Last month I chose Ivy and this month it is Ivy Leaved Toadflax which in French is known as Ruine-de-Rome.
Both names tell us something about this little plant, its leaves are ivy shaped and it is a member of the Scropulariaceae family which includes Toadflaxes, Foxgloves and Antirrhinums, all those tube shaped flowers. The French name tells us more about where it grows, it is a plant that likes old walls and rocks with cracks and fissures, ie ruins. Also it is a native of southern and south western Europe. So it is not native to Britain and I am not sure if Poitou-Charentes is just inside its native range or just outside. Rome of course would be well within its original growing area.
The plant gets its roots well into the cracks between rocks and bricks in old walls, also in the gaps between stone paths. Unlike Ivy it does not do any harm to the walls it is growing on. Bye the way I got a comment from someone last month which said that Ivy does not damage brick and stonework which is in good repair. Well that maybe the case if it is perfectly pointed up and there is not a single crack but how many walls are that perfect? If there is one tiny crack the stems of ivy will enter and then with time they grow and increase in diameter and force the crack to get wider and wider and then secondary cracks develop and more ivy gets in as does water which turns to ice in winter and so on and so on..
OK end of rant, back to Ivy leaved Toadflax, and living in and on old walls, which during the summer months can dry out quite a lot, especially in warmer areas and so the plants can suffer quite a lot over the summer. Their main growth periods are thus in the wetter months of Spring and Autumn, which is also when you are most likely to see its beautiful little purple flowers. In mild areas and on south facing walls it will continue to flower right through the winter.
The flowers behave in a somewhat unique way. They exhibit both positive and negative phototropism. Photo is light, tropism is movement, So positive phototropism is moving to the light, which is what all flowers and plants do. Movement is effected by growing in the direction of the light, and this is obviously done by all flowers so that they are more visible to pollinators or if wind pollinated then growing up towards the sun is going to ensure the flowers are also in more exposed places where it is more windy. Negative phototropism is quite unusual in plants and it is growing away from the light. Roots are normally negatively phototrophic although they may be positively geotropic, I will leave you to work that one out. Toadflax flowers respond negatively to light once they have been pollinated so that as the seeds develop the flower stalk bends round and grows back to the wall and eventually into a dark crevice or crack, thus burying the seed, ready for subsequent germination.. Clever stuff, except it does not help the plant spread too far from the original plant. Cyclamens do the same thing.
This brings me back to how the plant has extended its range from southern Europe all the way up to northern Europe. Well it is quite pretty and was introduced as a garden plant for growing on rockeries. It was first grown in England at the Chelsea Botanic Garden and then was spread all over the country. Not only do people find it attractive but evidently it is edible, both the leaves and the flowers can be included in salads. It has a high vitamin C content and tastes, so I am told, like cress, ie a bit acrid and pungent.
To check out any other wildflowers you might come across have a look at https://poitoucharentesinphotos.wordpress.com/wildflowers-of-poitou-charentes/