Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Dose of Poppy Pie

Back to soggy Sandwich Bay. This is a follow-on from yesterday's Comfits of sea holly.

Yellow-horned poppy (YHP) (Glaucium flavum) was growing in the shingle. It's one of my favourite plants on the coast; so unexpectedly extravagant. Nothing on the shoreline beats it for sheer aplomb and panash. At one place I found a few YHPs with red flowers, which I assume was an aberration and not a different species. I'll check that.

UPDATE: Kingsdowner has been to the site and confirmed the plants are indeed unusually dark red variants of YHP, Glaucium flavum, and not red-horned poppy (Glaucium corniculatum), which is a rare alien. The key features that clinched it are that these plants, like YHP, have glabrous (smooth, hairless) stems and warty seedpods. I am very grateful to him. 

(Red) yellow-horned poppy (Glaucium flavum) at Sandwich Bay
Close up of a very damp (red) yellow-horned poppy 
(Glaucium flavum) at Sandwich Bay

Here are some 'normal' luscious YHPs on the beach at Kingsdown.
 Yellow-horned poppy (Glaucium flavum) with horned seed-pods in evidence.
Yellow-horned poppy (Glaucium flavum) thick, wavy, hairy leaf
Yellow-horned poppies (Glaucium flavum) on the shingle at Kingsdown 
with red valerian (Centranthus ruber) behind (looking to Walmer/Deal in distance). 

Robert Bridges (handsome chap!) wrote a short poem about YHP. The poet was born in Roselands (the house is no longer there) in Walmer in 1844. His birthplace is a short walk from where these photos were taken. Poet's Walk in Walmer is named in his honour.

The poem was set to music by Philip Napier Miles (but I can't find a recording of it online). 

YHP contains an alkaloid called glaucine (recall the name of YHP is Glaucium flavum) which is used as an anti-tussive (cough medicine). It's also anti-inflammatory and a bronchodilator. The side effects of glaucine include fatigue, sedation and hallucinations, and it is reported to be abused as a recreational drug. Not a herbal medicine to take at home.

Unbelievably YHP was once mistaken for sea holly (Eryngium maritimum). Grigson (1973) mentions the curious tale of one, Charles Worth, who lived near Penzance in the 1690s.

The story runs thus. On the advice of a physician, our Mr Worth baked a pie, with what he supposed to be sea holly roots. One wonders how anyone could confuse the two. But he, or one of his household, did. Having consumed this pie piping hot from the oven he suffered a most violent catharsis and weird hallucinations. The Poppy Pie was also scoffed by his servants who had similarly unpleasant experiences.

Turn away now if you are sqeamish. Mr Worth filled his chamber pot (the catharsis sounded pretty urgent), smashed it and then asked his neighbours to help him pick up the pieces because he was convinced that they were made of gold. Hmmm.

Mrs Worth (who was down the market when all this kerfuffle was going on) arrived home in the midst of the crisis, 'saying 'How now, what is here a do? The Maid turn'd her brich again her and purging stoutly said 'There, Mistress, is gold for you.' We do not know what Mrs Worth's repost to the Maid was or if the young lady remained in their service after this unfortunate incident.

The story was originally published in a letter to the Royal Society in 1698 by a Mr James Newton, who'd got it from an apothecary in Penzance. Newton considered the possibility that since the flowers are yellow 'whether the yellow colour running in their minds [...] might not beget that idea in them, to fancy most things to be Gold, they also being yellow'. Not an entirely ridiculous suggestion. Some men taking Viagra developed a temporary cyanopsia (they saw the world in blue). Although the effect from Viagra is not from the blueness of the pills (that is incidental) it is thought to be due to decreased enzyme activity in retinal rod cells.
According to Newton (1698), YHP was 'vulgarly called in Hampshire and Dorsetshire, Squatmore or brusewort [...] where they use it against bruises external and internal'. A 'squat' is an obsolete word for a bruise according to Grigson (1973). Although I rather fancy that 'squatmore' refers literally to its cathartic properties.

Oops. Off subject again. Back to the Bay.

I was delighted to see lizard orchids
 (Himantoglossum hircinum) aplenty in the sand (to the seaward side of the road). People were driving past seemingly oblivious to the incredible plants growing a few feet from their tyres.

Or even under their tyres.....
Car access on to the beach at Sandwich Bay.

I was more than a little saddened to see that this amazing foreshore doubles as a carpark for beach users. Tyre tracks over lizard orchids and rare broomrapes! Sheesh. But, disturbance is what these plants live with. The seashore is an incredibly hostile environment to put down one's roots. Still, I'd be mortified if I drove my car over a lizard orchid.

The weather was still grim so we turned inland and headed back to the car by way of the PRoW over the Royal St George's Golf Club. More lizards were blowing about in the wind and rain in the rough grass.

Sea bindweed (Calystegia soldanella) was sodden but brightened up the turf.
Sea bindweed (Calystegia soldanella)
There was considerable activity getting the golf course ready for The Open in July. The PRoW ran straight in front of the stands (it would be fun to use it when someone is about to tee off).
Getting ready for The Open

I must go to the bay and walk further along the shore when the weather is more clement.

Bridges, Robert (1890) Shorter Poems. They are available online here.
Grigson, Geoffrey (1975) The Englishman’s Flora. Paladin
Newton, JA (1698) An Account of Some Effects of Papaver Corniculatum Luteum. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Volume 20 pps 263-264 (Boo hiss to the RS that these old journals aren't openly available online).


  1. Hi Mel, when I stayed at Sandwich Bay earlier in June, I too spied the red-flowered Yellow-horned Poppies. I was able to show them to Steve 'Kingsdowner' Coates. Neither of us had seen them anywhere else where Y-h Poppy grows. Interesting...

  2. I'd not seen any colour variants of YHP either. We shall wait on SKC to get us the definitive pics and settle the matter once and for all. Amazed no-one else had noticed them - they stood out a mile even in the ghastly weather with my glasses all splattered with rain.