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Award-winning green roofs

Galium verum, or lady’s bedstraw as it is commonly known is a low growing perennial plant with plentiful yellow flowers that you can find sprawling across green roofs at this time of year. It is just coming towards the end of its flowering season now but has been going strong since June.

Also know as Robin-run-the-Hedge, Maiden’s Hair, Strawbed, Cheese Rennet, Cheese Renning and yellow Bedstraw it is a native of this fair isle and is from the prestigious plant family Rubiacae. Its relatives include the coffee plant and another in the genus Cinchona from which we first derived quinine, the cure for malaria.

Lady’s bedstraw, like its aforementioned cousins, has itself been useful to us humans too throughout history as medicine, dye (hair, cheese and cloth believe it or not!), in the process of making cheese and as a mattress stuffing. In fact it has been claimed by some religious folks of the Christian variety that it was the original ‘hay’ in the manger of baby Jesus and according to one medieval legend, ‘the Virgin Mary Herself gave birth whilst lying on a bed of lady’s bedstraw and bracken’. The legend continues with a questionable but sweet story of how the bracken refused to acknowledge the baby Jesus and in doing so lost its flower. Whereas Lady’s bedstraw, bloomed in recognition and as it did so its flowers changed from white to gold.

Maybe? But there are written records of it being used as a mattress stuffing and it truly does have a lovely sweet honey like smell.

This may have something to do with the amount of pollinators, especially moths, that it attracts.  Of all the green roof plants lady’s bedstraw has to be one of the most preferred by Lepidoptera species and if you want to encourage these gentle night time pollinators onto your roof then a good thick patch or two of this attractive plant will feed many, including moths known as Archer’s dart, Bedstraw hawk moth (funny that), the Oblique Striped, Plain Wave, Red Chestnut, Riband Wave, Royal Mantle and pretty much all the carpet moths including Beech Green, Common, Mottled (Green and Grey), Gallium, Wood, Water, Red Twin Spot and Ruddy.  Lady’s bedstraw is also visited by the Small Elephant Hawk moth and the Hummingbird Hawk moth, the later being a particularly spectacular moth if you are ever lucky enough to see one as it really does look like a humming bird. I don’t know however if the name of the Small Elephant Hawk Moth is similarly descriptive as I have never seen one but I hope so!

Plants like us have neighbours they prefer and neighbours they are not so keen on and in the case of lady’s bedstraw its preferred companions include wild majoram, Dropwort, Common Knapweed, Greater Knapweed, Wild mignonette, Common Rock-rose, Field Scabious, Small Scabious and Autumn Hawkbit.  Scabious are a particular favourite of mine and compliment lady’s bedstraw well with their tall slender stems and delicate but showy purple flower heads.

And finally, regular listeners of The Archers may be interested to know that Lady’s Bedstraw was voted the County Flower of Borsetshire following a poll by Plantlife in 2002.

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