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Fairy Flax

This dainty annual, sometimes biennial, plant is found throughout Scotland, though not in great abundance. It grows in grassland, upland pasture, heaths and dunes, usually on chalk-rich soils.

The stems grow slender but erect with pairs of opposite leaves, and divides into pairs of branches near the top. Leaves are simple oblong ovals, smooth-edged or very finely serrated and about 1cm long.

The flowers form in loose clusters, drooping shyly as they bud.  Each flower is about 8mm in diameter with 5 green sepals, 5 narrow white petals with yellow spots at the base and 5 yellow stamens.  The sepals hold the petals in a cup shape, and the petals curve outwards as they open.

The pistil develops into a spherical fruit divided into 4 compartments, each compartment carrying 2 seeds.

Fairy flax is closely related to linseed, a more robust member of the Flax family. Various flaxes have been cultivated for millennia for their fibre making qualities, edible seeds and oil.

Fairy Flax was once known as Purging Flax, because it was believed to have purging effects.

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