PLANTS AND THE WEATHER.
The influence of the weather on plants is an agricultural belief which
is firmly credited by the modern husbandman. In many instances his
meteorological notions are the result of observation, although in some
cases the reason assigned for certain pieces of weather-lore is
obvious. Incidental allusion has already been made to the astrological
doctrine of the influence of the moon's changes on plants--a belief
which still retains its hold in most agricultural districts. It appears
that in years gone by "neither sowing, planting, nor grafting was ever
undertaken without a scrupulous attention to the increase or waning of
the moon;" and the advice given by Tusser in his "Five Hundred Points
of Husbandry" is not forgotten even at the present day:--
"Sow peas and beans in the wane of the moon,
Who soweth them sooner, he soweth too soon,
That they with the planet may rest and rise,
And flourish with bearing, most plentiful-wise."
Many of the old gardening books give the same advice, although by some
it has been severely ridiculed.
Scott, in his "Discoverie of Witchcraft," notes how, "the poor
husbandman perceiveth that the increase of the moon maketh plants
fruitful, so as in the full moone they are in best strength, decaying in
the wane, and in the conjunction do entirely wither and fade."
Similarly the growth of mushrooms is said to be affected by the weather,
and in Devonshire apples "shrump up" if picked during a waning moon.
One reason, perhaps, for the attention so universally paid to the moon's
changes in agricultural pursuits is, writes Mr. Farrer, "that they are
far more remarkable than any of the sun's, and more calculated to
inspire dread by the nocturnal darkness they contend with, and hence are
held in popular fancy nearly everywhere, to cause, portend, or accord
with changes in the lot of mortals, and all things terrestrial."
On this assumption may be explained the idea that the, "moon's wane
makes things on earth to wane; when it is new or full it is everywhere
the proper season for new crops to be sown." In the Hervey Islands
cocoa-nuts are generally planted in the full of the moon, the size of
the latter being regarded as symbolical of the ultimate fulness of the
In the same way the weather of certain seasons of the year is supposed
to influence the vegetable world, and in Rutlandshire we are told that
"a green Christmas brings a heavy harvest;" but a full moon about
Christmas Day is unlucky, hence the adage:
"Light Christmas, light wheatsheaf,
Dark Christmas, heavy wheatsheaf."
If the weather be clear on Candlemas Day "corn and fruits will then be
dear," and "whoever doth plant or sow on Shrove Tuesday, it will always
remain green." According to a piece of weather-lore in Sweden, there is
a saying that to strew ash branches in a field on Ash Wednesday is
equivalent to three days' rain and three days' sun. Rain on Easter Day
foretells a good harvest but poor hay crop, while thunder on All Fool's
Day "brings good crops of corn and hay." According to the "Shepherd's
Calendar," if, "Midsummer Day be never so little rainy the hazel and
walnut will be scarce; corn smitten in many places; but apples, pears,
and plums will not be hurt." And we are further reminded:--
"Till St. James's Day be come and gone,
There may be hops or there may be none."
Speaking of hops, it is said, "plenty of ladybirds, plenty of hops."
It is also a popular notion among our peasantry that if a drop of rain
hang on an oat at this season there will be a good crop. Another
agricultural adage says:--
"No tempest, good July, lest corn come off bluely."
Then there is the old Michaelmas rhyme:--
"At Michaelmas time, or a little before,
Half an apple goes to the core;
At Christmas time, or a little after,
A crab in the hedge, and thanks to the grafter."
On the other hand, the blossoming of plants at certain times is said to
be an indication of the coming weather, and so when the bramble blooms
early in June an early harvest may be expected; and in the northern
counties the peasant judges of the advance of the year by the appearance
of the daisy, affirming that "spring has not arrived till you can set
your foot on twelve daisies." We are also told that when many hawthorn
blossoms are seen a severe winter will follow; and, according to
Wilsford, "the broom having plenty of blossoms is a sign of a fruitful
year of corn." A Surrey proverb tells us that "It's always cold when the
blackthorn comes into flower;" and there is the rhyme which reminds
"If the oak is out before the ash,
'Twill be a summer of wet and splash;
But if the ash is before the oak,
'Twill be a summer of fire and smoke."
