Identification of mystery plant is solved

Blue sow thistle
Blue sow thistle

As summer ticks by, now is the time to examine your pets for ticks. These are small parasitic arachnids that live on the skin of warm-blooded mammals and suck blood from their tissues. They are present in sheep pasture and woodlands, just waiting for a possible host to come along.

As your dog sniffs amongst long grasses, the tick wastes no time in clinging to its ears or throat. Grooming a dog may reveal these pea-sized victims.

Tigga’s had one this year, at the base of his ear. It was easily removed with a pair of tweezers. If you tackle it yourself, just ensure you withdraw the complete tick. Grasp it firmly at skin level so that no legs are left behind to cause possible infection.

If in doubt, a vet will remove it – at a price, or a pet shop may sell another simple instrument.

An air of mystery has shrouded a giant of a plant about two metres tall, since I first discovered its presence in this area in July 1982. Since then it has appeared on waste grassland and an allotment – its sky-blue, dandelion-like flowers rarely heeded by passers-by.

This summer, Michael and myself have returned to a nearby site alongside a hedgerow, where what we believed to be the blue sow thistle grew.

Having recorded its development over several weeks, the tall stems are coming into bloom and we can now confirm its identification as Cicerbita macrophylla – a subspecies of the very rare alpine sow thistle.

The blue sow thistle has larger leaves, and lacks the reddish hairs which are found on the alpine species. So – problem solved!

On the subject of flowers, if you failed to find the handsome viper’s bugloss on the Castle Hill last year, do look again now.

From Scarborough’s Marine Drive, turn off at the skateboard park, and follow the path gently ascending northwards, and it’s just to your left. It’s tall spikes of rosy-pink to purple-blue flowers bloom until September.

Its Latin name is Echium vulgare – the coarse prickly texture of the plant giving rise to its generic name, ‘Echium’. Prickly creatures like hedgehogs and sea urchins are named Echinus.

In Ilfracombe grew a very tall species of Echium opposite our hotel – some 12’-14’ in height. Then, surprise surprise – a neighbour showed us a treasured specimen he had potted in his garden, which again looked to be almost 12’ in height. He gave us three seedlings this week, so hopefully they’ll do well!

Never trust a herring gull. Walking past the Grand Hotel unwrapping my ice cream, a gentleman warned, “Don’t put you arm out, or you’ll lose your hand.” Turning to acknowledge his advice, it was too late. ‘Snap’, and over half my ice cream was being engorged by the gull! Hope he enjoyed it.