The Unique Herb Paris and its PAWS

Close-up of Herb Paris, Paris quadrifolia. © Karen Andrews

A first sighting always gives cause for excitement. My first encounter with Herb Paris, Paris quadrifolia, was all the more special because it occurred on my first outing with the Wiltshire Botany Society (WBS). It has long been a plant on my wish-to-see list. I finally realised why I had failed to spot it in the past. I have a tendency to be too dismissive of huge woodland swathes of Dog’s Mercury, Mercurialis perennis. In future, I shall treat this ubiquitous plant with suspicion. It deliberately conceals Herb Paris from me.

Botanical Fascination

Herb Paris, Paris quadrifolia, is such a unique-looking plant. In my rapture, I examined and photographed it from every angle. There, before me, was our singular UK member of the Melanthiaceae. I peered in fascination at its distinctive whorl of 4 (sometimes 5) leaves. I examined how the extraordinary flower was held erect on the stem above the leaves.

Good News

Herb Paris is regarded as an ancient woodland indicator. Unfortunately, the plant has suffered a serious decline. It is slow to colonise new sites. Seeds do not travel far. Herb Paris is therefore highly dependent upon the conservation of ancient woodland sites. The WBS’s visit offered a welcome good news story of what may be possible in other former ancient woodland sites. Our guide to Bentley Wood is a member of the woodland’s trustees. She explained how the plant had fared poorly in the first year after some clearance work. As the shade increased in subsequent years, it started to make a comeback and spread vegetatively.


Bentley Wood is an example of a PAWS. PAWS stands for Planted Ancient Woodland Site. The site was an ancient mixed woodland that became a plantation of conifers. Careful management of the site is helping to restore ancient woodland plants like Herb Paris.

A good news story and a first sighting proved a perfect introduction to botany in Wiltshire.

References and Further Reading

  • Bentley Wood Charitable Trust (2020): Bentley Wood. Nature Notes 2020. Ed. Pat Woodruffe.
  • Bjerketvedt, Dag K. et al. (2003): The growth and phenology patterns of herb Paris (Paris quadrifolia L., Trilliaceae): relation to soil and air temperatures. Ekologija. Vol. 1.
  • Cheshire, Gerard (2020): Paris quadrifolia. Plant Series, No. 8. Manuscript MS408. April 2020
  • Forest Research (2022): Restoration of lowland plantations on ancient woodland sites (PAWS).
  • Harmer, Ralph & Kiewit, Andrea (2005-6): Restoration of lowland conifer PAWS. Forest Research. Annual Report and Accounts
  • Jacquemyn, Hans & Brys, Rein & Hutchings, Michael J. (2008): Biological Flora of the British Isles: Paris quadrifolia L. Journal of Ecology. Volume 96, Issue 4. July 2008. pp. 833-844. British Ecological Society.
  • Woodland Trust (?): Ancient Woodland.
  • Woodland Trust (2018): Wood Wise. Forest Flora. Woodland Conservation News. Spring 2018. Eds. Kay Haw and Karen Hornigold

© Karen Andrews


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.

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