There are several versions of this piece of weather-lore, an old Kentish
one being "Oak, smoke; ash, quash;" and according to a version given in
Notes and Queries (1st Series v. 71):--
"If the oak's before the ash, then you'll only get a splash,
If the ash precedes the oak, then you may expect a soak."
From the "Shepherd's Calendar" we learn that, "If in the fall of the
leaf in October many leaves wither on the boughs and hang there, it
betokens a frosty winter and much snow," with which may be compared a
"If good apples you would have
The leaves must go into the grave."
Or, in other words, "you must plant your trees in the fall of the leaf."
And again, "Apples, pears, hawthorn-quick, oak; set them at
All-hallow-tide and command them to prosper; set them at Candlemas and
entreat them to grow."
In Germany, too, there is a rhyme which may be thus translated:--
"When the hawthorn bloom too early shows,
We shall have still many snows."
In the same way the fruit of trees and plants was regarded as a
prognostication of the ensuing weather, and Wilsford tells us that
"great store of walnuts and almonds presage a plentiful year of corn,
especially filberts." The notion that an abundance of haws betokens a
hard winter is still much credited, and has given rise to the familiar
Another variation of the same adage in Kent is, "A plum year, a dumb
year," and, "Many nits, many pits," implying that the abundance of nuts
in the autumn indicates the "pits" or graves of those who shall succumb
to the hard and inclement weather of winter; but, on the other hand, "A
cherry year, a merry year." A further piece of weather-lore tells us:--
"Many rains, many rowans;
Many rowans, many yawns,"
The meaning being that an abundance of rowans--the fruit of the
mountain-ash--denote a deficient harvest.
Among further sayings of this kind may be noticed one relating to the
onion, which is thus:--
"Onion's skin very thin,
Mild-winter's coming in;
Onion's skin thick and tough,
Coming winter cold and rough."
Again, many of our peasantry have long been accustomed to arrange their
farming pursuits from the indications given them by sundry trees and
plants. Thus it is said--
"When the sloe tree is as white as a sheet,
Sow your barley whether it be dry or wet."
With which may be compared another piece of weather-lore:--
"When the oak puts on his gosling grey,
'Tis time to sow barley night or day."
The leafing of the elm has from time immemorial been made to regulate
agricultural operations, and hence the old rule:--
"When the elmen leaf is as big as a mouse's ear,
Then to sow barley never fear.
When the elmen leaf is as big as an ox's eye,
Then say I, 'Hie, boys, hie!'"
A Warwickshire variation is:--
"When elm leaves are big as a shilling,
Plant kidney beans, if to plant 'em you're willing.
When elm leaves are as big as a penny,
You _must_ plant kidney beans if you mean to have any."
But if the grass grow in January, the husbandman is recommended to "lock
his grain in the granary," while a further proverb informs us that:--
"On Candlemas Day if the thorns hang a drop,
You are sure of a good pea crop."
In bygone times the appearance of the berries of the elder was held to
indicate the proper season for sowing wheat:--
"With purple fruit when elder branches bend,
And their high hues the hips and cornels lend,
Ere yet chill hoar-frost comes, or sleety rain,
Sow with choice wheat the neatly furrowed plain."
The elder is not without its teaching, and according to a popular old
"When the elder is white, brew and bake a peck,
When the elder is black, brew and bake a sack."
According to an old proverb, "You must look for grass on the top of the
oak tree," the meaning being, says Ray, that "the grass seldom springs
well before the oak begins to put forth."
In the Western Counties it is asserted that frost ceases as soon as the
mulberry tree bursts into leaf, with which may be compared the words of
Autolycus in the "Winter's Tale" (iv. 3):--
"When daffodils begin to peer,
With heigh! the doxy over the dale,
Why, then conies in the sweet o' the year."
The dairyman is recommended in autumn to notice the appearance of the
"When the fern is as high as a ladle,
You may sleep as long as you are able.
