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.
Like other Arctic plants, Wild Thyme is an ancient species, found in Late Glacial deposits at Greenock. It is distributed in the Arctic and Temperate regions in Arctic Europe, Siberia, Dahuria, W. Asia as far east as the Himalayas, Greenland, and in N. America it has been introduced only. It is found throughout Great Britain, and if there has been no confusion between this and Th. Chamaedrys, up to 3500 ft. in the Highlands.
So familiar and sweet-scented a flower arrested the attention of the poet of human nature, who recalls "I know a bank where the wild thyme blows"; and it is, in fact, an upland species, addicted to hills and dry places, mountain heights, growing there on hillocks and hummocks, delighting in a sloping aspect wherever it grows.
1 The stigmas are sometimes at the same level as the anthers or lower, or they may project beyond them. Eventually they bend over and the plant may be self-pollinated.
The stem is woody, shrubby, prostrate, branched, and downy, with turned-back hairs. The leaves are flat, blunt, fringed with hairs below or smooth, on short stalks, dotted with small glands. The flowers are purplish-red, in whorls, and the flowering shoots are suberect, the flowers in heads and subrotund. The corolla has its tubular mouth closed with hairs, with the upper lip with 3 reflexed teeth turned backwards, the lower narrower, ciliate, fringed with hairs at the margin. The tube of the corolla equals the calyx. The upper lip is oblong and notched. The corolla is 2-lipped. The nutlets are nearly smooth, with 4 small brown seeds. It rarely fruits in Britain.
Photo. Dr. Somerville Hastings - Wild Thyme (Thymus Serpyllum, L.).
Wild Thyme is 6 in. high. Flowers can be found between June and August. It is an evergreen trailer, propagated by cuttings, and ought to be found in our gardens.
The large flowers are hermaphrodite, the smaller ones pistillate, or female with stamens with functionless anthers, and the one may be a reduction from the other, as the former are much larger than the latter: and the smallest of the former and the largest of the latter are nearly equal in size. The flowers on the same plant are about the same size, but the hermaphrodite flowers enlarge as they pass from the male to the female stage. It has lost the power of self-pollination, being much visited by insects for its abundant honey.
The base of the ovary is enlarged to secrete the honey and serves to attract insects, which quickly pollinate the flowers, the parts projecting. The tube is smooth at the base, lined with hairs above to keep out rain. It is 2 1/2 mm. long, and thus open to many insects. The style is short, and the anthers are much longer at first, the filaments varying in length, but the former elongates (and both project from the corolla), and then divides and becomes covered with wartlike knobs, the lobes spreading. The female flowers are more fertile than the hermaphrodite. A third type was found by Delpino with hermaphrodite flowers, with stamens and pistil equally developed, and others with highly developed stamens 1 and abortive pistil, and vice versa.
There is a tendency towards the production of purely male flowers in England, the stigma not maturing in some hermaphrodite plants. Wild Thyme is visited by the Honey Bee, Bombus, Saropoda, Andrena, Megachile, Nomada, Ccelioxys, Ammophila, Cerceris, Lindenius, Systae-chus, Eristalis, Sicus, Myopa, Lucilia, Echinomyia, Gymnosoma, Ocyptera, Sarcophaga, and the Lepidoptera Satyrus, Argynnis, Lycaena, Sesia.
The nutlets are free at length, and fall out automatically around the parent species.
The leaves are attacked by a cluster-cup fungus Puccinia schneideri. Several beetles, Apion atomarium, Meligethes lugubris, Chrysomela cerealis, Adimonia tanaceti, Longitarsus pulex, L. pellucidus, Butalis senescens, Pterophorus tetradactylus, Idaea straminata, I. rubiginata, I. decorata, Lepidoptera, Dwarf Pug (Eupithecia pusillata), Grapho-litha comptana, Large Blue (Polyommatus Arion), Pemphelia dilutella, Gelechia artemisiella, and a Homopterous insect, Tettigometra im-pressopunctata, live upon Thyme.
Thymus, Theophrastus, is from the Greek thuo, I excite, or thumos, courage, because of its smell, which revives the spirits. Serpyllum, Pliny, is a Latin name for thyme tarn, Penny Mountain, Serpell, Piliol, Thyme, Bank, Creeping or Running Thyme, Shepherd's Wild Thyme.
Pliny also says that, when burnt, Wild Thyme put to flight all creeping venomous creatures. It is called Brotherwort, Hill-wort, Horse Thyme, Mother of Thyme, Pella Mountain or Puliall Moun1 Delpino found male flowers near Florence. These do not occur in this country apparently.
The fairies are said to be fond of Thyme. On St. Agnes' Eve it has been used as a love charm, when this formula was repeated:
"St. Agnes, that's to lovers kind, Come, ease the troubles of my mind ".
The Greeks used it in their garlands. It was reputed to have formed the bed of the Virgin Mary. It was used as a remedy for depression. Thyme was used for internal disorders. Attica, where Thyme was abundant, was noted for its honey. The essential oil it yields is heating, not so acrid as that of Garden Thyme.
Essential Specific Characters:250. Thymus Serpyllum, L. - Stem woody, prostrate, creeping, leaves small, ovate, with fringed stalks, flowers rose-purple in whorls, flowering stems ascending, upper lip of corolla oblong.