Scarlet Pimpernel in Pickering: August 2020

When I first saw this tiny plant I instantly thought of the celebrated novel The Scarlet Pimpernel which is the first novel in a series of historical fiction by Baroness Orczy published in 1905. 

Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) with bottle cap

The novel is set during the Reign of Terror following the start of the French Revolution. The title is the nom de guerre of its hero and protagonist, a chivalrous Englishman who rescues aristocrats before they are sent to the guillotine. Sir Percy Blakeney leads a double life: apparently nothing more than a wealthy fop, but in reality a formidable swordsman and a quick-thinking escape artist. The band of gentlemen who assist him are the only ones who know of his secret identity. He is known by his symbol, a simple flower, the scarlet pimpernel.

Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis)

A native of Eurasia, scarlet pimpernel escaped from cultivation in North America in the 1930’s.

Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis)

Though it is found in lawns, gardens and along streams, I most often see it along roadsides.

Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis)

It apparently enjoys being near road salt.

Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis)

Scarlet Pimpernel is also called poorman’s-weatherglass because the flowers close under cloudy skies.

I spent the morning exploring some rural fields in Pickering:

August seems to be the month of insects:

Asian Beetle
Carolina Grasshopper
Carolina Grasshopper
White Admiral
Cabbage White Butterfly
Cabbage White Butterfly
White-faced Meadowhawk
White-faced Meadowhawk
White-faced Meadowhawk

Some botany:

Black Maple (Acer nigrum)
Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra)
Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis)
Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii)
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus inserta)
Late Goldenrod (Solidago gigantea)
Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora)
Evening Primrose (Oenothera)
Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare)
Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)
Spearscale (Atriplex patula)
Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
Elecampane (Inula helenium)
Enchanter’s-nightshade ( Circaea canadensis)
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)
Alternate-leaved Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Riverbank Grape (Vitis riparia)
Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)
Red Oak (Quercus rubra)
Creeping Bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides)
Thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana)
Stickseed (Hackelia deflexa)
Stickseed (Hackelia deflexa) showing where the name comes from.
Queen-Anne’s-lace (Daucus carota)
Field Sow-thistle (Sonchus arvensis)
Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
Wild Mint (Mentha canadensis)
Tartarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica)
Hedge-parsley (Torilis japonica)
Phragmites (Phragmites australis)
White Campion (Silene latifolia)
Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria)


Have you seen the forest-pool
In the summer? Clear and cool.           – William Canton (1845–1926) 

Miles Hearn

2 thoughts on “Scarlet Pimpernel in Pickering: August 2020

  1. Lisa Volkov

    So now I’ve seen the actual flower on which this character’s name was based. I was aware of this story, there is a movie based on it, too, but I haven’t seen or read it.
    Gorgeous place, beautiful botany (and insects). Thanks, Miles!

  2. Patricia Lund

    I love to find out meaningful stories using botanical names. I have often wondered about the Scarlet Pimpernel and thought what an exotic name, not realizing it had an existence outside fiction.
    You are always keeping us interested and tuned in.
    Thank you Miles.


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