When the fern begins to look red,
Then milk is good with brown bread."
Formerly certain agricultural operations were regulated by the seasons,
and an old rule tells the farmer--
"Upon St. David's Day, put oats and barley in the clay."
Another version being:--
"Sow peas and beans on David and Chad,
Be the weather good or bad."
A Somersetshire piece of agricultural lore fixes an earlier date, and
bids the farmer to "sow or set beans in Candlemas waddle." In connection
with the inclement weather that often prevails throughout the spring
months it is commonly said, "They that go to their corn in May may come
weeping away," but "They that go in June may come back with a merry
tune." Then there is the following familiar pretty couplet, of which
there are several versions:--
"The bee doth love the sweetest flower,
So doth the blossom the April shower."
In connection with beans, there is a well-known adage
"Be it weal or be it woe,
Beans should blow before May go."
Of the numerous other items of plant weather-lore, it is said that
"March wind wakes the ether (_i. e_., adder) and blooms the whin;" and
many of our peasantry maintain that:--
"A peck of March dust and a shower in May,
Makes the corn green and the fields gay."
It should also be noted that many plants are considered good barometers.
Chickweed, for instance, expands its leaves fully when fine weather is
to follow; but "if it should shut up, then the traveller is to put on
his greatcoat." The same, too, is said to be the case with the
pimpernel, convolvulus, and clover; while if the marigold does not open
its petals by seven o'clock in the morning, either rain or thunder may
be expected in the course of the day. According to Wilsford, "tezils, or
fuller's thistle, being gathered and hanged up in the house, where the
air may come freely to it, upon the alteration of cold and windy weather
will grow smoother, and against rain will close up its prickles." Once
more, according to the "Shepherd's Calendar," "Chaff, leaves,
thistle-down, or such light things whisking about and turning round
foreshows tempestuous winds;" And Coles, in his introduction to the
"Knowledge of Plants," informs us that, "If the down flieth off
colt's-foot, dandelion, and thistles when there is no wind, it is a sign
Some plants, again, have gained a notoriety from opening or shutting
their flowers at the sun's bidding; in allusion to which Perdita remarks
in the "Winter's Tale" (iv. 3):--
"The marigold, that goes to bed with the sun, and with him
It was also erroneously said, like the sun-flower, to
turn its blossoms to the sun, the latter being thus
described by Thomson:--
"The lofty follower of the sun,
Sad when he sets, shuts up her yellow leaves,
Drooping all night, and, when he warm returns,
Points her enamour'd bosom to his ray."
Another plant of this kind is the endive, which is said to open its
petals at eight o'clock in the morning, and to close them at four in the
afternoon. Thus we are told how:--
"On upland slopes the shepherds mark
The hour when, to the dial true,
Cichorium to the towering lark,
Lifts her soft eye, serenely blue."
And as another floral index of the time of day may be noticed the
goat's-beard, opening at sunrise and closing at noon--hence one of its
popular names of "Go to bed at noon." This peculiarity is described by
"And goodly now the noon-tide hour,
When from his high meridian tower
The sun looks down in majesty,
What time about, the grassy lea.
The goat's-beard, prompt his rise to hail,
With broad expanded disk, in veil
Close mantling wraps its yellow head,
And goes, as peasants say, to bed."
The dandelion has been nicknamed the peasant's clock, its flowers
opening very early in the morning; while its feathery seed-tufts have
long been in requisition as a barometer with children:--
"Dandelion, with globe of down,
The schoolboy's clock in every town,
Which the truant puffs amain
To conjure lost hours back again."
Among other flowers possessing a similar feature may be noticed the wild
succory, creeping mallow, purple sandwort, small bindweed, common
nipplewort, and smooth sow-thistle. Then of course there is the
pimpernel, known as the shepherd's clock and poor man's weather-glass;
while the small purslane and the common garden lettuce are also included
in the flower-clock.
Among further items of weather-lore associated with May, we are told how
he that "sows oats in May gets little that way," and "He who mows in May
will have neither fruit nor hay." Calm weather in June "sets corn in
tune;" and a Suffolk adage says:--
"Cut your thistles before St. John,
You will have two instead of one."
