Stellaria holostea - Greater Stitchwort

Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Equisetopsida - Order: Caryophyllales - Family: Caryophyllaceae

Greater stitchwort

Once the Snowdrops have faded and died, Greater Stitchwort is the next common white-flowered plant to brighten our hedgerows and woodland edges.

Identification

Identifying this wildflower is not difficult, but what can be misleading is the variable depth of notches at the tips of each of its five white petals - yes, there are five, not ten as some of the deeply-notched specimens might lead us to believe. The flowers are typically 2 to 3 cm in diameter.

Stems of Greater Stitchwort are quite brittle but strong enough to support the flowers in all but the wildest of spring gales. The grey-green leaves are narrow and pointed, looking very much like some kind of grass - until the flower stems appear to confirm the identity.

Greater Stitchwort, Stellaria holostea, closeup of flowers

Distribution

This wildflower is widespread and very common throughout Britain and Ireland. Greater Stitchwort can be found in northern and central mainland European countries, too.

Habitat

Like its relative Lesser Stitchwort,Greater Stitchwort does not appreciate waterlogged sites, and so in some of thewettest areas it is mainly confined to slopes. Elsewhere it is one of themost abundant of spring flowers, most common in hedgerows and beside woodland paths and rides.

Greater stitchwort and Red Campion on the roadside bank

This straggly white-flowered perennial makes quite a show in hedgerows when it is interspersed with Red Campion and Bluebells in late spring.

Blooming Times

Greater stitchwort begins flowering in late March and continues through tothe end of June and sometimes well into July, although mid April to mid May is when their finest floral displays generally occur.

Uses

Why this lovely wildflower should ever have been given the alternative and very derogatory common name of Poor Man's Buttonhole is hard to fathom. Its more generally used common name Stitchwort is a reference to a herbal remedy in which this plant is used allegedly to cure that pain in the side known as 'stitch', which afflicts many people when they try to run after a long layoff from sporting activities.

Greater Stitchwort, Pembrokeshire UK

Etymology

Stellaria, the genus name, means star-like. The specific epithet holostea comes from the Greek holosteon, literally meaning 'entire bone'; thus it is a derogatory reference to the brittleness of the weak stems of this plant.

Similar Species

Lesser Stitchwort Stellaria graminea has much smaller flowers and grows mainly in open grassland. Other related species include the various chickweeds.

The pictures shown on this page were taken in West Wales during April and early May.


Volume 1

We hope that you have found this information helpful. If so we are sure you would find our books Wonderful Wildflowers of Wales, vols 1 to 4, by Sue Parker and Pat O'Reilly very useful too. Buy copies here...

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