As autumn progresses some hedges particularly on lime rich soils can become topped with a white feathery beard which can persist through the winter. Also known as travellers joy, old man’s beard is surprisingly a member of the buttercup family (Clematis vitalba). It is common in the south of the country but has spread to many areas.

Folklore says that it does the devil’s work because of its ability to out compete other plants by swamping them leading to one of its other names ‘devils cut’. As a result, some people treat it as a weed, as with most things however it is about moderation as it also provides habitat for wildlife. In the spring its flowers are used by pollinators such as hoverflies and bees. It also provides habitat for a range of moth and butterfly species rely on it as a food resource for larvae and caterpillars. In the winter the seeds become a food source for birds like goldfinches.

It also had practical uses historically: in coastal areas it was wound into cord and used to make the bottoms of crab pots, it was also used to bind sheaves of corn as it was though rats wouldn’t gnaw through them, another name for the plant ‘smokewood’ comes from its use as cigarette substitute although the plant is poison to eat, which doesn’t stop the fresh buds being boiled and cooked into omelettes in southern Europe.

Illustration by Joanna Uglow