Hmmm… what a name! So first of all where did that come from? Well two possibilities. First of all the flower when in bud is said to look like a nipple. Not like any nipple I have seen, perhaps not best to go into too many details. Perhaps it could look vaguely like the sort of bleed nipple you used to get on some mechanical equipment, but as the plant name came before bleed nipples then we can count that out.
Secondly as with so many plants it was used to treat medical problems….nipples, sore nipples? Well maybe but I have also seen reference to it being used to staunch the flow of a lactating nipple. I wonder if it ever worked. I can imagine it imparted a nasty taste so that the next time the poor baby got fed it might reject the nipple??
The ‘wort’ bit of course means plant or root so its a plant for nipples, or a plant that resembles nipples?
The plant itself is not that spectacular, it is an annual and often grows as a weed in gardens but will grow in shady places on the edge of woods and in hedgerows. It can grow up fairly tall, maybe 80 cm and has an open branched structure with lots of little yellow flowers. In my garden it grows fairly small, about 30 cm and will produce just 10 to 20 flowers, this is because it is often competing with taller garden plants which over top it and shade it out.
It could be confused with Wall Lettuce but the leaves are quite different. The plant is a member of the Compositae group so the flowers themselves are compound with ray and disc florets but quite simple. It normally has about 10 ray florets, these are arranged in two concentric circles. The outer ring has slightly longer petals and the inner ring slightly shorter. In the centre are just a few disc florets, again about 10, however the number of disc florets is always the same as the number of ray florets.
So there you have it, not the most inspirational flower, most would regard it as a weed, at least it has a memorable name.
I was recently contacted by a lady who follows this blog and she passed on this comment.
Thanks for your trouble to find why such a name for this plant.Have often wondered myself why!The seed head,retains an oval shape ,which maybe,suggested it’s name?Another old English name for it is “Dockorenes” and was formerly eaten in salads l believe.