Corncockle, Agrostemma githago
, is a favourite plant. Not because it has special qualities, but rather as it seems a plant worth standing up for.
Corncockle seems to have arrived in the UK from Europe in the Iron Ages. It's a "cornfield annual" - that is to say, it grew in disturbed ground and was commonly found in corn fields. It has been seen as an agricultural weed for long enough that persistent herbicide treatments mean that it only rarely grows in the wild. Unlike the iconic poppy and better known cornflower, though, it has a pretty low profile and is not often missed.
The corncockle isn't showy. Although it's a vigorous plant its purple flowers are relatively inconspicuous compared to the vibrant blue, yellow and red of cornflowers, corn marigold and poppies. It's not, consequently, either noticed or promoted. When gardeners think of cornfield annuals these other plants are what they want in their seed mix. It is these consumers who are keeping them in the landscape.
Not only is corncockle less blousy than some other cornfield annuals, but its seed presents problems for the retailer too. Firstly, it's poisonous, which (unreasonably) tends to put people off. In fact the whole plant is poisonous, which the Press gleefully pointed out last year when Kew's Grow Wild seed packets included corncockle. The way it was reported
you would have been forgiven for thinking its virtual eradication over the last 100 years was unequivocally a good thing, potentially saving hundreds of lives. Secondly, the seeds are big, like peppercorns, which precludes them being included in a small seed packet.
It doesn't even seem to be a particularly "good" plant for pollinators either, according to my "Plants for Bees" book.
I'm making a point of growing it this year in our annual beds though, and the first flowers are now appearing. It should make a really lovely show.