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.
Beds of Preglacial, Interglacial, Neolithic, and Roman age (as at Silchester) have afforded seeds of this species. It is found in the North Temperate and Arctic regions of Arctic Europe, Asia Minor, and North Asia. The Meadow-sweet is found in all parts of Great Britain as far north as the Shetland Islands, up to 1200 ft. in Yorkshire. It is found in the West of Ireland.
Meadow-sweet is a very common riverside flower, fond of damp places, growing also in hollows in moist meadows, where it is accompanied by other moisture-loving plants, such as Lesser Spearwort, Water Avens, Bugle, Spear Thistle, various docks, Spotted Orchis, and other plants, amongst which one may name various kinds of rushes and sedges.
The Meadow-sweet is erect in habit, tufted. The rootstock is short. The stems are erect, furrowed, angular, simple or branched, leafy. The leaves are pinnate, with lobes each side of a common stalk, white-felted below or hairless, toothed, with large toothed leaflets and smaller intermediate ones. In the radical leaves the terminal ones are large, the lateral ones egg-shaped, entire, small, alternate. The terminal leaflets are large with acute lobes, palmately lobed, with 3-5 segments. The stem leaves are downy below. The stipules are leafy, rounded, half-egg-shaped, toothed. The flowers are creamy white, sweet-scented, in corymblike cymes, which are very compound, with long lateral branches. The lobes of the calyx are turned back. The petals are rounded. The carpels are hairless, twisted together, almost horizontal, 5-9, with two pendulous ovules. The stamens are numerous, 20-60. Meadow-sweet is from 2 to 3 ft. high. The flowers may be gathered from May or June to October. The plant is perennial and increased by division. The Meadow-sweet, as the name implies, is a sweet-scented flower. The compound cymes are conspicuous, and though the flowers do not contain honey they are much visited by insects, as the stamens are numerous and pollen is therefore abundant. In the first stage the stamens bend over towards the centre completely hiding the stigmas. But they gradually become erect, and bend outwards in succession. They then open and are covered with pollen. The centre of the flower then becomes accessible to insects, either small creeping ones or larger flying insects. When the stigma ripens it is thus open to Meadow-sweet (Spiraea Ulmaria, L.) cross-pollination. But self-pollination may occur as pollen may fall from the anthers on the stigma, and insects may cause this, owing to the crowding of the flowers, the stamens of one flower bending over another may also lead to cross-pollination. The flowers may also be homogamous, in which case self-pollination will usually occur.
Photo. B. Hanley
In the Meadow-sweet the fruit is a collection of follicles, with 1-celled carpels. The fruit splits open, allowing the seeds, which are few, to be jerked or blown out around the parent plant.
As it requires a clay soil, or a sandy loam in other cases, this plant is more or less a clay-lover.
The foliage is dis-torted by Triphragmium ulmariae, and a fungus, Sphaerotheca humuli, lives on it, while it is galled by Cecidomyia ulmariae.
The beetles Ischno-mera melanura, A sclera caerulea, a Hymenopterous insect Blemocampa ungui-culata, the Homopterous Eupteryx signatipennis, the Heteroptera Lygus lucorum, L. spinolia, and the beetles Cereus pedi-cuIarius, C. bipustulatus, Galeruca tenella feed on it. Spiraea, Theophrastus, from speira, cord, is the Greek name from its twisted seeds, and Ulmaria, Dodonaeus, is from Ulmus, elm, from the elm-like foliage. It is called Bittersweet. Bridewort, Courtship-and-matrimony, Goat's Beard, Harif, Honey-sweet, Maid-of- the-Meadow, Maid-sweet, Meadow-soot, Meadow-sweet, My Lady's Belt, Oueen-of-the-Meadow, Sweet Hay.
Queen-of-the-Meadow is a translation of the old name Regina prati. Bridewort is from its resemblance to the white feathers worn by brides; and it was used for strewing houses at wedding festivals:
Amongst these strewing kinds some other wild that grow,
Photo. Matson - Meadow-sweet (Spiraea Ulmaria, L.) in Flower
In Ireland they believed if Meadow-sweet was put in water on St. John Baptist's Day it would reveal a thief, and if floating the thief would be a woman, if sinking a man. Its fragrant flowers were considered to have medicinal virtues, and it was an ingredient of the remedy "Save" referred to in the Knight's Tale:
Eek save they drunken, for they wode here lymes have.
Essential Specific Characters: 93. Spiraea Ulmaria, L. - Stem tall, erect, herbaceous, leaflets entire, terminal palmately lobed, downy below, flowers white, in cyme, numerous, fragrant.