Country diary: a prickle of excitement among the purple thistles

Empingham, Rutland: These emblematic plants may not be widely celebrated south of the border, but they do attract the odd rare butterfly

Empingham Marshy Meadows has transformed since April, the spring flora being succeeded by clouds of fragrant meadowsweet along the damp sedgy bottom of the valley, and on the slopes by bird’s-foot trefoil and buttercups.

Although they are the national flower of Scotland, we undercelebrate thistles, their subtle shades and spiky architectures. Here, in addition to mauve-flowered spear thistles and shiny-leaved lavender creeping thistles, there are at least two less ubiquitous species present. Marsh thistles dominate along the edge of the damper soils; their extra-prickly stems shoot up 2 metres and curve over at the apex, where exceptionally nectar-rich clusters are frequented by a stream of bumblebees. A significant proportion of the plants here are of a pale genetic form, with the usual purple tint lacking from their stems and leaves, and sporting only flowers of the most delicate lilac.

Related: Country diary: dead trees offer a branch of hope

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