Plant of the Month: May 2021

Paris quadrifolia

by Ruth Baumberg

What to choose among all the exciting, newly opening, plants for May this year?

Should it be that reliable old friend, Omphalodes cappadocica ‘Cherry Ingram’, with its brilliant blue flowers for semi-shade? But this year some of it seems to be sadly burnt with more brown leaves (and you have to remove them to get the plant looking decent) than usual, particularly in this drought.

There are the Paeonies, but I have spoken about those before, and I am not an expert on the various smart varieties the specialist nurseries (like Kelways) sell. Pulmonarias are beginning to go over and are generally quite dull, though a reliable filler, as are the Erythroniums where the standard varieties hang on’ but the fancies die out within a year or two.

Iris sibirica varieties are a favourite of mine but they are really June flowerers, apart from Perry’s Blue, Silver Edge and Shirley Pope. And Dodecatheons (in the primula family) from the western USA are very beautiful but do not really thrive in my garden. They hang on just in the shade, though a passing rabbit dug them up last year, but I replanted them and they are in bud now. It could be defined as an alpine really, rather than one of ours.

So I will choose a wildling that clothes a north facing border under a beech hedge. Herb Paris or under its proper name Paris quadrifolia, with its four leaves and mostly green flowers (though the narrow petals are yellow and the fruit is black) can be found blooming among Bluebells and Primroses in May and June.

It is known as a Herb of Equality among medieval herbalists, seemingly because of its symmetry and was used both in marriage rituals – and to guard against witches. What connection do you think that denotes?

I have photographed it in the Picos mountains of Spain (2012) :

P. quadrifolia in Picos, taken 1st June 2012

Swedish Lapland (early July 2019) :

P. quadrifolia Swedish Lapland, taken 30th June 2019

and the Alpes Maritimes of France (2017) :

P. quadrifolia in the Alpes Maritimes, taken 18th May 2017

as well as my garden yesterday (April 24th 2021) where the drought makes the leaf edges curl slightly :

P. quadrifolia with 5 leaves, taken 24rd April 2021

And of course Paris in my garden has mostly 5 leaves instead of 4 while the one I photographed in the Picos mountains of Spain has 6 leaves.

They are akin to Trilliums which have three leaves consistently, but despite the quadrifolia part of the name, this plant can have 4-12 leaves! At any rate it is a good grower and runs gently but is not a nuisance and I love its interesting flowers.

It is difficult to give flowering dates these days as our weather is so changeable and, if a plant flowered last year in May, this year with a late spring, it can flower any time from May to July. Of course, flowering times vary with altitude and weather, but you can see from the dates on the photographs, how our climate is changing before our eyes.



Ruth Baumberg

Pictures courtesy of Ruth Baumberg

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