Cold comfort from the teasel

It's been cold, freezing cold, but nature has a knack of creating little masterpieces whatever the weather.

These are teasels – the small teasel likes damp soils especially along woodland edges and clearings but you'll also find it along hedgerows and even riverbanks.

It's a biennial plant – it germinates in its first year, and flowers in its second. The first year it appears as a rosette of spine-coated leaves, which die in the second year.

It's normally a wild plant, but there's no reason why you shouldn't grow it in the garden.

Mention teasels to the older generations who once worked in woollen mills, and, like as not, they'll know them. 'Fuller's Teasel' (Dipsacus Fullonum), which, with its hooked spines, were used by to raise the nap on woollen cloth – to 'tease' it. It was bred from the small teasel to have larger, stiffer and spinier flower heads.

The plant, which can grow quite tall, produces hundreds of flowers between July and October. Bees love them.

Once it sets seed, it dies, but those seeds attract small birds, so it's well worth leaving the plant to act as a skeletal, but nutritious feeding station.

These two pictures were taken by Gordon Ratcliffe at Dove Cottage Nursery, on Shibden Hall Road, Halifax.

YP MAG 29/1/11