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.
Seeds of Spurrey have been found near Edinburgh in beds of Neolithic age. It is found to-day in the Northern Temperate and Arctic Zones, in Arctic Europe, North Africa, West Asia to N.W. Asia, and has been introduced into North America. Spurrey is found in every part of Great Britain, and ascends to a height of 1000 ft.
It is one of the usual weeds of cultivation associated with crops, and is seldom found far away from cornfields, where it is extremely abundant. If a field is allowed to return to seed or to become fallow, Spurrey may establish itself in the more open parts of such fields and remain for some period.
The plant is nearly erect, with branched stems, which are numerous, smooth, clammy above, bent like a knee, with swollen joints. The leaves are cylindrical, in whorls, in two rows, the inner shorter, or in opposite pairs with short leaf-buds in the axils, grooved beneath, with small semi-transparent stipules or leaves. A few plants grow-together.
The flowers are white, arranged in a repeatedly dividing stalked cyme, the ultimate stalks being turned down in fruit, and clammy. The calyx is spreading, the petals are attached by a short claw, longer than the sepals. There are 5 stamens, fewer, or none. The capsule is nearly round, and protected by the permanent calyx. The seeds are rough, angular, kidney-shaped, with club-shaped warts, black, and bordered with a semi-transparent margin.
The plant grows to a height of 6 - 10 in. It is in flower from June to August. Being an annual it is reproduced by seeds only.
The flowers are very small, and as with Corn Buttercup and Gold of Pleasure not adapted specially for insect visits, having no scent. There are numerous pistils, and styles to the number of 5.
The seeds of Spurrey are dispersed by the plant's own mechanism. When ripe the valved capsule or seed vessel breaks open, and the seeds are dispersed around the parent plant.
This species is a sand plant and addicted to a sand soil, being found on a variety of formations, from the older arenaceous to the newer Oolitic and chalky formations.
It is infested by Cystopus lepigoni and Puccinia arenariae. A beetle, Cassida noblis, lives upon it.
Photo. Flatters & Garnett - Corn Spurrey (Spergula arvensis, L.)
The name Spergula, Dodonaeus, is from the Latin spargo, I scatter, the seeds being widely scattered in cornfields, and arvensis denotes its preference for cultivated ground.
It is called Beggar-weed, Bottle Brush, Cowquake, Dodder, Dother, Farmer's Ruin, Toad Flax, Franke, Granyagh, Lousy Grass, Make-beo-oar, Mountain Flax, Pick Pocket, Pick Purse, Poverty Weed, Sandweed, Spurry, Yarr, Yarrel, Yawr, Yur.
The name Spurrey is said to be given because "on the stalk are set at distances, or joints, small narrow leaves, waving or bending, in the manner of a star or a spur rowel of many points". But Spurrey may be from Spergula. It was called Franke because it has the property of fatting cattle.
On the Continent it is used as fodder, and is thought equal to clover in France. Poultry eat the seeds. An oilcake is prepared from it, excellent for cattle. It can be sown and reaped in eight weeks. In times of famine it has been used to make bread.
Essential Specific Characters: 58. Spergula arvensis, L. - Stem slender, suberect, leaves whorled, linear, subviscid, with chaffy stipules at the base, flowers panicled, small, white, petals entire, seeds with clavate papillae.