Sunday, 5 September 2021

Greater Musk-mallow

It was great to find Greater Musk-mallow (Malva alcea) again yesterday, still clinging on in the road verge at Newton (VC64) where I first found it in 2013. This relatively uncommon garden escape looks like it still has another month's worth of flowers yet to come. A welcome sight at a time of year when many other species have gone over.

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Where there's muck,

there's goosefoots. Perhaps a bit harsh, but there is a fair chance of finding something interesting if you poke around the fringes of a muck heap. As was the case this week when I was rewarded with a strong colony of Grey Goosefoot (Chenopodium opulifolium) near the stables at Royds Green (VC63). Its one of those species that is relatively distinctive once known but very difficult to identify with confidence using a key. Handily, it is also a species that seems to have been collected widely in the past, so there are lots of good quality herbarium specimens to be found online (photographs on the other hand seem far less reliable).

Its seems to be a relatively short (to 30cm tall) and well-branched plant with small distinctively shaped leaves (with most about as wide as they are long). It was recorded widely in the past, but there are virtually no contemporary records. Lost or just overlooked?

A number of the plants had this yellow marbling to the leaves, contrasting with other species nearby. I'm not sure if its viral or a nutritional problem, but not something to otherwise pay too much regard to.

Sunday, 15 August 2021

Micklefield Circular (VC64)

This Saturday finally promised a day of reliably dry weather, so I decided to make the most of it by exploring the limestone country to the east of Leeds. It is not a well botanised area as first impressions are of an intensively farmed landscape, which it is, but there are also extensive woodlands, relicts of limestone grassland, pretty villages where cottage gardens overspill their boundaries, and the arable fields themselves are not without surprises. Bravely, I ending up deciding on a 16km route from Micklefield to Sherburn in Elmet, South Milford, Lumby, Ledsham and back to Micklefield. But the walking was easy and relatively flat and, while I did not find any really good arable fields, I found lots of interest.

Things got off to a quick and excellent start in Micklefield when I found Green Nightshade (Solanum nitidibaccatum) next to the path past the new housing development. This species was virtually unknown in the county 5 years ago, but it has been turning up on light soils in the east of the county. I'm not sure if its a new colonist, or if it has just been missed. The plants here probably arrived with the sand used to construct the path. I found this species again later in an arable field in South Milford.

Heading away from Micklefield along the footpath towards Huddleston Hall I was surprised to find the wheat crop (an unusual awned form) over-topped by thousands of Rye (Secale cereale) plants. I assume it came in as a crop contaminant rather having been a crop in a previous year. I've never seen it grown at field scale locally, this being premium wheat and potato country.

Along the boundary of Huddleston Old Wood a bramble caught my eye. On first glance I thought I had found a pink-flowered Soft-haired Bramble (Rubus vestitus) (also, and more usually, available in white), one of the few bramble species that is relatively easy to both recognise and remember. This species has rather distinctive near-circular terminal leaflets with a thick fuzzy texture. However in this case, the leaves turned out to be rather thin and without the expected pubescence. Instead they were bright chalky white underneath. This and the vibrant pink-flowers indicated a hybrid with Elm-leaved Bramble (Rubus ulmifolius), another obligingly straightforward species. Hybrid status was also suggested by the poorly developed fruit, with only a few druplets swelling. A shame, as both parent species produce good fruit.

My journey down Laith Staid Lane towards Sherburn in Elmet rewarded my with one of my favourite plants, Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna), in two discrete locations. Just a shame that it was past flowering (just one tatty flower left). But there is no mistaking that large foliage. 

Heading further down the lane my eye was drawn to some typical limestone grassland species clinging on in rough grassland on a nutrient enriched bank. Looking more closely I was surprised to see several large plants of Cat-mint (Nepeta cataria), a real rarity and last reported for the county no more recently than the 1990's. As all previous locations and associated details are very vague (somewhere in a 2km grid square in a 20 year period is the best we have), it was good to get a detailed grid reference for this location. Its to be hoped that it still persists elsewhere; maybe someone else will get lucky and find it.

