If you would like to read my Dorset nature notes about any of these featured species or sites please click on the post title

About Me

My photo

I have been interested in nature for most of my life but since I retired I spend as much time as I can exploring the nature reserves and wildlife hotspots of my adopted home, Dorset in southern England. Whilst out I record what I see and take snaps where I can (I am no photographer!) and that forms the basis of my Nature of Dorset website. When I find something new I like to research it and write about it in my nature notes, it is how I learn and hopefully you might find my notes helpful as well!

This website is for the people of Dorset interested in wildlife and for people from elsewhere interested in the wildlife of Dorset!

01 April, 2014

Dogs mercury: the real dogs dinner?

Dog's mercury (Mercurialis perennis) is not a lot to look at, indeed it is an insignificant plant than can look as though it has no flower at all. Close up, however, it has spikes of cream/green flowers in March and April. It is also a plant that has separate male and female forms. It does, to be honest, look a dull, rather boring plant.
It is, however, quite a significant flower as an indicator of primary (or long standing) woodland. It needs shade to thrive and so woodland is its preferred habitat and it spreads mainly by
underground rhizomes and so forms large patches wherever it occurs. As it spreads slowly the larger the patch the older the woodland it is in is likely to be. Where you find it in any quantity look for other woodland species like wood anemone and wood sorrel. If you find dogs mercury outside of woodland then it normally means that a woodland once stood there but has been felled.
It is poisonous and should certainly not be eaten as it can cause all manner of problems including liver failure! It contains some harmful chemicals although I am not sure mercury is one of the ingredients! It could well be where the mercury in its name comes from though but what is more intriguing is why it is dog's mercury. Wikipedia suggests that it is because dog can mean false or bad however a website http://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/dogs-mercury has a number of comments describing how peoples' dogs find the plant irresistible although it usually makes them sick after eating it. Even though dogs are not normally considered vegetarian could it be that they find the scent and taste of the plant so attractive that they eat it even though it is poisonous and it makes them sick?  
Related Post: