Celebrating the Snakeshead Fritillary Meadows
If you go to Ducklington in Oxfordshire on a certain day between the end of April and late May, you'll wonder what all the fuss is about. the normally quiet village centre is packed, there's hardly a free seat in the pub and the church hall is full of people taking tea. In fact, people visit Ducklington from all over the country to see one of our most beautiful and rarest flowers - the snake's head fritillary. Its wetland habitat was subjected to great pressure during the "Ploughing for Victory" campaign of the second world war and further drainage for agriculture has reduced the flower to just a handful of places such as Magdalen Meadows in Oxford and North Meadow in Cricklade, Wiltshire.
The flower is held in particular affection by the population of Ducklington, who, with the other visitors, like to wander, head down, across the fritillary meadow admiring the purple and sometimes white blooms. Tea-towels can be bought along with mugs and potted cultivars, there is an exhibition and the vicar, David Winter, will take pleasure in showing you the fritillary represented in the stained glass vestry window, the carvings on the pews and pulpits, as well as a wedding dress displayed in the church embroidered with images of the flower. It was worn by the daughter of the lord of the manor for her wedding in Westminster Abbey.
The meadow in which the flowers grow is leased to a local farmer who manages it for hay. He is obliged by contract, however, not to cut the grass before the fritillaries have flowered and seeded, guaranteeing the continuation of the flower and the event in the following year. Those who enjoy Morris dancing should note the purple and yellow ribbons on the sleeves of the dancers, which represent the purple of the fritillaries as well as the yellow of the dandelions which are their neighbours. The women's team similarly sport purple breeches and waitcoats.
For details and dates contact +44(0)1993 772175.
From 'Local Flora Britannica' (Common Ground, 1995)