As we get closer to reintroducing the legendary Nottingham Catchfly back to the Castle grounds, we thought we’d answer a few of the questions you might have about the flower.

Thanks to our volunteer Jann, placement student Rebecca and volunteer manager Pippa for all their hard work researching the Catchfly.

Does the Nottingham Catchfly have any other names?

Nottingham Catchfly is the common name for the flower. It is also known as “Nodding Catchfly” and “Eurasian Campion” – the former because the flower bows as if nodding, and the latter because the plant can be spotted across Europe and Asia.

Silene nutans is the Latin botanical name. It was previously known as Lychnis Sylvestris nona Clussi and Polemonium petraum Gesneri, and more commonly as “White Wild Catchfly”.

Is Nottingham Catchfly originally from Nottingham?

Blackberry and Nottingham Catchfly, Joris Hoefnagel & Georg Bocskay (1561–1562)
Blackberry and Nottingham Catchfly, Joris Hoefnagel & Georg Bocskay (1561–1562). J. Paul Getty Museum collection.

Maybe! So far, the earliest record of the wildflower we have found dates to the mid-1500s through a watercolour created in Vienna, Austria and now part of the J. Paul Getty Museum’s collection in Los Angeles.

This is not to say that Nottingham Catchfly wasn’t already within Nottingham Castle’s walls at that time; we just don’t have records of it.

The first mention of the Catchfly in Nottingham comes from Botanist John Ray on 10 December 1669. In a letter to the naturalist, Martin Lister, he asked for his thoughts on a plant his botanical collector, Thomas Willisel, had found on Nottingham

Castle’s walls. Four months later, in yet another letter to Lister, Ray confirmed he had “personally observed growing about Nottingham Castle walls the Lychnis” (aka. Nottingham Catchfly).

Nottingham Catchfly as the name appeared in 1787 through William Withering’s A Botanical Arrangement of British Plants. The name has stuck since.

Why did it disappear from Nottingham? Nottingham Castle aflame 1831

Was it the fire of 1831 that killed it off? Not at all – if anything, it seemed to thrive! In his 1839 book The Flora of Nottinghamshire, Godfrey Howitt wrote that since the burning, the plant had “establishing itself on the walls, in the crevices between the stones, and in every place it was possible to obtain footing”. Nottingham Catchfly was a survivor of fires. Our Daenerys Targaryen in plant form. (If the Game of Thrones reference does not ring with you, how about seeing Catchfly as a phoenix?)

So, what happened?! Was it considered a weed? A victim of the loss of prestige around wildflowers? Did it disappear due to mismanagement? Or contamination? We don’t know.

The species declined during the 19th century, as restoration works to the Castle and its grounds all but exterminated the plants, although there were accounts of the wildflower still being present. The last record of the flower was in 1934, when one flower was seen in a new rockery. Unfortunately, the flower was destroyed before it could set seed.  According to the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, Nottingham Catchfly is a nationally scarce and near threatened in Great Britain. Now, the Nottingham Catchfly Champions are coming to the rescue!

BONUS TRIVIA:

Why are the Nottingham Castle volunteers called Champions?          

This is based on one of the Catchfly’s other names: Eurasian Campions.  ‘Campions’ sounds like ‘Champions’…so, voila, our volunteers just had to be known as Champions!

We also launched our #CampionsLeague hashtag over on Twitter for our volunteers to show photos of their seedlings. We also thoroughly enjoyed thinking about how we would baffle football fans with it…

If you are a Champion, we’d love to hear what this project has been like for you – please post your pictures and thoughts with the hashtags #NottinghamCatchfly and #CampionsLeague or email them to pvidaldavies@nottinghamcastle.org.uk

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