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Devil's-bit Scabious

Succisa pratensis

  • Family: Honeysuckle Family – Caprifoliaceae
    (formerly Teasel Family – Dipsacaceae)
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Rootstock short, erect.
  • Height: 30–60 cm (12–25 in.). Stem unbranched–upper part branching, upper part sparsely haired–almost glabrous throughout.
  • Flower: Inflorescence a semi-spherical capitulum, 2–3 cm (0.8–1.2 in.) across. Florets bluish (violet), rarely white, fused, funnel-shaped, 4-lobed, lobes the same size, all florets the same size. Calyx small, shallowly 5-lobed. Stamens 4. Gynoecium composed of 2 fused carpels. Capitula solitary terminating stem and branches, lateral usually with pistillate flowers and smaller than main stem capitula. Involucral bracts in 2–3 rows, leafy, ovate, pubescent and ciliate.
  • Leaves: Opposite, stalked. Blade lanceolate–elliptic, sharp-tipped, with entire margins, leathery, glabrous, shiny.
  • Fruit: Hairy, approx. 5 mm (0.2 in.) long achene.
  • Habitat: Young meadows, shores, forest margins, rich swamps, forests on bog margins, wooded pasture, broad-leaved forests, field and road banks.
  • Flowering time: August–September.

Devil’s-bit scabious has been used as a dye, a seasoning, tea, and medicinally to treat scabies, eczema, fever, weeping wounds, and even syphilis and plague. According to legend the Devil was not best pleased with the ways that people were using this versatile plant and tried to destroy it by biting the root off, and its vertical rootstock certainly looks like it has been bitten from below as it rots from the tip as it ages. Both its Finnish and Latin names come from succidere, meaning ’to break from the bottom’ or ’to reap’. Devil’s-bit scabious is useful not just to people: as one of summer’s latest-flowering species it is vital to help insects prepare to survive the winter, especially butterflies, but also bees, flower flies and beetles.

Devil’s-bit scabious’s umbellate inflorescence is like its relative field scabious (Knautia arvensis), although the latter’s capitulum’s ray-florets are much larger than the inner ones and its leaves are pinnately lobed in the middle of the stem. The plants are rarely seen growing together: while field scabious likes dry sand and moraines, devil’s-bit scabious favours clay, and perhaps its most typical native habitat, heavy clay spruce copses, were made into fields long ago. It still decorates clearings and the edges of fields that the forest has reclaimed, damp meadows, shores, fens, springs and rocky depressions close to the sea shore that have become boggy. Devil’s-bit scabious and field scabious usually grow in habitats that are completely opposite from one another: the former grows mainly in the west and south-west, where the latter is rare. Also, devil’s-bit scabious’s northern limit is further south, in central Finland. There is a clear belt between its coastal and inland stands where it doesn’t grow at all. This is perhaps because of the climate thousands of years ago, specifically that the warm period that followed the ice age came to an end and the cool weather stopped the spread of many plants, including devil’s-bit scabious. The species has later spread from elsewhere to younger sea-shores.

Other species from the same family
Trees and bushes from the same family

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