Google and I think that this is Devil’s Bit Scabious. If we’re right then it’s doing a worthwhile job here on our verge and even Natural England can’t find anything to complain about. It’s a ‘good thing’ for the Marsh Fritillary butterfly and, would you believe me if I told you, The Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth? Both of them need it to lay their eggs and both of them are rare. Hmmm. Has Eve O’Lution been indulging in her penchant for whimsy again?
Speaking of whimsy, Wikipedia, that fount of all that’s best on the Internet, notes that the plant was used to treat scabies and other skin afflictions including the sores left by Bubonic Plague. Well, imagine that! I always thought that if you caught The Plague, your body had to be pushed back into your house with a long pole and the entire house burned to the ground, especially if you lived round Pudding Lane. It seems, though that you could actually have a mild case of plague or even recover from a more serious bout.
The plants name comes from the Latin ‘scabere’, meaning to scratch and it has a funny root. In its first year the root looks a bit like a small carrot, but that rots away soon after and leaves a ring of new roots surrounding a ragged stump. Apparently, the fact that there was a way to alleviate the torment that he had gone to a great deal of trouble to arrange for Mankind (as always we include womankind here, although in this case they may wish to be excused) upset the Devil and in an attempt to get rid of the offending plant he bit off the root.
So that explains a lot.