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.
Nothing is known of the early distribution or occurrence of this plant. To-day it is found in the Arctic and Northern Temperate Zone, in Arctic and Subarctic regions. A closely-allied species has been met with in Australasia and in Tasmania. This well-known and well-beloved plant is known under one name or another in every county in Great Britain, and also in Ireland, and in Scotland, and it rises to a height of 3200 ft.
No water-meadow would be complete in spring without its Lady's Smocks, which are dotted up and down the low-lying districts bordering our streams and rivers from Land's End to John o' Groat's. It may be found also in hilly districts where springs issue from the hillside, and make the meadows moist and damp on their flanks. It is found in true marsh and boor-land, and once formerly in the Fens.
The Cuckoo Flower has the rosette habit. The rootstock is short and stout, and the plant is sometimes stoloniferous. The stem is, as a rule, round in section, rarely angular, tall and erect. The leaves are pinnate, the lobes arranged each side of a common stalk. The radical leaves have small leaflets rather round and somewhat angular, and are stalked, whilst those of the upper leaves are more or less stalkless, narrow linear or lance-shaped, entire and longer.
Photo. G. B. Dixon - Lady's Smock (Cardamine prateiisis, L.)
The flowers are large, of a delicate lilac tint, or white. The petals are large, three times as long as the calyx, spreading, inversely egg-shaped. The stamens are half the length of the petals, and the anthers are yellow. The style is stout and short. The stigma is small. The pod is erect, on a slender, ultimate flower-stalk, long, flattened at the border, linear, with flat, nerved, elastic valves. The seeds are flattened at the border.
Lady's Smock is in flower between April and June. It is a herbaceous perennial, 1-2 ft. in height.
The flowers are large and conspicuous, the yellow anthers serving as honey-guides, by the strong contrast of colour they exhibit to the lilac petals, which are large, the flower being about 3/4 in. across. There are four honey-glands, which lie at the base of the two short stamens, forming green fleshy cushions most conspicuous externally where honey collects. Two other glands lie at the base of the two long stamens. The honey collects in the pouches formed by the base of the persistent rather large sepals. The pouches of the two sepals subtending the larger honey-glands are larger than the others, broad, and more inflated below.
At first the anthers face the centre, the pistil being slightly lower than the long stamens on a level with the short stamens. The four inner lengthen before the flower opens and turn sideways, and an insect visitor is dusted with their pollen in seeking for honey from the larger honey-glands. When the flowers do not open, or in wet weather, the stamens do not always revolve, pollen may fall on the stigma and the flower is then self-pollinated.
The shorter stamens remain turned inwards towards the stigma, and they may be shorter (when self-pollination is impossible) or longer than the latter. There are thus equal chances of self- or cross-pollination.
The visitors are Hymenoptera (Apidae), Diptera (Bombyliidae, Empidae, Syrphidae, Muscidae), Lepidoptera, Coleoptera (Nitidulidae, Staphylinidae), Thysanoptera (Thrips).
The Cuckoo Flower disperses its seeds itself. The fruit is a dry capsule or siliqua, in which when ripe the valves become ready to burst, and after rolling up they are often detached, and so disperse the seeds which are jerked out by an explosive motion.
The plant is galled by Cecidomyia Cardaminis. Two beetles, Phyllotreta tetrastigma, Phaedon betulae, and a Hemipterous insect, Cimex festiva, infest it.
Dioscorides gave the name Cardamine, which is the Greek for subduing the heart - karda, heart; damao, to strengthen, overpower. The English name alludes to the white appearance of linen, and Cuckoo Flower to the time when the cuckoo is first heard.
The English names are Apple-pie, Canterbury Bells, Bird's-eye, Bogspinks, Bonny-Bird-Een, Cuckoo's Bread, Bread-and-Milk, Cuckoo-pint, Cuckoo's Shoes and Stockings, Gookoo-buttons, Headache,
Lady Flock, Lady's Glove, Lady's Smock, Lamb Lakins, Lucy, Locket, May Blob, May Flower, Milkgirl, Paigle, Pigeon's Eye, Pink, Shoes and Stockings, Smell Smock, Whitsuntide, Gilliflower, Spink.
Or can our flowers at ten hours bell The gowan or the spink excell?
The name Apple-pie refers to the odour of the flowers and young shoots. It is called Bread-and-Milk from the custom of taking bread and milk for breakfast at the season when the Cuckoo Pint is in bloom. It is called Cuckoo Spit in allusion to those flowers which are attacked by an Aphis, and thus exhibit the "spit". Children regard it as unlucky to pluck such specimens, thinking the cuckoo has spit on them. Because "sile" means "strain" it is called Milk Sile, and the flower is thought to be in shape like a milk-strainer.
It was one of the flowers used in bridal bouquets when in season. But it was carefully avoided for May festivals.
Shakespeare uses the name "Lady's Smock" in Loves Labour's
Lost: When daisies pied and violets blue,
And Lady's Smocks all silver white, And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight, The cuckoo then on every tree Mocks married men, for thus sings he,
The cuckoo flower was used as a salad, but is rather bitter.
Formerly it was held to be antiscorbutic, and used in stomach disorders, in spasmodic complaints, convulsive asthma, St. Vitus's dance, and epilepsy.
If inserted in a May garland, it was held unlucky and destroyed.
Essential Specific Characters: 27. Cardamine pratensis, L. - Flowering stem erect, radical leaves rounded, dentate, upper linear-lanceolate, entire, pinnate, petals white or lilac, three times as long as the sepals, pods erect, style short.