Weather Lore

PINE cones stay open when the weather is to turn fine, but as soon as they close, then it is believed rain is on the way (Waring). The same is believed of SILVER FIR cones (M E S Wright). ASH has its share of weather lore, the best known being the comparison with the OAK to foretell a good or bad summer:

If the oak before the ash come out,

There has been, or will be, a drought (Northall).

There are quite a number of jingles of the same import, the most succinct of which is, from Surrey:

Oak, smoke,

Ash, squash (Northall), or sometimes:

Oak, choke.

Ash, splash i.e. if the oak leafed first, there would be dry, dusty weather (Baker). A lengthier version is:

If the ash before the oak

We shall have a summer of dust and smoke (Page).

There are many more of these rhymes, but they tend to get rather ambiguous, sometimes completely contradictory.

When an ONION skin is thin and delicate, we can expect a mild winter; if it is thick, it foretells a hard season (Inwards). Put into verse, we have:

Onions' skin very thin,

Mild winter's coming in;

Onion's skin thick and tough,

Coming winter cold and rough (Krappe).

In a similar way, the thickness of HAZEL nut shells is an indication of the weather to come - the thicker they are, the harder the winter to come; conversely, of course, thin shells, mild winter (Conway). An American version expects a large crop of nuts to be followed by a hard winter (H M Hyatt), and all over Europe a large crop of ACORNS presaged a long, hard winter, pessimistically, "a bad year for everything": 'Viel Eicheln lassen strenger Winter erwarten' (Swainson., 1873), or 'Année de glande, année du cher temps', and so on. BLACKTHORN is an unlucky plant. Even its early blooming brings talk of a "blackthorn winter". There are often some warm days at the end of March and beginning of April, which are enough to bring it into flower, and they are nearly always followed by a cold spell, the Blackthorn Winter. "Beware the Blackthorn Winter", or "blackthorn hatch" as it is sometimes called, is a well known admonitory saying. The north-east winds that seem to prevail in spring, about the time the shrub is in flower, were known as "blackthorn winds". A blackthorn winter means a spoiled summer, they say in Somerset (Tongue. 1965). Sometimes, it seems, there is a second blackthorn winter, which is said to fall in the second week in May. This may be just coincidence, for the festivals of the Ice Saints (Mamertus, etc) fall then (Jones-Baker. 1974). Even when the sloes themselves appear, there is foreboding. Is it not said that:

Many haws, many sloes, Many cold toes? (Denham).

The more berries there are, so the worse the coming winter is said to be. Note the Devonshire rhyme:

Many nits [nuts] Many pits; Many slones, Many groans (Choape).

A Cheshire belief was that if the weather breaks when the ELDER blossoms were coming out, it would be soaking wet till they fade (Hole. 1937) - or vice versa, for the belief seems to be that the weather never changes while the flowers are in blossom (Baker). Anyway, it all seems safe when the flowers are out:

You may shear your sheep

When the elder blossoms peep. (A C Smith), or, more obscurely:

When the elder is white, brew and bake a pack; When the elder is black, brew and bake a sack (Denham. 1846).

Belgian people once used elder to foretell future weather by putting a branch in a jug of water on 30 December. If buds developed and opened, it would be a sign of a fruitful summer to come; if no buds, then the harvest would be bad (Swainson. 1873). Large buds on a BEECH tree will foretell a wet summer (Addison. 1985).

If the leaves of HORSE CHESTNUT spread like a fan, then warm weather would come; but long before rain arrives the leaves begin to droop and point downward (Trevelyan). Similarly with WHITLOW GRASS - if the leaves droop, it is a sign of rain (Inwards). A Lincolnshire weather pointer is that DUCKWEED rises in a pond when the weather is going to be fine (Rudkin).

As HOPS became a more and more important crop, some weather lore attached itself to the plant:

Till St James's Day be come and gone, There may be hops or there may be none (Dyer).

St James's Day is 25 July, which seems rather a late day to judge the well-being of the crop (perhaps the reference is to St James the Less - 1 May). Another rhyme seems more realistic:

Rain on Good Friday and Easter Day, A good crop of hops, but a bad one of hay.

This is from Herefordshire (Leather). Another saying might apply to any crop:

Plenty of ladybirds, plenty of hops (Dyer).

There was a belief that when a BRAMBLE blooms early in June, an early harvest could be expected (Swainson. 1873). A Yorkshire tradition tells that an abundance of blackberries in autumn foretells a hard winter to come (Gutch. 1901), on the "many haws, many snows" basis. But at least, the weather is usually good when the blackberries ripen, and that period at the end of September and beginning of October is quite often called the blackberry summer (Denham. 1846). They say that SWEET BRIAR has a fresher fragrance before rain (Trevelyan). LADY'S BEDSTRAW, too, has a stronger smell when it is going to rain (Inwards).

SCARLET PIMPERNEL is a noted weather forecaster, as many of the local names given to it will confirm. Gerard said, "... the husbandmen having occasion to go unto their harvest worke, will first behold the floures of Pimpernel, whereby they know the weather that shall follow the next day after; as, for example, if the floures be shut close up, it betokeneth raine and foule weather; contrariwise, if they be spread abroad, faire weather".

Pimpernel, pimpernel, tell me true,

Whether the weather be fine or no;

No heart can think, no tongue can tell,

The virtues of the pimpernel (M E S Wright).

This is quite true; the flowers open when it is going to be sunny, and close when it is going to rain (Page. 1977). It will forecast twenty four hours ahead, so it is claimed (Trevelyan). Similarly, GERMANDER SPEEDWELL will forecast rain by closing its petals, and opening them again when the rain has stopped (Inwards). PICNIC THISTLE (Cirsium acaulon) is a similar forecaster; if the flower is open, there is good weather to come, and the opposite if they are closed (Gubernatis). And the same applies to MARIGOLD; if it does not open its petals by seven o'clock in the morning, the signs are that it will rain or thunder that day. It is also one of those flowers that closes up before a storm (Swainson. 1873). Children use the seed tufts of DANDELIONS as a barometer. When the down is fluffy, then there will be fine weather, but when it is limp or contracted, then there will be rain (Swainson., 1873). The flower heads will close directly rain falls, or just before, and always before dew-fall (Rohde. 1936). DAISIES, too, will shut when bad weather is coming (Page. 1977), and WOOD ANEMONES close their petals and droop before rain (Inwards). There is, too, an old belief about COLTSFOOT, from Coles, Knowledge of plants, 1656, that "if the down flyeth off colts's foot, dandelyon, and thistles, when there is no winde, it is a sign of rain". The TAMARIND tree folds its leaflets at night and in overcast weather. That and the fact that the tree almost always feels damp makes it the ideal abode of the rain god in Burmese thought (Menninger). Indians have a prejudice against sleeping under one of these trees, probably because of this usual dampness. Tents pitched near one will certainly have their canvas affected by it (Leyel. 1937).

If the COWSLIP'S stalks are short, then we are in for a dry summer (Inwards). Some say, too, that we never get warm settled weather till the cowslips are finished (Page. 1977). There is an American saying that if deadnettles are in abundance late in the year, it is a sign of a mild winter to come (Inwards).

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