Country Diary: Plant is named after Roman God

Dogs Mercury grows on the edge of woodland and hedgerows.
Dogs Mercury grows on the edge of woodland and hedgerows.

Happy birthday dear Tigga,

Happy birthday to you!

Yes, March 23 marks Tigga’s 12th birthday. He may be a cross-breed between a Parson Russel terrier and Lakeland terrier, but he’s a great character, abounding in energy, and enjoying life to the full. We’ve shared some wonderful walks, drives, bird-watching, gardening, and fun together. He just loves to be with us, and recent days have proved rewarding.

Spring has officially arrived, flaunting golden bands of daffodils along roadside verges; lush-green hedgerows; unfolding of horsechestnuts’ sticky buds, and pussy willow catkins, to welcome Easter.

One of our favourite local attractions in springtime is Yedmandale, just a short walk from West Ayton, up Cockrah Road, from where it’s signed at the road junction. We were surprised to discover a considerable amount of tree-felling had taken place beyond the walling. This had opened up the woodland, and allowed light to illuminate ground flora. A great improvement, as a wide variety of wild flowers are treasured here, including rare species. Dog’s Mercury was in bloom, yet few people know this common plant of two-tone green with narrow, oval leaves in opposite pairs. It’s probably because the male and female flowers are so minute. They occur on separate plants and are borne in clusters on long stalks. Look on the edge of woodland and beside hedgerows.

Dog’s Mercury is named after the Roman God of trade who is said to have discovered it. The word ‘dog’ implied during the Middle Ages, that it was only fit for such creatures being worthless. However, a dye can be obtained, which tints wool pale yellow, if fixed with alum.

A visit to Dean’s Garden Centre on Seamer Road, really inspired us with their massed display of hellebores, or Christmas roses as some name them. Hybrid varieties from green, to shades of white, apple blossom, dusky plum and peach are relatives of the wild hellebores, which are quite rare. However, having known of a site near Ayton Castle many years ago, we went to search!

Crossing the bridge between East and West Ayton, along the A170, one should turn right (ie north) up Yedmandale Road. Beyond Mill Lane is Castle Rise. Walk along the short lane as signed to Forge Valley, by cottages with floral attributes. At the far end, enter a handgate into a field of sheep. A narrow path leads to the site of Ayton Castle with information plaque. Drop down to the walled field boundary, and about 150 yards ahead bloom, beneath hedging, the hellebore sometimes called bear’s foot. This green hellebore is well in flower, with ‘cups’ of pale green being quite inconspicuous.

All parts are poisonous. Once used as a worm cure, this practice ceased when it proved fatal to worms AND patient!

An exciting plant to find, but please leave undisturbed.