One of Berwickshire’s rarest flowering plants the Cornflower was once upon a time a common enough bright blue flowering weed growing among barley, wheat and oats.
The recent 20th century advancement in herbicides though has rendered the plant extinct in many of its once frequent haunts. Michael Braithwaite the county botanical recorder has very few recent records of the plant, most records now owing to re seeded field borders for wildlife purposes.
Close to Lintlaw farm however, I knew of an annual flowering of this plant, not in the field margins, but in the centre of the field, in a more natural setting. I had often wondered why it grew here at Lintlaw and nowhere else. It was a few years later when I received as a gift a copy of Michael Braithwaite’s book “The Wildflowers of a Berwickshire Bard” which told the story of George Henderson of Chirnside who lived between 1800-1864. He was a doctor in the village, with a passion for nature, who described his natural encounters in verse. A tale of the gradual move away from traditional farming at the time that eventually led to the lowland clearances and a revolution in how the land would be used in the future as agriculture slowly intensified.
One particular section of the book stood out as I read it: Of the rich farmland known as ‘The Yolk of the Merse’ he writes: “In the fields about Lintlaw we have observed a greater abundance of Corn Bluebottle or Blawort (Cornflower) Centaurea Cyanus than we have seen anywhere else in the neighbourhood.”
Michael then notes that not far away, near Edrom, there is one field where this colourful weed still survives 150 years later. But had Michael known of the Cornflower still seemingly in existence at Lintlaw? I contacted him, and as the summer approached the Cornflower began to bloom in profusion, a sea of bright cobalt blue among the ripening wheat crop. Michael Braithwaitecame down to have a look for himself and was very convinced that these Cornflowers were the very sight George Henderson had described about a century and a half ago.
Michael suggested that it may be a good idea to collect some seed later in the summer for the purpose of sending down to the Millennium seed bank at Kew, and also to the Rothamsted research centre, where the seed could be tested for any resistance to herbicides. Just how the Cornflower survives year on year at Lintlaw is quite remarkable when nationwide it has shown little tolerance to modern herbicides in the past. So with the kind permission of the farmer Mr Ian Calder, I collected enough seed to send to Michael, before he sent them down to Kew and Rothamsted, and as yet we await the results with anticipation.