Field and Devil’s-bit Scabious are two of Scotland’s more eye-catching grassland plants. They’ve appealed to us for centuries, if not millennia.

The delightful pincushion lilac flowers of Field Scabious, Knautia arvensis, have started appearing on my drier, grassy and alkaline banks and will flower throughout the summer. They’re fairly well scattered across the country up to around 350 metres.

Devil’s-bit Scabious, Succisa pratensis, has a wider range in Scotland. Seemingly the Devil can cope with greater altitude, as much as 670 metres. He reputedly bit off part of the root, leaving it a little truncated. Nonetheless, after starting to flower later than field Scabious, it manages to produce delightful blue flowers and keeps going right through till autumn.

Devil’s-bit Scabious prefers damper soil and a little shade but does need an open aspect as I’ve noticed in a nearby nature reserve.

Over time trees in the reserve have made it too gloomy and the plants died out. This is partly because Scabious plants generally don’t spread far despite their appeal to pollinators. A study showed that Field Scabious use ants to spread their seeds which have an attached elaiosome, a small structure containing starch and oil. After carting the seed a few metres to their nest they feed the elaiosome to their young. Interestingly, germination rates are higher once the elaiosome is removed.

Although bees and other pollinators carry pollen further, most plant establishment is very local and helps explain why these Scabious species are becoming rarer.

Swedish research has also shown that Scabious can’t tolerate richer modern farmland but need the low-nutrient grassland and field edges of more traditional farms.

Since modern farming methods have created more difficult conditions for Scabious, both species are well worth adding to any meadow mix in gardens. They tick all the boxes: they flower when there’s little else around, they attract a huge squad of pollinators and they need our help. I certainly wouldn’t be without them.

You’ll often get Scabious seed in general meadow mixes, but, as with many of the more attractive plants, it pays to sow it in seed trays in early autumn. Keep seedlings moist and out of direct sunlight. Pot on and plant as plugs in spring. This avoids the risk of only having toughies like Ox-eyed daisies. Scotia Seeds supply packs of both species.

Field and Devil’s-bit Scabious are not the best border plants, but you could try varieties bred from related foreign species, like ‘Black cat’ bred from Scabiosa atropurea, and ‘Miss Willmott’ from S. caucasica.

Plant of the week

Pea ‘Jaguar’ is an early main crop variety that grows to about 70 cm. It produces double pods with an average of 8 delicious peas in each. Jaguar is healthy and crops well despite the vagaries of the Scottish weather.

Freshly picked garden peas are one of the highlights of my summer and more than worth all the staking.

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