Fox and Cubs
This is a bright orange wild flower that most people will know by sight but few will know by this name, though they might recognise the name ‘orange hawkweed’. The fox and cubs wildflower (Pilosella aurantiaca) is often treated as a weed in some parts of the world as it grows so prolifically once established, yet it is perfectly at home in a wildflower garden and plays a vital role in attracting pollinating insects. Gardeners interested in promoting a healthy population of pollinating insects often grow this orange wild flower specifically.
Named as one of the 400 ‘RHS perfect for pollinators’ wildflowers, the fox and cubs is a native species in Europe but was brought to Britain in the 17th Century, where it has flourished ever since. Growing up to 40cm it has a single tall, thin stem densely covered in dark hairs. At the top is a cluster of usually seven or eight flowers, each around 2cm in diameter with several distinct petals standing perpendicular to the stalk. It has large, broad leaves at its base, which are covered in long hairs.
The bright orange colour is highly attractive to pollinating insects and it flowers from June to September, maximising the amount of time available for various species of bees and butterflies. The colour lends itself well to the common name, being not dissimilar to the fur of a fox, with the cubs being the many buds that grow beneath the blooming flowers ready to take their place.
The fox and cubs plant uses the wind to spread its seeds on parachutes similar to dandelion seeds, though they are smaller and not as fine as the latter. As a good source of nectar and pollen, it serves to attract honeybees and bumblebees and flies that in turn attract birds.
Best combined with other species of wild flower to attract as many pollinating insects as possible, you can install fox and cubs in your garden courtesy of a meadowmat, which is a roll of turf containing wildflowers that are grown into a growing medium. This is more reliable than the alternative of sprinkling wildflower seeds and hoping for the best, and provides a dense patch of meadow for any garden.
Its other names include the Devil’s Paintbrush and Grim the Collier (the latter after a 17th Century play of the same name). Unlike many other wildflowers, the fox and cubs plant has never been greatly used in traditional or herbal medicines.