As I write, there are hundreds of young plants in our newly sown wildflower meadow, ready to become the key that will unlock the door to even more of a magical mixture of wild flowers. These plants are yellow rattle. And if we want to have a successful wildflower meadow then we certainly want to encourage Rhinanthus minor.
It is semi-parasitic on grasses, weakening them by feeding off the nutrients in their roots and therefore allowing other wild flowers to flourish.
It gets its name because when the seeds set and ripen they rattle in the brown seedpod before it dries and splits and they fall to the ground. Now that our meadow is beginning to have hundreds of yellow rattle in it, when we walk through it from early July onwards, it will truly rattle like a Spanish band of maracas.
However, it is not uniform and some areas have no yellow rattle at all – but it will come. But it is quite particular in its demands and we have to be careful as we could lose the plant as quickly as we have gained it. It is an annual so we must make sure we do not cut it before it has had a chance for the seed to ripen as there will be no plants next year. Also the seed has no dormancy and needs to be sown immediately which happens naturally as it falls or is knocked. It also needs direct contact with the soil to germinate. If all this wasn’t enough it needs sufficient rainfall in spring to help it grow. But when I see those nettle-like leaves start to appear next spring, I shall breathe a huge sigh of relief as I know the cycle can start again.