The final interesting find along this lane was this enormous hogweed, easily 2m tall and towering over the adjacent hedgerow. An impressive plant, with the leaf in the bottom right of the photo probably as tall as a normal Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) plant. This is the taxon given in Sell & Murrell as Heracleum branca-ursina, but with the comment that it needs further research. It almost certainly does not merit full species status, but for the time being its the only name we have. In reality it is probably just a very distinctive, and likely alien, variety or forma of Hogweed.

On the outskirts of South Milford I came across this unusual form of Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium f. breviradiatum).

And then further into the village in the roadside gutter of Woodside Close was Sea Campion (Silene uniflora). It must have escaped from a garden somewhere nearby.

But the best was yet to come, with an area of block paving on the High Street yielding a colony of American Cudweed (Gamochaeta purpurea). This seems to be the first record for Yorkshire.

Further unexpected aliens turned up at the end of Redhill Lane, Lumby where presumably the landowner dumps their garden waste. A search amongst the ruderals resulted in, in sequence, Thorn-apple (Datura stramonium), unfortunately not yet flowering, Common Millet (Panicum miliaceum), False Virginia-creeper (Parthenocissus inserta), and oddest of all a variegated Hosta (Hosta 'Undulata Albomarginata').

Crossing under the motorway to Selby Fork I was back to interesting native species, with a good stand of Juncus x diffusus, the hybrid between Soft Rush (Juncus effusus) and Hard Rush (Juncus inflexus).

By now I was starting to flag, but with Ledsham the next stop the end was almost in sight. Passing through the village a flash of colour in a ditch proved to be an attractive cultivar of Russian Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum 'Variegatum').

And then in Ledston Park, another nice native that is quite rare in the county. I suspect in this instance this Dark Mullein (Verbascum nigrum) may be a garden escape. It was not in typical habitat and was growing near Balm (Melissa officinalis).

All in all not a bad haul for the day. Definitely worth the leg work.

Sunday, 8 August 2021

Odds and Ends

A few interesting plants that never made it into a specific post over the last few months...

Hairy-fruited broom (Cystisus striatus) found naturalised at a new site near Cridling Stubbs (VC63).

It was nice to find good numbers of truly Wild Pansy (Viola tricolor subsp. tricolor) near Rossington (VC63). Not a common sight on arable margins these days, and interesting to see so much variation in flower colour and form.

At the same location I was also surprised to find a thriving population of Yellow Bartsia (Parentucellia viscosa)

Siberian Wallflower (Erysimum x marshallii) popped up again in its usual spot in Woodlesford (VC63) where it was first sown several years back. Its one of those plants I was aware of but did not appreciate how different it was. Lots of years needlessly pondering any vaguely orange Wallflower (Erysimum cheiri) just in case!

A flash of gold(ish) in Little Preston (VC64) turned out to be Bowle's Golden Grass a cultivar of Wild Millet (Milium effusum 'Aureum'). Unfortunately, I never did get to see it flower, as the strimmers got there first. I'm surprised this grass is not more frequent, as it breeds true and self sows around my garden.

While on the edge of a farm ditch near Swillington, this stunning and unexpected Crown-Imperial Fritillary (Fritillaria imperialis 'Rubra Maxima') with other garden throwouts.

Sunday, 1 August 2021

Rumex crispus subsp. robustus

Working near Rossington, Doncaster (VC63) a couple of weeks back my eye was drawn to a large Curled Dock (Rumex crispus) growing on the hedgebank. It looked unusually tall (>1.3m) and robust, with broad leaves, a huge inflorescence, large tepals and an usual deep green coloration. Then I saw another and then another. So I collected some hoping it might be the poorly known, and presumed non-native, subspecies robustus.

