Honewort, Trinia glauca, is a Somerset rarity that is easily overlooked. It does not wave about in the breeze right under your nose like many other umbelliferous members of the Apiaceae or Carrot family. It hugs dry, limestone ground and rocky outcrops. Nonetheless, I found it eye-catching this May at Sand Point because it flowered in large numbers on the south-facing slopes. Isn’t it great to see a rare wild flower thriving in its natural environment – even if it is not considered a great beauty?
Male and Female Plants
Honewort is dioecious, i.e. it has separate male and female plants. Stace explains that female plants have longer more unequal rays and fewer, longer-pedicelled flowers than male plants. The female plant tends to be harder to spot. You have to look closely for 2 stigmas on female plants as opposed to 5 stamens on male plants. Honewort is reliant on ants for pollination. Separate-sex plants could pose a threat to the ongoing survival of this national rarity found in only a few West Country locations today.
Another interesting fact about Honewort is that it is monocarpic. This botanical term means that it flowers only once, sets seed and dies. The plant is a biennial rather than an annual however. If the turf is heavily grazed, it can become perennial awaiting its opportunity to flower. It is seemingly a patient plant and may wait up to 16 years to flower. I have seen it regularly flowering in its preferred habitat between May and June, before its family member Rock Samphire, Crithmum maritimum, further along Sand Point.
Honewort enjoys an open, limestone habitat. Sand Point is managed by the National Trust. Active land management involves balanced grazing and scrub clearance. This helps to ensure that Honewort is not shaded out by tall plants and survives.
Botanical Latin Name
Honewort’s Latin genus is named after the German botanist, Carl (Karl) Bernhard Freiherr von Trinius (1778-1844). He was a German-born physician who commanded great respect in Tsarist Russia. He wrote numerous works and was a grass specialist.
Although not visible in my photos above, the epithet glauca describes the greyish-green leaves. The term comes to botanical Latin via Greek. It originally appears to have meant glimmering or shimmering related to the sea. Stearn describes it as a light sea-green. This seems entirely appropriate for a species on a coastal cliff-top, except of course that the sea around Sand Point is, unfortunately, not a green colour and rarely shimmers.
Glaucus was a Greek mortal fisherman turned into a prophetic sea god by a potion. He rescued fishermen and sailors. Let’s hope the short-turfed, coastal environment at Sand Point will ensure the ongoing survival of this unusual Somerset rarity.
References and Further Reading
- Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project (?): Honewort.
- Biological Records Centre (BRC) (2008): Trinia glauca. Online Atlas of the British and Irish Flora.
- Crellin, J. R. (2004): Trinia glauca (Honewort) at Hellenge Hill and Sand Point. Floral Images.
- Crouch, H. J. (2021): Trinia glauca (L.) Dumort. Somerset Rare Plants Group.
- Eckel, P. M. (2010-2021). Glaucous. A Grammatical Dictionary of Botanical Latin. Missouri Botanical Garden.
- Greek Legends and Myths.com (): Glaucus in Greek Mythology.
- Quattrocchi, Umberto (2000): CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names. Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms, Synonyms, and Etymology. Volume IV R–Z. CRC Press. USA. pp. 2726-2727.
- Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften zur Leipzig (2010): Trinius, Carl Bernhard (von).
- Somerset Rare Plants Group (2021): Rare Plant Register. Introduction.
- Stace, Clive (2010): New Flora of the British Isles. Third Edition. p. 820.
- Stearn, William T. (1992): Botanical Latin. Fourth Edition. David & Charles. Newton Abbot. p.241.
- UK Wildflowers.com (2012): Trinia glauca, Honewort.
- Wild Flower Finder (?): Honewort. Trinia glauca.
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