Friday, 17 April 2015

In search of Fraucups

Snake's-head fritillaries used to be found in water meadows across southern and central England, but today's farming and drainage has left most of these ancient meadows dry and overgrazed. They are now one of the rarest plants in the UK and you would usually only be able to see them at a few specially managed sites, such as BBOWT's Iffley Meadows in Oxford.

Fraucup or Snakes-head fritillary
However, my Mum remembers visiting the Fraucup meadows in a hamlet near us called Ford. There used to be thousands of Snakes-head fritillaries growing in the meadows and every year on the second Sunday in May, everybody would go out and pick them. They called them Fraucups, which may be from Frogcups or even Fordcups and people would come from all over Buckinghamshire to collect them. She couldn't remember exactly which fields they were in, but we decided to try and find out if they were still there.

I did some research and managed to find a blog post ( from 2011 that identified the location and said they had found about 50 plants. Not the thousands there once were, but we were still hopeful. We set out this morning on our mission to locate the Fraucups.

We hunted high and low, climbed over stiles, walked over rickety bridges and searched through the fields, but we only managed to find two flowers. Still brilliant to find two out in the wild, on unmanaged sites, but also desperately sad that there were only two!

Our two fraucups
Fraucup meadow had been grazed almost bare and had no wildflowers growing in it.
Fraucup meadow should be full of bobbing purple chequered flowers
We found a large pond next to the meadow and there were plenty of streams running around the edge of all the fields, indicating the fields could flood, but everywhere felt too tidy and well drained. All of the nearby fields were the same, grazed by sheep and bare of wildflowers. Such a shame that another annual tradition and natural spectacle appears to have been lost!

The lambs were very cute though!
The fritillaries were first recorded in Ford in 1736, but local legend has it that they were a garden escapee from the tudor gardens at Waldridge manor. The seeds were washed downstream on Ford Brook to the Ford meadows where they established themselves. They later moved downstream to Thame and then on to the meadows of Magdalen College in Oxford.

During our hunt, we saw our first Speckled Wood of the year and several Orange Tip butterflies.

Speckled Wood

Male and female Orange Tip butterflies

Male orange tip
The blackthorn blossom was covering the bushes and looked like snow.


Blackthorn blossom
We also found some lady' smock, also known as cuckooflower, which is the foodplant of the orange tip caterpillars. Apparently in folklore it's supposed to be sacred to the fairies, so should never be taken indoors and was never put into May garlands.

Lady's smock

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Good stuff on the fritillaries. Very rare wildflower now, you are very lucky even if it was only two. BTW did you see my latest How To Draw? I finally got round to those butterflies you requested. Also can BMG take a look on some of my insects on my latest post, I want to know who made the silk tent on the gorse. Thanks.