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.
The Shepherd's Needle is known from its present distribution throughout the North Temperate Zone in Europe, North Africa, W. Asia, as far as the N.W. of India. In Great Britain it is not found in Mid Lanes, Westmorland, Kirkcudbright, Stirling, S. Perth, but occurs in the West Highlands except in Cantire and S. Ebudes, E. Sutherland, the Hebrides, and the Orkneys from Ross southwards, ascending to 1000 ft. in Yorkshire. Watson regards it merely as a colonist.
Shepherd's Needle is a common cornfield weed, growing amid the corn, where it is accompanied by Corn Buttercup, Poppies, Charlock, Heart's Ease, White Campion, Spurrey, Alsike Clover, Fool's Parsley, Field Madder, and other equally widespread followers of man and the plough.
Though usually consisting of several stems, Shepherd's Needle often has only one, and is not very tall, but branched, ascending, downy, with a purple stem below and purple stripes. The leaves are light green, deeply divided, with lobes on either side of the stalk, delicately cut, sheathed at the base, and finely fringed with hairs at the margin.
The flowers are in small umbels of 2 rays, with no general involucre, the partial whorl of leaf-like organs being much divided. Before pollination the involucre consists of 5 simple entire leaves, afterwards, even if only one flower is pollinated, they branch repeatedly. The flowers are white, 5-7, with petals blunt at the tip, the outermost the largest, spreading, with the tips turned in. The bracts in the involucre are divided into two halfway. The beak of the fruit is three times as long as the fruit. The fruit is rough, flattened on one side, finely furrowed on the other, with hairy edges.
The plant is not more than 1 ft. high. The flowers bloom in June and July. Venus's Comb, as the Shepherd's Needle is also called, is an annual, coming up spontaneously from seed.
The flowers are polygamous, small, and inconspicuous. There may be male flowers and bisexual flowers, and they may be homogamous, anthers and stigma ripening together, or the anthers first. The staminate Mowers are usually in the middle, or absent, but those in the umbels of the third order are male as a rule. The points of the petals are turned inwards. The styles are straight, the disk expanded. The whole contrivance of the flower shows that it lends itself to self-pollination, the flowers being little visited or liable to be visited by insects, because like other cornfield plants they are not generally accessible to insects.
Photo. Messrs. Flatters & Garnett - Shepherd's Needle (Scandix Pecten-Veneris, L.)
The long needle-like pods open and expel the seeds by an elastic movement.
Like other plants of cultivated ground there are no fungal or insect pests that infest it.
Scandix, Theophrastus, is the Greek name for Chervil; pecten veneris, Dodonaeus, is the Latin for Venus's Comb.
This plant has many common names: Adam's Needle, Beggar's Needle, Needle Chervil, Clock-needle, Lady's Comb, Venus's Comb, Shepherd's Comb, Coombs, Crake-needle, Crow-needle, Crowpecks,
Devil's or Devil's Darning-needle, Darning Needles, Devil's Elshin, Elshins, Ground Enell, Hedge-hog, Needle, Pink Needle, Old Wife's Darning Needles, Old Woman's Needle, Wild Parsley, Poke Needle, Pook Needle, Powkenely, Pound Needle, Powk Needle, Puck Needle, Shepherd's Needle, Stikpyle, Tailor's Needles, Throck-needle, Venus's Needle.
As to the name Venus's Comb, Gerard says, "After (the flowers) come uppe, long seeds very like unto pack-needles, orderlie set one by another like the great teeth of a combe."
There is a common saying, says W. K. Wise, "in the New Forest that two crow-pecks are as good as an oat for a horse", to which the reply is "that a crow-peck and a barley-corn may be".
This plant is called Adam's Needle from the long seed-pods, and the name Devil's Darning Needle arises from its long awns. Elshins, or awls, is the name given on account of the long-pointed fruits.
At first called Our Lady's Comb, this became Venus's Comb.
Essential Specific Characters: 126. Scandix Pecten-Veneris, L. - Stem short, erect, leaves tri-pinnate, flowers small, white, in an umbel of few rays, fruit long, beaked, rough, with marginal bristles.