Cardamine pratensis, the cuckoo flower, lady's smock, mayflower, or milkmaids, is a flowering plant in the family Brassicaceae, native throughout most of Europe and Western Asia. The specific name pratensis is Latin for "meadow".
DescriptionCardamine pratensis is a herbaceous, hairless, perennial plant growing to 40–60 cm tall, with pinnate leaves 5–12 cm long with 3–15 leaflets, each leaflet about 1 cm long. The flowers are produced on a spike 10–30 cm long, each flower 1–2 cm in diameter with four very pale violet-pink (rarely white) petals. The style of the fruit is short or longish. It grows best close to water.
Its common name cuckooflower derives from the formation of the plant's flowers at around the same time as the arrival each spring of the first cuckoos in the British Isles.
It is grown as an ornamental plant in gardens, and has become naturalised in North America as a result of cultivation. In some European countries, including parts of Germany, the plant is now under threat.
It is a food plant for the orange tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines) and makes a valuable addition to any garden which aims at attracting wildlife. It was once used as a substitute for watercress.
In folklore it was said to be sacred to the fairies, and so was unlucky if brought indoors. It was not included in May Day garlands for the same reason.
DistributionThe species is commonly found throughout the British Isles. Recorded in Ireland from all 40 of the "vice-counties" (a system adopted by Praeger in 1901).