But "Midsummer rain spoils hay and grain," whereas it is commonly said
"A leafy May, and a warm June,
Bring on the harvest very soon."
Again, boisterous wet weather during the month of July is to be
deprecated, for, as the old adage runs:--
"No tempest, good July,
Lest the corn look surly."
Flowers of this kind are very numerous, and under a variety of forms
prevail largely in our own and other countries, an interesting
collection of which have been collected by Mr. Swainson in his
interesting little volume on "Weather Folk-lore," in which he has given
the parallels in foreign countries. It must be remembered, however, that
a great number of these plant-sayings originated very many years
ago--long before the alteration in the style of the calendar--which in
numerous instances will account for their apparent contradictory
character. In noticing, too, these proverbs, account must be taken of
the variation of climate in different countries, for what applies to one
locality does not to another. Thus, for instance, according to a Basque
proverb, "A wet May, a fruitful year," whereas it is said in Corsica,
"A rainy May brings little barley and no wheat." Instances of this kind
are of frequent occurrence, and of course are in many cases explained by
the difference of climate. But in comparing all branches of folk-lore,
similar variations, as we have already observed, are noticeable, to
account for which is often a task full of difficulty.
Of the numerous other instances of weather-lore associated with
agricultural operations, it is said in relation to rain:--
"Sow beans in the mud, and they'll grow like wood."
And a saying in East Anglia is to this effect:--
"Sow in the slop (or sop), heavy at top."
A further admonition advises the farmer to
"Sow wheat in dirt, and rye in dust;"
While, according to a piece of folk-lore current in East Anglia, "Wheat
well-sown is half-grown." The Scotch have a proverb warning the farmer
against premature sowing:--
"Nae hurry wi' your corns,
Nae hurry wi' your harrows;
Snaw lies ahint the dyke,
Mair may come and fill the furrows."
And according to another old adage we are told how:--
"When the aspen leaves are no bigger than your nail,
Is the time to look out for truff and peel."
In short, it will be found that most of our counties have their items of
weather-lore; many of which, whilst varying in some respect, are
evidently modifications of one and the same belief. In many cases, too,
it must be admitted that this species of weather-wisdom is not based
altogether on idle fancy, but in accordance with recognised habits of
plants under certain conditions of weather. Indeed, it has been pointed
out that so sensitive are various flowers to any change in the
temperature or the amount of light, that it has been noticed that there
is as much as one hour's difference between the time when the same
flower opens at Paris and Upsala. It is, too, a familiar fact to
students of vegetable physiology that the leaves of _Porleria
hygrometrica_ fold down or rise up in accordance with the state of the
atmosphere. In short, it was pointed out in the _Standard_, in
illustration of the extreme sensitiveness of certain plants to
surrounding influences, how the _Haedysarums_ have been well known ever
since the days of Linnseus to suddenly begin to quiver without any
apparent cause, and just as suddenly to stop. Force cannot initiate the
movement, though cold will stop it, and heat will set in motion again
the suspended animation of the leaves. If artificially kept from moving
they will, when released, instantly begin their task anew and with
redoubled energy. Similarly the leaves of the _Colocasia esculenta_--the
tara of the Sandwich Islands--will often shiver at irregular times of
the day and night, and with such energy that little bells hung on the
petals tinkle. And yet, curious to say, we are told that the keenest eye
has not yet been able to detect any peculiarity in these plants to
account for these strange motions. It has been suggested that they are
due to changes in the weather of such a slight character that, "our
nerves are incapable of appreciating them, or the mercury of recording
their accompanying oscillations."
1. Tylor's "Primitive Culture," 1873, i. 130.
2. See "English Folk-lore," pp. 42, 43.
3. "Primitive Manners and Customs," p. 74.
4. Dublin University Magazine, December 1873, p. 677.
5. See Swainson's "Weather-lore," p. 257.
6. See "Flower-lore," p. 226.
7. See _Notes and Queries_, 1st Ser. II. 511.
Next: PLANT PROVERBS.
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