June has arrived, heralding the start of the summer, and at home there has been much recent excitement. ‘Our’ House Martins have returned and are feverishly starting to build another nest of mud under the eaves, which will bring the total to six.

It is a real pleasure having these summer visitors, and their frenetic activity has reminded me ‘never to waste a day of sunshine’ (especially in Yorkshire). At every opportunity I have been out walking, cycling, botanising, and gardening. As I have alluded to in the past, bikes and botany make for uneasy bedfellows. As I whizz along there is no time to stop and get out the botanical flora and hand lens; it’s a case of ‘speed botany’.

One plant that is easy to spot and just coming into flower in early summer, is Meadow Cranesbill (Geranium pratense). It maybe ubiquitous, but it is often the common plants that have the interesting stories.

As is frequently the case, the name tells us so much. Cranesbill refers to the shape of the fruit or seed head, looking like the head and bill of a bird, namely the Crane (see photo). The Greeks and Romans agree: Geranium comes from Geranus meaning Crane, and Pratense is Latin for “of the meadow”.

Cranesbills are not to be confused with what are commonly referred to in garden centres and supermarkets as Geraniums, which brighten our summer window boxes with their red and crimson flowers. These are more correctly referred to as Pelargoniums. These non-native plants still belong to the Geranium family, and like our Cranesbill are named after a bird – the Stork; Pelargos is Greek for Stork, again referring to the shape of the seed head.

The shape and structure of these fruits are not just there for our amusement to name after birds. They play an important part in seed distribution. As the fruit matures, tension slowly builds until suddenly the seed head snaps open like an upside-down peeled banana, discharging the seeds up to five metres away, a bit like a shot-putter (see photo insert).

Meadow Cranesbill is only one of many plants to be seen growing on the sides of our road network this time of year, take a close look, you will be surprised. Grass verges are our largest unofficial national park, added together they are an area the size of the Isle of Wight, and like any other ‘national park’ need our love and protection.