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Thymus serpyllum L.

Modern name

Thymus serpyllum L.

An evergreen subshrub a few inches high, with trailing, rooting stems, woody at the base; younger stems wiry, hairy all round. Leaves firm, elliptic or elliptic-ovate, mostly 18 to 38 in. long and about half as wide, blunt, narrowed at the base, hairy at least on the margin, sometimes on both surfaces, prominently veined beneath, dotted with oil glands. Flowering stems erect, bearing the rosy purple flowers in summer and early autumn in dense rounded heads 12 in. wide. Corolla scarcely 14 in. long.

Native of Europe, including Britain, where it is rare, however. Our common thyme is:

T. drucei Ronniger T. britannicus Ronniger; T. pseudolanuginosus Ronniger; T. praecox subsp. articus (E. Durand) Jalas, in part. – This is very near to T. serpyllum, from which it was not distinguished until 1924. It is a variable polyploid species, with the habit of T. serpyllum, differing in the obscurely four-angled stems, two of the opposite faces being hairy, the other two glabrous or almost so. Less constant differences are the slightly larger, obovate leaves and broader flower-heads. In Flora Europaea this species is included in T. praecox subsp. arcticus, which, according to that work, differs from T. serpyllum in leaf-venation : the lateral veins curve along the margin, anastomosing at the apex of the leaf, while in T. serpyllum they fade away before reaching the apex. However, in the British Isles T. drucei (which is founded on British specimens) is not so clearly differentiated from T. serpyllum as its continental counterparts.

T. drucei, the British wild thyme, is much commoner in the British Isles than T. serpyllum in the narrow sense, and is the thyme of the chalk downs, always loved for its sweet scent, the ‘wild thyme’ of Shakespeare, and the ‘close cropped thyme’ of Kipling,

‘… that smells

Like dawn in Paradise.’

T. drucei is much more variable than T. serpyllum and most of the creeping ornamental thymes treated as varieties of the latter belong to T. drucei or to other members of the T. serpyllum aggregate. But the treatment of these is beyond the scope of this work.

T. doerfleri Ronniger T. hirsutus Bieb. var. doerfleri (Ronniger) Ronniger – Of uncertain taxonomic status, this thyme belongs to the same group as T. drucei, and is mentioned in Flora Europaea under T. praecox (q.v. above). Stems hairy all round. Leaves 38 to 12 in. long, densely covered with long and short hairs. Flowers purplish pink. Apparently confined to the Koritnik massif on the border between Albania and Yugoslavia; discovered by J. D. Doerfler in 1916 and introduced by him to the Vienna Botanic Garden, thence to Kew. Bot. Mag., n.s., t. 381.

T. pulegioides L. T. chamaedrys Fr.; T. serpyllum subsp. chamaedrys (Fr.) Vollmann – The leading characters of this species are the absence of runners, the usually larger leaves (to about 12 in. long) with less prominent veins, and the longer, four-angled flowering stems, hairy mainly at the four corners. It is widespread in Europe, including Britain, where it is mainly confined to calcareous soils in S. and E. England.



Other species in the genus