One of our most insignificant wild plant groups straggles across many areas of the valley studding banks and meadows with tiny blue dots.  A close look reveals small, even tiny, but beautifully neat and precise flowers ranging from almost white to vivid Wedgwood blue, May and June are the peak flowering months for Veronica species, Speedwells.

There are at least 300 different Veronica species across the world and they inhabit a wide range of habitats.  There are introduced shrubby ones that are grown in gardens, but we have eleven wild species in the valley and they are small, straggly herbaceous plants that can be found in short and long grassland, roadsides, woodland, streamsides and even growing in cracks in walls and pavements.    

Some are downily hairy, some are as smooth and bald as Kojak’s head, one even has a crest of hairs growing along the stem.  One thing they all have in common is the flowers, they are various shades of blue but all have four petals, the lower one being much smaller, and only two stamens protruding like a pair of horns.

The most prominent species is the Germander Speedwell which has a profusion of striking blue flowers in most months of the year in roadside verges, hedgerows and areas of uncut grass.  The Wall Speedwell can survive in harsh environments such as the cracks at the base of buildings, surviving by keeping its head down and producing tiny flowers only 2-3mm across.  

You will often see the two forms of the soft and straggly Ivy-leaved Speedwell in hedgerows.  The leaves are plump, have three lobes and look a bit like ivy leaves.  One form has tiny bright blue stamens, the other has pale almost pink stamens, but you need a magnifying glass to see the difference.

Many of the boggy streamsides across the valley are filled with the much larger Brooklime whose leaves remind me of a sturdy Basil.  When compiling his catalogue of plants in the 18th century, Carl Linnaeus took the old Swedish name for this plant which translates as brook bunch or brook flower and its scientific name became Veronica beccabunga.

The common name Speedwell may have arisen because they are such common plants of the roadside speeding travellers to their destination.  If you come across a small straggly plant with blue flowers, take a closer look, if it has four petals and a pair of horns, it will be one of our Speedwells.

Ed Dolphin

Tag: Speedwells

Image Credits: SVBG

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