Chamomile blooms from mid-summer, carpeting and scenting grassy fields on the Lizard. 

Photo: Amanda Scott

Scientific name: Chamaemelum nobile

Cornish name: Camel

Other names: English Chamomile, Low Chamomile, Ground Apple, Roman Chamomile

Conservation status: Vascular Plant Red Data Book for Great Britain, Vulnerable; UK Biodiversity Action Plan species; IUCN, vulnerable.

This creeping native perennial, famous for its scent and cultivation for culinary and medicinal purposes, is found growing wild in sandy, acidic grassland of low sward height, including by the coast, sometimes growing profusely throughout suitable habitat. A member of the Daisy family (Asteraceae), its range extends across western Europe. Here, it is found in southwest England, the Channel Islands and southwest Ireland, but is largely now extinct in other parts of Britain. It does have a stable population on The Lizard, however, one of its key areas.

Chamomile is easily recognisable by the strong scent of its crushed, feathery, leaves and by its single, daisy-like flowers appearing from mid to late summer on stems of up to 30 cm. Where it occurs, the plant forms an important part of species-rich grasslands in the summer. It has a low-growing, partially creeping form, and will be out-competed by taller vegetation. Its success can therefore depend on either grazing or mowing. Chamomile can also thrive in coastal grasslands, such as those on The Lizard, where the maritime salty and exposed conditions ensure grass height remains short.

The reasons for its severe decline include not only reduction in grazing and cutting regimes, but also land drainage. Although the plant is found on dry sandy grasslands, it benefits from wetting of the soil through the winter. This is probably one reason why the plant can thrive away from the coast in some parts of The Lizard, with its temporary ponds and damp trackways that dry out in the summer, coupled with the reintroduction of grazing to The Lizard heathlands, such as Lower Predannack and the Kynance Downs, since the creation of the National Nature Reserve and other conservation areas.

Did you know…?

…A century ago, Cornish people drank a lot of Chamomile tea (leading the way ahead of its modern popularity as a beverage!)

…Chamomile has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and calming properties, supporting its use in traditional herbal remedies and teas to promote sleep and for treating fevers and infections

…It is said that Sir Francis Drake played his game of bowls on a Chamomile lawn.

More information and references:

Bates, R. and Scolding, B., 2002. Wild Flowers of The Lizard. Cornwall County Council, Cornwall.

Mabey, R., 1997. Flora Britannica. Chatto & Windus, London.

Rose, F. and O’Reilly, C., 2006. The Wild Flower Key, 2nd edition. Frederick Warne, London.

Stace, C., 2010. New Flora of the British Isles, 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Published: July 2013 (updated January 2020)
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Amanda Scott