“There from his rocky pulpit, I heard a cry
The Stonecrop: See how loose to earth I grow,
And draw my juicy nurture from the sky:
So draw not thou, fond man, thy root so low.,
But loosely clinging here,
From God’s supernatural sphere
Draw life’s unearthly food – catch Heaven’s undying glow.”
Rev. R. W. Evans, 1898
Between June and September if you look carefully at some of the granite tors and old field walls and you will no doubt come across a starry, pink mat of small flowers. They can form some really picturesque floral displays especially when dotted around small Dartmoor outcrops. Nobody can say they are a rare species or confined to the moor but they certainly can be classed as part of the living landscape be they carpeting a tor or an old wall.
This iconic little plant is the English Stonecrop or to be more exact Sedum anglicum. There are in fact three types of Stonecrop to be found; the White Stonecrop, the Biting Stonecrop and the English Stonecrop. By far the most common in the Westcountry is the English Stonecrop.
English Stonecrop is a creeping, mat-forming, perennial herb which grows up to between 4 and 10 cm tall. The fleshy leaves are green but as they age turning a reddish colour. The 5 petalled flowers are predominantly white with a pink hue. Carpets of English Stonecrop are veritable wildlife sanctuaries with numerous beetles and bugs making it there homes. Bees and hoverflies also are very attracted to the plant.
As far as alternative local names for the English Stonecrop go there aren’t that many, in fact there is but one; Pig’s Ear, due to the similarity of the shape of the leaves.
Stonecrop – Laughter Tor
Stonecrop – Pew Tor
Stonecrop – Heckwood Tor
There was an old belief on Dartmoor that if it grew on ones roof then it would ward off thunderstorms and protected against lightning strike and fire. Sometimes the plant was known as the ‘Thunder Flower’ for this very reason. An article published in ‘The Pharmaceutical Journal’ of 1902 relates the testimony of an old woman who described how during a thunderstorm a streak of lightening struck her cottage roof and turned the stonecrop flowers to jelly but caused no damage to the property. This practice also applied to some blacksmith’s forges mainly due to the fact that all the metal lying around would present an added risk of attracting a lightening strike. Knowing nothing about the conductivity properties of lightening but could it be that having a mat of Stonecrop on a roof would act as some sort of insulator? Not only would the plant provide protection against lightening but also it was thought to be pretty good at preventing any kind a malevolent witchcraft. In the ‘language’ of flowers English Stonecrop is supposed to represent tranquillity.
Medicinally the English Stonecrop was traditionally a common curative found in the medicine cabinets of moor folk. Due to its fleshy leaves the plant was often used to make poultices for use in cuts and deep wounds. The actual juice of the Stonecrop was once thought to ease the symptoms of dermatitis, erysipelas and shingles. So as not to neglect all of the plant the seeds would be applied with a lined cloth to ease the numerous varieties of ‘the itch’. Should a person ever suffer from insomnia then a sure cure was to wrap some S
English Stonecrop has a distinct peppery taste and was/is sometimes added to salads, as Evelyn commented in the 1500s; “When young and tender, is a frequent ingredient in our cold sallet.”
One of the modern uses for the plant is as an ecological roof insulator and is actively encouraged to grow on roofs. Not only does the plant insulate against the cold winter weather but also the hot summer weather and additionally it acts as a soundproofing. They also provide a micro-climate for birds and insects and it is said improve the air quality. As a rough guide a square metre biodiverse mat of English Stonecrop will cost around £5. However, one could say that this use of the plant is not quite as new as it seems for Stonecrop was often see growing on the roofs of cottages on Dartmoor. Back in 1905 Eden Phillpotts described the scene of Belstone village; “It’s roofs were crusted with moss cushions and stonecrops…“. Was it that the moorfolk couldn’t be bothered to remove the stonecrop or did they know that it helped insulate their homes?
For anyone into bushcraft then the chances are that when you come across a mat of Stonecrop it will be growing in a south facing spot which regularly caught the sun which can be a good direction indicator.