Greater stitchwort is a delight to see in spring on hedge banks, woodland glades and margins on neutral to slightly acidic soils. A fragile plant with delicate stems and narrow pointed leaves, it grows among other plants such as grasses and woody hedge plants for support, its white star-like flowers standing out against the green leaves of its support group.
First formally recorded by William Turner in 15621., greater stitchwort was once used as a herbal remedy for shortness of breath or a pain (stitch) in the side of the abdomen, hence the name ‘stitchwort’.2. Its importance as a remedy was recognised by Thomas Tusser and included in his list of physic herbs to grow in the garden in the sixteenth century.3. Greater stitchwort has over 140 alternative names including: star flower, star-of-the-wood, sailor buttons, bachelors’ buttons, poor man’s buttonhole, brandy snap and snap-wort, the last two names referring to the children’s pastime of popping the ripe seed pods.4.
Greater stitchwort will light up a shady patch in the garden, along the margin of hedge or fence with other late spring-flowering plants for support. Due to its initially fragile nature, it is best raised by seed in a seed bed and grown on to a healthy 9cm pot size before planting out, or alternatively buy nursery-raised plants. Once established this lovely plant will not disappoint.
Greater stitchwort is beneficial to many flying insects, including bees, beetles, flies and spring-flying butterflies such as orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines
and green-veined white Pieris napi
. It is the host plant for the gall midge Macrolabis holosteae
and larval food plant of several moth species including the twin-spot carpet moth Mesotype didymata
, the nationally scarce cloaked carpet moth Euphyia biangulata
and the leaf-mining micro moths Caryoculum huebneri
and C. blandella
A similar-looking relative is the lesser stitchwort Stellaria graminea, a more slender and upright plant found in grassland. Also related is the commonly found chickweed Stellaria media which is likely to find its own way to most gardens.
1. Pearman, D. 2017. The Discovery of the Native Flora of Britain and Ireland, A compilation of the first records for 1670 species and aggregates, covering Great Britain, Ireland, The Channel Isles and the Isle of Man. Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland. p 389
2. Coley, H.M. 1933. Wild Flowers Round the Year. Howe. London.
3. Mavor, W.F. ed. 1819. Tusser,T. Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry together with a Book of Huswifery. Cambridge Library Collection. Cambridge University Press. p 124
4. Vickery, R. 2019. Vickery’s Folk Flora, An A to Z of the Folklore and Uses of British and Irish Plants. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. London. p 312.
5. See the Biological Record Centre database
Page written by Caroline Ware. Compiled by Steve Head