- Cardamine pratensis
See also: Cruciferous; Brassicaceous
Common Names: Cuckoo Flower; Milkmaids; May Flower
A common European flower whose appearance in the Spring coincides with the coming of the cuckoo.
When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smock all silver white
And Cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight.
Shakespeare - Love's Labour's Lost
Lady's Smock is a herbaceous perennial, and has gained its name due to the delicate petticoat-like nature of the flower. Clustered on stalks atop a thin, tapering stem, the four petalled flowers flutter in the breeze, giving the impression of a ladies skirt. The flowers can vary from white to pink in colour, but are most often a pale lilac with a distinctive yellow centre made up of the anthers. There is a double flowered form which is extremely beautiful but which occurs much less regularly. The four petals of the flower put it in the 'Crucifer' family, due to it looking like a cross.
The leaves are non-descript at the top of the stem and easily ignored when you are looking at the flower. They look like a miniature version of the ash leaf, compound, with three pairs of opposite leaflets and a single leaflet on the end. At the top of the stems the leaves are very small and thin. Lower down, if you part the grasses around the base, you will find the leaves are rounder and look more like those of a vetch or small pea, although completely unrelated to this family.
Lady's Smock flowers in the early spring (March-May), and can be found in all temperate northern climates from Asia to America and throughout Europe. In the UK it has the special honour of being the county flower of Cheshire. The plant prefers damp, shady locations but will be found on roadside verges, meadows and in hedgerows as well as occasionally creeping into peoples gardens.
Like so many wild plants, Lady's Smock is 'good in salads'. Both the flowers and the leaves are edible and it tastes a bit like cress. All the green parts are rich in vitamin C, but it is not known as a commonly used healing plant. The most often stated use is as an ease to asthma through being taken as an infusion of the fresh leaves.
Ladies Smock is a very important food source for the larvae of the orange-tip butterfly and the green veined white butterfly. You will often notice the butterfly flitting past before you notice the flower!
The plant is very closely related to watercress, another brassica. Despite the two tasting very similar, watercress seems to have taken salads by storm, whereas lady's smock has been forgotten.