Meadow clary is an attractive herb (1), which produces striking deep blue to violet hooded flowers. These are 20 to 30 millimetres long, and held aloft on a long raceme (a flower spike upon which the individual flowers have stalks), which may reach 80 centimetres in height (2). Some populations contain male-sterile plants, which have smaller flowers (4). The leaves are a rich, dark green colour and have a crinkled upper surface (2).
This long-lived perennial species mainly flowers from late May to early July (4). Flowers are pollinated by insects (1), bumblebees are the main visitors (4), and a large amount of seed is produced (1). The seeds, which are released after mid-July, are able to remain dormant in the soil for at least a year (1). Seedlings become established where gaps of bare soil open up in the sward, such as worm casts and rabbit scrapes, and areas grazed by rabbits seem to provide good conditions for seedling establishment (1). Vegetative reproduction is also known to occur (4), and single plants are able to persist for at least 30 years (4).
The seeds of meadow clary were used in the past to remove particles from eyes and to reduce inflammation or redness (7); indeed the name 'clary' is derived from 'clear-eye' (1). It was also used as a gargle for sore throats, and to clean teeth (1).
This species was once found in Britain from Lincolnshire south to Dorset, but is currently known from less than 30 sites (3). The main areas are the North and South Downs, the Chilterns, the Wiltshire plains and limestone areas of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire (1); the main stronghold of the species is the Cotswolds (5). It has also been introduced to many sites (1). Elsewhere it is distributed from Morocco and the Pyrenees in the south, to Britain in the north and Turkey and the Urals in the east (4). It rare in northern Europe and Scandinavia (6), reaching as far north as southern Sweden (2).
Classified as Lower Risk - nationally scarce by the British Red Data Book (1), but should now be considered Nationally Scarce (1). Fully protected by Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (3).
Loss of the prefered unimproved grassland habitat, unsuitable management (4), scrub invasion, and intensification of agricultural practices including the use of chemical herbicides and fertilisers, are possible threats (4).
Meadow clary is included in Plantlife's 'Back From The Brink' programme, and is listed under English Nature's Species Recovery Programme. A Species Action Plan has been produced, and work to date to help this plant includes scrub clearance, soil disturbance, experimental grazing which resulted in an increase in the number of plants at one site, and supplementation of small populations in order to bolster their numbers (1)(3). The Cotswold Rare Plants Group works closely with Plantlife in monitoring and conserving this beautiful species (8). In addition, meadow clary seeds have been collected for the Millennium Seed Bank at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (1).
Plants that live for at least three seasons; after an initial period they produce flowers once a year.
An inflorescence where the individual flowers all have distinct stalks. (See <link>http://www.rbgkew.org.uk/ksheets/pdfs/flower.pdf</link> for a fact sheet on flower structure).
Type of asexual reproduction (reproduction without recombination of genetic material) that results in the propagation of plants using only the vegetative tissues such as leaves or stems. The resulting plant is genetically identical to the original plant. A well-known example of this is the reproduction of strawberry plants from 'runners'.
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