Why this should happen again is a mystery at the moment –last
year Southern apologised and provided us with some cowslip seeds, so why let it happen again? We await their response.
Cowslips and primroses both provide nectar for long-tongued bumblebees, bee flies and other insects and this is particularly
important when few other flowers are in bloom. Both have a rather sophisticated mechanism to ensure cross-pollination and successful seed set. There are two forms of flower– pin-eyed, in which the female stigma is at the mouth of the petal tube and the male anthers lower down the tube – and thrum-eyed, which has the reverse arrangement. When an insect pushes its long tongue to the bottom of the petal tube of a pin-eyed flower to find nectar, it picks up pollen from the stamens at just the right place on its tongue to transfer the pollen to the stigma of a thrum-eyed flower. And when the insect visits a thrum-eyed flower pollen sticks on the right place on its tongue to pollinate a pin-eyed flower. Sadly, this year, any early insects visiting the station will find no flowers to feed on.
Cowslips are even more important now that the species have largely disappeared from most meadows. They were once probably as common as buttercups are now, as suggested by their widespread use to make wine, to strew in front of brides and to decorate churches on Cowslip Sunday. They declined catastrophically between the 1950s and 1980s due to changes in farming practice – ploughing and reseeding old meadows, and applying artificial fertiliser.