Cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratensis), is a beautiful, delicate flower. It was the first plant I ever learned the Latin name of. It is a member of the bittercress family and is one of the first spring time flowers to welcome you on walks in the countryside.
One of it's common names comes from the fact it appears around the same time that cuckoos appear back in the UK and begin to call. It is a real symbol of spring.
Like most plants it has many other common and local names the most frequently used being lady's smock, mayflower, or milkmaids. There has been a long association with this plant and mayday especially as it adorned so many by-ways. It was however, believed to be sacred to the fairies so picking it, and bringing it indoors as part of a flower garland was seen as bad luck. The flower tends to wilt quickly when picked, maybe because the fairies would rather it was left to grow in peace.
'Lady's-smock' refers to the cupped shape of the flowers perhaps resembling a dress or skirt. 'Smock' was also once a slang term for women and the name may have been suggestive of springtime fertility activities in the meadows when it grows!
Cuckooflower has benificial digestive properties and used to be a popular spring salad plant adding vibrant green and delicate lilac flowers to brighten a meal. It has a pungent cress-like flavour.
It always makes me smile whenever I see it. See if you can spot some and say hello when you are next out for a walk.