These five colourful wildflowers were plentiful in cornfields decades ago when herbicides and seed cleaning were not used. They presented an eye-catching spectacle in crops of wheat, oats and barley. (1)
The colour contrast provided by these annuals in cornfields ranged from scarlet in the poppies (Papaver rhoeas), purple pink in the corncockles (Agrostemma gothago), lemon-yellow in the corn marigolds (Chrysanthemum segetum), bright blue in the cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) and white in the corn chamomiles (Anthemis arvensis). (2a; 2b; 2c;2d;2e)
The combination was called the “farmers’ nightmare’ because these were considered as serious weeds that took up valuable corn growing space and robbed nutrients from the crop.
They will only thrive on disturbed soil so arable land suited their needs admirably. One species, the common poppy, has seeds that can stay dormant for hundreds of years. When many sites were bombed on the continent during World War 11 these seeds germinated in the disturbed ground and produced fields of blazing red. (3a)
Of all five the corncockle is the most troublesome. Its black, poisonous seeds mixed with cereal seeds and when these were ground together the resultant flour became contaminated and produced bread that was inedible and slightly poisonous.
Nowadays, this mixture is often sown as a cornfield meadow in gardens and on the roadside verges outside towns and villages. This type of meadow will attract a great number of bees, butterflies and hoverflies seeking nectar and pollen.