Sunday, August 25, 2013

Rhinanthus - Rattle/ Skjaller

Rinanthus, Viborg 2009


Rhinanthus = Rattle/ Danish: Skjaller is a genus of annual hemiparasitic herbs. The genus consists of about 30-40 species found in Europe, northern Asia and North America, with the greatest species diversity (28 species) in Europe

Rhinanthus is seen everywhere in Denmark. The species is connected to ligth-open habitats with a neutral soil, it tolerates drought but the plant also cope well in moist meadows and it is often seen in dunes and meadows, beach meadows, pastures and heaths. There are only two species of wildgrowing Rinanthus in Denmark:
1)  Rhinanthus minor = Yellow Rattle or Cockscomb /Liden Skjaller and 2) Rhinanthus serotinus = Rattle/ Stor Skjaller. Both species have several sub-species.

The stems are square and without hairs, and the leaves are opposite. They are lancetshaped with a serrated edge. The flowers are in a cluster and the fruits are capsules with many seeds. The root system is rather tenous, it is a taproot with side roots which establish contact with suitable host plants (esp. grasses) which they such for water and minerals. The parasitisme of the Rinanthus species affect the surrpounding plant-society in a negative way. 

The fruit is a dry capsule, which contain loose, rattling seeds when ripe; the plant's name refers to these. Children had in the old days fun shaking the ripe plant as a rattle. The plant was also called rattle flower, but also money herb since the dry seeds sounded like paper money. The dry stems caused troube when the farmers were beating hay. The rattle and especially the subspecies rye Rattle (rugskjaller) might have been introduced with the rye cultivation and was in many districts a feared and troublesome weed. In  1688 a district in North Jutland had a rule in their city laws that the rattle and the corncockle (skjaller og klinte)  had to be hatched from the fields and be brought at home at once and burnt.

The rattle is in 1778-1850 mentioned as the worst weed in the western section of Jutland, and the farmers tried to fight it with hatching before blooming, the rye was also unsalable if it was contaminated with the seeds. The farmers expected a bad year for the hay if the rattle grew in numbers in the meadows. If the rattle was found en masse in the corn it removed the crop from the seed and made the bread almost black, the rye flour got a bluish colour and a sweet taste - and the bread was indigestible. But if rye was cultivated at the same place several years in a row the plant became almost extinct.

New Research. 
Research at the UK'sCentre for ecology and hydrology has shown that encouraging Yellow Rattle to grow in hay meadows greatly increases biodiversity by restricting grass growth and thereby allowing other species to thrive. The seeds are spread very effectively by traditional hay-making practices.

Ancient Harvesting Warnings
When the rattle was ripe the hay harvest started. When the seeds were ripe and the capsules dry the farmers could start beating the hay. This was also said upon the Faroe islands.

Folk Medicine.
The plant is mentioned as a means for the cattle's bloody urine.
The essence from the flowers or from the whole plant used as a drink or as a bath of wounds, pains in the joints and intestinal worms. 

At the Faroe islands: People used to put the plant into the nose to stop nose bleeding ( 1789).

Source: V.J. Brøndegaard, "folk og flora", Dansk Etnobotanik, bd. 4, 1979 
Danmarks flora/ wikipedia. 

photo Viborg 2009: grethe bachmann

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