As the wonderful ling flower fades, another violet-blue haze flowers on. Devil’s-bit scabious, Succisa pratensis, is an indicator plant that we search for carefully in botanical surveys on the heathland. Since it usually flowers after we finish, we seek ground-hugging lance-shaped hairy leaves, and lightly branched flower stems rising to 100 cm.
Flowering from August to October it provides valuable nectar and pollen for hoverflies, butterflies and moths. It enjoys damp slightly acidic conditions, where grazing leaves short grass and useful longer tussocks. The hemispherical flower heads comprising up to 50 florets held on slender stems resemble nodding pincushions, with a dainty triple ruff of pointed sepals behind. Each tight bud, like a tiny boxing glove, has a protruding pointed bract. As it opens pinky-purple anthers unfurl from within the floret tube to extend with the stigma beyond the petals and attract pollinators.
Some plants only produce female flowers without the anthers. In the upper bog, it grows with cross-leaved heath and ling or with marsh St John’s wort and contrasts beautifully with the russet seed spikes of bog asphodel. The scabious seeds fall easily from the calyx pad in early autumn.