Plant Profiles Field Scabious

Field Scabious is a wildflower found in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe. It is a perennial flower, which has beautiful pale blue or mauve flowers. The flower heads are hemispherical and are made up of around fifty florets with pink stamens, looking a little like a pincushion, hence its other name of Lady’s Pincushion. It is also known as Gipsy Rose and Blue Button. As the plant can grow up to a metre in height, it is a striking flower that often catches the eye in a season when so many other wildflowers seem to be pink in colour. 

 Field Scabious particularly likes well-drained, chalky soils, which means that it can survive even when there is a drought. It is commonly found along the side of the road, along the edges of fields and in chalky meadows. It is most commonly seen between July and September and is very attractive to insects. Butterflies such as the Small Skipper and Small Tortoiseshell find its nectar particularly tempting, so it can be a good choice for gardeners wishing to welcome butterflies to their garden. Unfortunately, it is not all that easy to grow from seed, because germination can be erratic, but it can be done with the aid of a cold frame when sown in spring or autumn and the results are certainly worth it.

The stem of the plant is hairy and tough, which, along with the colour of the flower, make it fairly easy to spot. Field Scabious is unusual in that it has different types of leaves.  According to the Conservation Volunteers Northern Ireland website, the lower leaves are attached by a leaf stem (petiole) and are shaped like a lance, and form a rosette. The leaves higher up the stem don’t have a leaf steam and have leaflets. As the leaves are so small, the flower head is all the more noticeable.

The plant’s Latin name is Knautia arvensis. Knautia comes from the name of a seventeenth century botanist called Dr Knaut. It is believed that Scabious is linked to scabies. Plants such as this one were commonly used to make homeopathic medicine, so it is possible that Field Scabious was used to help treat scabies. It can also be used for other skin disorders, including eczema, and it is sometimes used as a blood purifier. 

There are two other varieties of Scabious commonly found in the UK and, as all are members of the Teasel family, there is sometimes some confusion between the three varieties. However, generally, Devil’s Bit Scabious has a larger, rounder flower head, is slightly darker in colour and has dark hairy leaves. Small Scabious is, as its name suggests, smaller than Field Scabious, but the easiest way to tell it apart is by counting the petal lobes of the florets; Small Scabious has five, while Field Scabious has just four.

When Field Scabious has finished flowering, it produces a seed, which is becoming highly regarded for its oil properties – it is made up of 25% oil, which could potentially be used in soap and detergent manufacture. Research has begun into the possibilities of using the plant as an oilseed crop, but the growth yield has so far proved to be poorer than required. Breeding programmes may be able to assist with the poor yield, but much more work needs to be done before it can be used in any great volume.

Seeing the beautiful flowers of the Field Scabious on a sunny day in July or August is a very welcome sight, especially when there is a drought and everything else seems to be wilting or dying off.