From ruined churches consumed by greenery to abandoned houses hidden behind years of foliage, nature quickly begins to take over when man moves out of a building. Here’s a guide to identifying some of the most common plants you’ll spot in and around abandoned structures.
A striking pink-flowered plant that can grow up to 2.5m high and is widely seen across the Northern Hemisphere. It is also known as Fireweed for its tendency to colonise burnt areas – it was particularly prevalent during the Second World War on bombsites. Rosebay Willowherb has very aggressive growth habits and is now sometimes used to re-establish plant life on polluted land. The young tips of the plant can be eaten raw and in Russia the leaves are used as a tea substitute (Kapor Tea).
This evergreen, Christmas favourite has a reputation in popular culture for its clinging tendencies, and this closely reflects its actual growth habits. A ground-creeping plant, it can reach heights of 20-30 metres with a suitable surface to scramble up. Ivy is mildly poisonous to humans but is an important supply of nectar and food for birds and bees at times of the year when few other sources are available.
Considered a weed, these bright yellow flowers and circular seed heads are a common sight throughout Europe and North America. The name comes from a corruption of the French ‘dent de lion’ (lion’s tooth) which refers to the serrated shape of the leaves. All parts of the Dandelion plant are edible, although the leaves are often blanched to remove bitterness. It is a component of the eccentric British drink Dandelion and Burdock and the leaves and buds are used in Korean and Chinese cuisine.
The Buddleia bushes, common along railway lines and on waste ground, are essentially garden escapees – the varieties seen in the UK (with long purple or white flower stems) originate from China and have been widely cultivated since the late 19th century. Buddleia produces lightweight seeds that disperse easily in the wind and consequently it has become rampant in urban environments, where it can be seen growing in cracks in masonry. The flowers are an important nectar source for butterflies and attract them in great numbers, giving the Buddleia its alternative name of ‘Butterfly bush’.
Well known for its juicy blackberries and long thorny shoots that have ensnared many an unwary walker, the Bramble is a native of the UK. It flowers in the late spring and develops its fruit (which are not technically berries) in the autumn. Blackberries have formed part of the human diet in Western Europe over thousands of years – as demonstrated by the stomach contents of the ‘Haraldskaer woman’.