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Stratford water meadows

(the northern part  of the Avon Valley Nature Reserve) 

This article is about the flora of our local water meadows. 

An article about the History of the Water Meadows is on this webpage.

Willow and Meadowsweet (1).jpg

The Meadowsweet white flowers in the foreground belong to the genus Filipendula but used to be in the Genus Spiraea. This gives a clue to a link with the Willow trees in the background which belong to the Genus Salix, other than both liking damp places.


Both have been used for centuries as a source of salicylic acid or its precursor salicin for pain relief. In 1853 a chemist made acetyl salicylic acid which was less irritant to the stomach and in 1897 Bayer found a better way of making it then marketing it, putting the A from Acetyl, then the spir from the then Genus name Spiraea into Aspirin as their brand name. It remains a brand name (Trade Mark) in Germany and many other countries today but in the UK (and USA and France) aspirin can be used as a generic name and other brand names applied by other manufacturers. Bayer uses Aspro© in the UK, a popular soluble brand uses Dispro©. This is because Bayer were obliged to cede their rights to use Aspirin (and similarly Heroin) to the victorious Allies countries in the Treaty of Versailles (1919).


Aspirin is probably the most widely used drug ever made (if we exclude alcohol) and probably saves the most lives and certainly the most lives per £1 spent in reducing blood clots. All from Meadowsweet and Willow as growing in our village nature reserve.


Purple ( Lythrum salicaria) and Yellow (Lysimachia vulgaris) Loosestrife share a name and use and favoured habitat (marshy) and flowering seasons and here are growing closely together in the Stratford water meadows but they are not related. Purple belongs to the Loosestrife family, yellow does not and is more closely related to primroses. Both were used to deter flies from oxen so giving the ploughing team less strife.


Left unmanaged marshes can slowly change into woods via a transitory stage called carr. Alder (Alnus glutinosa) is a typical water resistant tree forming carr and can be used to protect river banks. “Carr” denoting marshland becoming shrub has a Norse derivation so is seen in place names more in the north of England and Scotland than the south. In Yorkshire Eller in place names refers to Alder. Alder was the wood of choice for clogs and its charcoal was used for making gunpowder. This is landscape evolution in progress, over centuries Alder and Willow and other carr trees will without man’s input reclaim this fertile valley bottom land.

Walkers also report otters in our stretch of the Avon but this photographer will never catch them. *

All images and text above: Kerry O’Connor

* Otters were seen feeding in a Stratford garden in January 2023 - images & details here.

This is a link to another webpage about the Avon Valley Nature Trail and a species leaflet.

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