Country diary: panning for nature’s gold – yellow rattle

Country diary: panning for nature’s gold – yellow rattle

Caistor St Edmund, Norfolk: This meadow-maker sucks the life from dominant grasses to allow others to thrive

Four miles per hour is too slow – the plants are pushed down. Eight is too fast – tearing stalks right off. My dad is carefully driving a large yellow digger, more commonly seen piling up the muck heap, through a wildflower meadow. Its bucket is low to the ground, as it moves at precisely 6mph. This is the innovative technique Dad has developed for harvesting an unusual crop.

Just a few minutes later, the digger bucket contains lots of dry husks and the brownish seed of a plant called yellow rattle. This wildflower grows up to 50cm high and has yellow, tubular flowers that emerge from the large protective calyx, or seed pod. When the calyx dries out, the seeds within make a rattling noise as you walk through the meadow. That sound was the traditional sign that the grass was ready to be cut for hay.

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