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.
Though found at the present day in the Northern Temperate and Arctic Zones, in Arctic Europe, Siberia, North Africa, there is no earlier trace of this plant as there is in the case of Devil's Bit Scabious. In Great Britain it is not found in Cardigan, Mid Perth, Westerness, Main Argyle, Cantire, the Ebudes, West Ross, E. Sutherland, Caithness, Hebrides, Orkneys, or the Shetlands.
The Field Scabious is not so often found in the valleys and lowlands generally as its near ally, Devil's Bit Scabious, being addicted to a much drier habitat. It is a plant of the mountains and hills, growing very often on dry banks in the open fields, but generally only in upland districts. It is occasionally to be found, however, in the cornfield, where it grows gregariously.
Field Scabious is taller than Devil's Bit Scabious, but it has much the same habit, though it grows in clumps, and is not scattered across the meadows as the latter often is. The stem is simple or branched, rough, leafless above, and hairy at the base. The lower leaves are simple, entire, opposite, roughly hairy,1 egg-shaped, coarsely toothed, the upper stalkless, clasping, with the lobes divided nearly to the base into four.
The flowerheads are blue, terminal, and borne on stalks. The calyx is cup-shaped, and made up of radiate teeth edged with hairs. The receptacle is tubular, as long as the calyx.
1 The hairs are long and simple, long and dark glands, and numerous.
The plant is often 2 ft. high. It blooms from July to October. The plant is perennial and propagated by seed.
The flowers are conspicuous, and in fine weather this plant is visited by many insects, and one is kept quite busy on a summer day within sight or smell of this delightful flower in noting the visitors that come and go in quick succession. It is cross-pollinated owing to its proterandrous and dicho-gamous flowers, while in the absence of insects it is self-pollinated.
There are 5 florets in each head, making a hemispherical head, and they become larger from the centre to the margin. The tube is long, but the honey at the base is accessible to insects because it is widened above. The anthers become ripe slowly, occupying several days in the process from the margin to the centre. They project 4-5 mm. above the corolla, and in spite of this not a single stigma ripens till they have all opened; but when they do they do so rapidly and simultaneously, and occupy the place of the anthers, and bees, etc., can cross-pollinate them at a single visit. The whole head is first male, then female. In other flowers the florets are female only, the stamens rudimentary. Self-pollination usually is impossible, but in some flowers the females are less numerous. The flowers are visited by Hymenoptera, Diptera, Lepidoptera, Coleoptera.
The fruits are beaked, and to a great extent may be dispersed by animals.
Field Scabious is a sand plant, delighting in a dry sand soil.
Photo. B. Hanley - Field Scabious (Scabiosa Arvensis, L.)
Several small fungi may be found infesting this Scabious, as Perono-spora violacea, Bremia lactucae, Ustilago scabiosae, U. flosculorum. A Hymenopterous insect, Andrena hattorfiana, and the Lepidoptera, Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk Moth (Sesia bombiliformis), Parasemia sannio, Grapholitha quadrana, Nematois scabiosellis, feed on it.
The generic name is a Latin word denoting scurfy or scabby, the plant having been thought useful in curing scaly eruptions. The second Latin name refers to its preference for cultivated land.
This gay-flowered species is called Bachelor's Buttons, Billy Button, Black Soap, Blue Buttons, Bluecaps, Blue Men, Broadweed, Cardies, Clodweed, Clogweed, Curl-doddy, Egyptian Rose, Gipsy Flower, Gipsy Rose, Lady's Cushion, Pincushion, Scabious, Seabridge, Scabril. Lyte says it was named Scabious "of old tyme because it is given in drynke to heale scabbes ".
Field Scabious is astringent, and has been used for coughs, asthma, fevers, epilepsy, etc.
Essential Specific Characters:149. Scabiosa arvensis, L. - Stem erect, branched, leaves at base simple, serrate, downy, stem-leaves pinnatifid, flowers lilac, outer larger, unequal, 2-lipped.