Moschatel is also called Town Hall Clock, this is because at the end of the flower stalk it has 5 flowers, four of which are aligned so that they point out at angles like the four faces on a clock tower. The fifth one faces upwards, this is so that you can read the time if you are flying over the clock tower?
As you can see from the photo it is not the most stunning of flowers, easily overlooked if you are not careful. What catches your eye are creamy yellow dots against the green foliage. Sometimes they develop into a fairly dense patch, but often they are loosely mixed in with other vegetation. The leaves are similar to cut leaved parsley but each leaflet has a little point at the apex, almost like a little spike. It flowers quite early in the year… April.
This plant is an indicator of ancient woodland but you can find it in hedgerows, which is where this one was photographed. However many hedgerows are simply long narrow ancient woodlands. On the list of ancient woodland indicator species produced by Oliver Rackham this species scored 12 out of a maximum of 18 suggesting that it is a very strong indicator of ancient woodland. However I remember that it grew at the side of a path that entered the wooded area of Foulden Common in Norfolk, a place I often took ‘A’ level Biology students. Indeed several students undertook their ‘individual study’ by looking at the distribution of woodland and non woodland species along this path. The thing was that Foulden Common had historically been more or less all open grassland and then some areas of the common developed into woodland following the reduction in grazing due to a combination of myxomatosis and changes in farming methods. So the woods were quite young only 60 or so years old, even so at the beginning of this path there were several ‘woodland’ species, such as Bluebell, Yellow Poppy, Ground ivy, Bugle and a couple of patches of Moschatel.
Careful examination of the flower shows that it has five petals, sometimes only four. Then it has two stamens per petal and one stigma per petal but you need good eyes to see this or a little hand lens.
I have read that it produces a musk like scent in the evening, also that it will not produce this smell if the leaves are squashed or damaged. I personally have never noticed a smell associated with this plant.
It is a perennial plant and has rhizomes to survive the winter also to aid its spread.
It seems to be quite common in Wales and Scotland but less so in England and none in Ireland according to the BSBI map.