paris (Paris quadrifolia) flowering in the wood just off our morning walking route.  One of my most favourite plants of the Spring.  I came across this stand a few years ago, having passed it by unnoticed for many years before that. It will have been there all along, quietly flowering in the Spring then dying back and disappearing for the rest of the year.

Herb Paris contradicts the general rule we learned in the good old days when Botany was taught as a subject at A level, that the flowers of monocotyledonous plants tend to have their parts in three or multiples of three. Paris has 4 petals, 4 sepals, 8 stamens and four stigmas on a single round ovary that eventually becomes a round, black berry. As its scientific name suggests, it also has four leaves and these are borne in a terminal rosette on a stalk about 20 cm tall.  I used to know it as a member of the lily family, which always seemed like an odd match.  Now it's classified in the Melianthiaceae, which I have to confess (as a rusty botanist) that I hadn't heard of.

Herb Paris is a plant of ancient woodlands, it doesn't easily establish itself in younger woods.  If you try to grow it from seed, then you will understand why. It is slow to germinate and then to establish itself, and it hates its roots being disturbed.  The little berry it produces is said to be poisonous, does anything eat it?  If something does, how far would it carry the seeds?  Once established, presumably it can keep going indefinitely as long as the woodland remains woodland, its clone gradually enlarging year by year. But it is not well designed for the modern agricultural landscape where woodlands are fragmented and isolated from one another.

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