The Naturalised Italian Hitchhiker

Ivy-leaved Toadflax, Cymbalaria muralis, colonises walls vertically with its flowers reaching up for the light
© Karen Andrews

Officially Ivy-leaved toadflax, Cymbalaria muralis, flowers from April to October. It doesn’t keep to the script. I don’t think there has been a single month of the past year in which I haven’t found it flowering on a West Country wall. Indeed, it was one of the plants that I found in flower for the 2018-19 BSBI New Year Plant Hunt.

Easy to recognise

While some may consider it a weedy pest, I regard its little Snapdragon-like flowers with fondness. It was a plant that I readily recognised as a child. It has changed families from Scrophulariaceae to Plantaginaceae, but is otherwise considered naturalised and stable in the UK by Plantlife.

Italian Hitchhiker

Ivy-leaved Toadflax was recorded as a garden escape in the wild from 1640. It reputedly hitched a lift to Oxford on some marble statues from Italy. It stayed and proliferated thanks to the popularity of walled gardens in the 17th and 19th centuries. Its prolific reproduction is represented in its other common names: Mother of Thousands, Travelling Sailor and Rabbit-flower.

Clever Mechanism

The real secret of its success lays in its ability to sink its roots into tiny gaps in rock, walls and mortar. Dead flowers bend backwards (as can just about be seen in the top photo). This mechanism helps ensure that its seeds end up in rock crevices to flourish all over again.

Cymbal Similarity

Ivy-leaved Toadflax stands up well to frost in the winter, protected by warmth from the nearby buildings. The genus name Cymbalaria refers to the cymbal-like shape of the leaves. The epithet muralis refers to its wall habitat.

A mass of flowers and leaves: Ivy-leaved Toadflax, Cymbalaria muralis. © Karen Andrews

BSBI New Year Plant Hunt

I freely admit that Ivy-leaved Toadflax is not your standard, or most glamorous, Advent botany plant. Nonetheless, I fully expect to find it still going strong over Christmas. I have no doubt that I will find it during this year’s BSBI New Year Plant Hunt between 1st and 4th January 2020. The hunt is now in its 9th year. Volunteers help to record how British wild and naturalised plants are responding to our changing climate.

References and Further Reading

Copyright Note

Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

© Karen Andrews 2018 onwards. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Andrews and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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