This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
In Interglacial beds at West Wittering seeds of the Devil's Bit Scabious have been met with. It is found to-day throughout the Northern Temperate and Arctic Zones in Arctic Europe, Siberia, and N. Africa. Devil's Bit Scabious is found in every part of Great Britain, ascending to 2500 ft. in the Highlands.
This plant is a meadow species growing in fields and meadows at low as well as high elevations. It forms quite a feature of the fields laid to grass in summer, and is equally common upon the hillsides and along the roads and lanes all over the country, being widely dispersed and growing in some quantity.
The tall-flowered stems of this plant are conspicuous in the meadows in summer, and are easily recognized by the mode of branching of the flowering stems. The stem is simple - that is, not branched below, but branched above. The smooth leaves are hairy, are narrowly elliptical, egg-shaped at the base, the stem-leaves being linear and nearly entire.
Its principal feature, however, is its blunt rootstock, termed pre-morse, as though bitten off abruptly below, hence the name.
The beautiful lilac or blue flowers are borne on hemispherical heads, which have numerous bracts below, and the flower-stalks are long. The flowerhead contains many florets in its involucre or whorl of floral organs. The outer involucre or whorl of leaflike organs has membranous plaited scaly bracts, the receptacle being hemispherical. The corolla is equal and 4-cleft. The calyx is crowned by five bristles; the fruit is sub-cylindrical, with eight furrows.
The plant is about 18 in. in height. The flowers are late, opening in August, up to October. It is a perennial plant, increasing by division.
The flowerhead is hemispherical, the florets all one size, 50-80, developing towards the centre. A fleshy ring above the ovary at the base of the style secretes honey, which collects in the narrow mouth of the tube 3-4 mm. long. Above the smooth part this is lined with hairs to exclude rain. The tube widens above to 2 mm., and four (or five) rounded lobes of the corolla (the external being largest) are easily thrust open, and the honey can be reached by short-lipped insects. The florets are conspicuous, and in sunny weather many insects settle upon them. The anthers ripen first, and anthers and stigmas ripen separately, so it is cross-pollinated. The stamens are bent inwards in bud, and straighten one by one when the flower opens, then when the style scarcely projects beyond the corolla the anthers open in succession. When the stamens are quite withered, and the anthers if the flower has been visited are shaken off, the style lengthens and the stigma is clammy, and it can only be pollinated if an anther is still dusted with pollen and accidentally touches the stigma.
The visitors are Hy-menoptera (Apis, Bombus, Andrena, Halictus), Diptera (Exoprosopa, Helophi/us, Eristalis, Syrphus, Rhingia, Empis, Lucilia, Musca), Lepidoptera (Small White (Pieris rapae), Meadow Brown (Epin-cphcle (Satyrus) janira), Small Copper (Chrysophanus (Polyommatus) phlaeas Silver Y Moth (Plusia gamma), Botys purpiiralis), Coleoptera (Crytocephalus sericeus).
The fruits are surrounded by the four calyx-lobes, which do not fall, and being light these aid the wind in dispersing the fruit.
Devil's Bit Scabious is a clay-loving plant, growing in clay soil or sandy loam on a variety of rock soils.
A fungus (Ustilago Scabiosae) attacks the anthers and forms Meligethes lidens, a beetle, two Hymenoptera (Andrena hattorfiana, A. cetii), the Lepidoptera Nematois capriasellus, Pterophorus serotinus, Melittis artemis, Satyr Pug- (Eupithecia Satyrata), two Homoptera (Eupteryx tenella, Aphalara nervosa), are associated with this as a food plant. A black powdery mass. Bremia lactucae and Puccinia hieracii also infest it.
Photo. J. H. Crabtree - Devil's Bit Scabious (Scabiosa succisa, L.)
Scabiosa, Brunfels, is so named from being or having been a remedy for scab, scabies; and succisa, Fuchs, is Latin for cut off below, in allusion to the premorse rootstock. It has many names: Bachelor's Buttons, Blue-ball, Blue-bannets, Blue Bonnets, Blue Buttons, Blue-caps, Blue-heads, Blue-kiss, Blue-tops, Bunds, Bundweed, Carl-doddie, Curl-doddy, Devil's Bit, Devil's Bit Scabious, Fire-leaves, Forbete, Forebit, Forebitten More, Gentleman's Buttons, Hardhead, Woolly More, Hardhead, Herbyw Ofbit, Remcope, Stinking Nancy.
As to the Blue Bonnets, Jameson says: "In Gothland in Sweden this plant has a fanciful name somewhat similar, Baltsman's Myssa, the Boatsman's cap or mutch"; and he says of the name Curl Doddy, "The provincial name is derived from the resemblance of the head of flowers to the curly pate of a boy, and is very ancient". Children in Fife thus address it:
Curl doddy do my biddin,
Soop my house, and shool my midden; and as it untwists in the hand they say:
Curl doddy on the midden, Turn round and take my biddin.
The name Devil's Bit is from the legend that the root was bitten off by the devil, who wished to destroy its properties, "for he needed it not to make him sweat who is always tormented with fear of the Day of Judgement", says Gerarde, who says he bit it from envy.
Devil's Bit Scabious yields a yellow and green dye. The plant is highly bitter, and it has been used for tanning. Swellings in the throat, Gerarde says, were cured by it.
Essential Specific Characters: 148. Scabiosa succisa, L. - Rootstock premorse, stem erect, simple, leaves entire, oblong, upper narrower, flowers blue, all alike, corolla 4-cleft, involucel hairy, fruit subglobose.