According to Natural England, in the last sixty years England has lost most of its species-rich semi-natural grassland. Increasing the numbers and species of native wild flowers can go some way to restoring this valuable habitat.
Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) is a hemi-parasitic plant – a plant that attaches itself to the roots of a host but also photosynthesizes. This particular species attaches itself to the roots of various course grasses, thereby acting as a control mechanism which in turn leaves space for the introduction and spread of wild flowers. However, getting this annual to perform to its best potential can be a little tricky.
In meadows where sheep and cattle roam and graze freely, this hemi-parasitic plant flourishes year on year bringing about a balance between course, invasive grasses and wildflowers. Its survival i.e. successful germination, appears to depend on one or more certain criteria:
- Cutting the area at the end of July and removing the cuttings
- Grazing in autumn
Whilst it is easy to see how cutting would help to spread the seeds around the meadow, grazing may not be practical especially in a garden or urban setting. So what benefit does grazing have and how can the effect be mimicked?
It is not the actual grazing that provides the catalyst for germination, rather it is the systematic treading of hooves that bring the small flat seeds into firm contact with the soil. This valuable snippet of information therefore indirectly provides a simple remedy for success.
When cutting down your wildflower meadow – whether you do this in July, the end of September or both – pay no heed to the amount of footfall that occurs across the meadow. This very simple act of treading down the grasses and wild flowers, will ensure the success of the Yellow Rattle and thereby the continued balance of your wildflower meadow.