Seeking out wild plants in the city, my eye is often drawn to scraps of green, rooted in unlikely places.  Now I’m in the habit, plants in crevices catch my eye (and camera lens) wherever I go. This doorway, by the Bas Sablons quay, has already featured in a post on intriguing back doors around St Malo.  It’s here again because of the greenery outlining the entrance.  That little plant doesn’t look much but it gets around.

Parietaria officinalis is an inconspicuous plant of the nettle family, adapted to growing in cracks and crevices, in rocks, stone walls and hedge bottoms.  Found on ruins and ancient monuments across Europe, it’s just as likely to turn up on waste ground rubble or, as here, a scruffy canal side wall in Paris.

The Latin name Parietaria derives from paries, meaning wall, and was used by Pliny in his Natural History, around 77AD.  The French common names perce-muraille (pierce wall) and casse-pierre (break stone) both reflect the plant’s wall-dwelling habits.  In English the plant is called, rather grandly, pellitory-of-the-wall.  Pellitory is an anglicised form of the Latin name and there’s only one pellitory in the British flora, so why the double-barreled ‘of the wall’?

Curiously the name of this undistinguished plant recalls an ancient political gibe.  Ammianus Marcellinus, in his fourth century History of Rome, notes a ‘fault’ of the emperor Trajan who insisted that his name be inscribed on any walls and buildings restored during his reign, ‘not as if he were the restorer of old works, but their founder…… from which the people in jest named him The Pellitory of the Wall’.