Speedwell (All About)
The speedwell is a very common bright blue flower that occurs in unmowed parts of the school lawn or the school field. There are quite a few Irish species of speedwell but one of the most obvious ones is the one illustrated here – the germander speedwell.Read moreRead less
It is a perennial plant, which means that it grows up each year in spring and summer, dies back in autumn and re-appears the following year without having to be re-sown. It is a low, straggling plant — reaching 50 cm at maximum length and often much lower than this. The stems are often reddish brown and have two distinct lines of hairs. The leaves are oval with a toothed edge. It is the flowers that attract the eye. These can appear as early as April and the plants flower all summer long until September. The pretty flowers are bright blue in colour and can be up to 12 mm across.
There are four petals — three the same size and one slightly smaller. There are two stamens displayed prominently and the pollen is formed in the white anthers at the ends. The petals are all joined together at the base and if one is pulled they all come off together in a crown with the stamens attached. Examined carefully, the female part can be seen sticking up from the centre of the flower.
Later in the year seeds will form in a flattened capsule on the stem. Pupils in school will be familiar with the rosette-leafed flowers of the school lawn such as daisies, dandelions and ribwort since their junior classes. They now must seek out a flower that grows there under slightly different management conditions and realise that the very technique of mowing determines what wild flowers will exist in an area of grassland. A good diversity of wild flowers is important so that there is a good biodiversity of insect life as well. Thus, by leaving perhaps just a small area unmown, the variety of flowers in the school’s grassy areas can be increased enormously.
This plant was familiar to Irish people in olden times and it was important in folk medicine. It was used by nursing mothers to soothe sore breasts. It was boiled with other herbs and the resultant liquor fed to cows with calves to protect them from ill luck and it was traditionally sewn into the garments of people going on a journey to protect them from accidents.
Things to do
1. Observing, noticing, describing are all important skills that scientists must have. Having spoken about this plant in class, send out the pupils to find and bring in specimens. They must then write a scientific description of their plant with reference to flowers, petals, stamens, stem, hairs, leaves, where found and perhaps why. Writing this description requires that the pupils examine the plant for the scientific detail required. Use of a magnifying glass may be helpful.