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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland (BSBI) (2019): New Year Plant Hunt: which plants are still flowering in midwinter? Last accessed 10 December 2019.
Plantlife (2019): Ivy-leaved toadflax. Cymbalaria muralis. Last accessed 10 December 2019.