Reddish Vale Country Park
Cuckoo Pint is also known as Lords and Ladies and is a perennial plant of about 25cm in height.
Grows in woodlands, hedges and ditches.
It is common in most of Britain, but rarer in Scotland.
Flowers May to August.
Cuckoo Pint has large arrow head shaped leaves, which are glossy green and have black or purplish blotches. When spring arrives, these leaves may be one of the first to emerge from the ground in shady habitats. The extraordinary flower has a white-green blotched sheath, which form a pitcher shaped surround ( called a spath ) to the purple finger-like spadix. The spadix arises from the real hidden flower below.
The Cuckoo Pint has an interesting way of being pollinated, flies can go into a hidden chamber in the flower, but an arrangement of hairs prevents them from flying out again. However this is not meant to be a death trap, but a simple way to ensure that the insects stay for the night to pollinate the flowers. The next day the stamens will mature and shed pollen on the flies. This process results in the withering of the hairs and the insects are free once more to fly off to find another similar hotel room for the night.
Later on in the year, all that remains of the plant is the fruiting stalk with bright orange-red berries. These berries are very poisonous to people and can result in death if eaten.
The tuberous root of the Cuckoo Pint has been used to obtain starch and was used by Elizabethans to stiffen the white ruffs which were worn around the neck. The herbalist Gerard comments on this practice: "The most pure and white starch is made of the rootes of the Cuckoo Pint, but most hurtful for the hands of the laundresse that have the handling of it; for it chappeth, blistereth, and maketh the hands rough and rugged and withall smarting."
Mrs Grieves says: "This starch, however, in spite of Gerard's remarks, form the Cyprus powder of the Parisians, who used the cosmetic for the skin and Dr, Withering says of this cosmetic formed of the tubor starch, that it is undoubtedly a good and innocent cosmetic"; and Hogg (Vegetable Kingdom 1858) reported its use in Italy to remove freckles from the face and hands.
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