Further research confirmed these initial thoughts, with the tepals clearly in the size range for this subspecies (being 5-6mm wide). To be on the safe side I pressed it and sent a sample to Geoffrey Kitchener, the BSBI referee for the genus. Thanks to Geoffrey for confirming my identification.

The ever invaluable Alien Plants of Belgium website provides a little more detail on this subspecies, including a useful key as follows:

1a. Valves ca. 5-5.5 mm wide, slightly cordate at base, ca. as wide as long, with a single inconspicuous tubercle, ca. 1.5 mm long. Lateral inflorescence branches slightly spreading, not tightly appressed to the main axis. Leaves lanceolate to broadly so, with weakly undulate margins. Plant tall, much exceeding 100 cm === subsp. robustus

1b. Valves ca. 3.5-5 mm wide (longer than wide), truncate at base, with 1-3 tubercles, the larger ca. 2 mm long. Lateral inflorescence branches often tightly appressed to the main axis. Leaves narrower and more distinctly undulate at margin. Plant smaller, rarely exceeding 100 cm (native) === subsp. crispus

The presence/absence of a well developed tubercle seems unreliable for ID purposes, with some disagreement in this in other references. Even on one plant this seems relatively variable. Geoffrey also advises that there can be a zone of overlap in tepal width, so my main advice would be to consider the plant as a whole. Does it otherwise look like typical subspecies crispus (likely to be somewhere nearby as a point of comparison)? If not, chances are its the real deal.

Sunday, 18 July 2021

Mad Dogs ...

 ... and botanists go out in the mid-day sun on the hottest day of the year so far. Crazy, but I'm not one for wasting sunshine (I live in Leeds after all), especially after a spring lost to covid and excessive rainfall. So, I took one of my lazy weekend routes out along the shade of the river corridor towards Mickletown (VC63) and then back via St Aidan's (VC64).

Over the winter the Canal and River Trust had cleared a path through the woodland on the river bank near Lemonroyd Marina (VC63). This new route gave me the first good find of the day - several bushes of the irredeemably pungent Stinking Tutsan (Hypericum hircinum subsp. majus). A new species for my home patch.

Further on was a bush of hazel yet to be stripped of its nuts by voracious grey squirrels. This is one of the hybrids between the native Hazel (Corylus avellana) and the Filbert (Corylus maxima). This form could be easily mistaken for the latter but the involucre is not fully closed over the nut and consequently the nut is visible. This would key*, given the nuts are obviously longer than wide, to the form Peter Sell distinguished as Corylus avellana f. schizochlamys. However, the length of the involucre and the pronounced pinching over the nut means it is not a good match. It looks to have much more of an influence from Corylus maxima than is typical for this form.

Further on, and handy for comparison purposes, I found another bush likely to be part of this hybrid spectrum. Its a common form with very large nuts that are about as long as wide. Under Peter Sell's classification it can be called Corylus avellana f. grandis. Again the involucre exceeds the nut, which is a trait potentially derived from Filbert.

Out in the sun near Mickletown (VC63) there was an impressive mixed stand of Broad-leaved Everlasting-pea (Lathyrus latifolius), a garden escape. The pale-flowered plants seems a good match for the cultivar 'Rosa Perle', while the darker ones seem to be 'Red Pearl'.

Next to the pea was a distinctive bramble. This being, Slender-spined Bramble (Rubus elegantispinosus), a species that I learnt under lockdown last year. Baby steps with this genus. I remain ever hopeful for a regional handbook with photos.

The final treat of the day was the swathes of Hare's-foot Clover (Trifolium arvense) lining the track through St Aidan's (VC64). This species has exploded in numbers in recent years and is always a welcome sight.

* Update: I would modify this to accords with the pictures in Sell & Murrell. The descriptions seem back to front with the pictures. While it would be tempting to rely on the descriptions, I am also swayed by the description of var. grandis (the "big round nut" as originally defined in its latin diagnosis) in this account (European Journal of Taxonomy 409(409):1–45). This also seems to indicate that f. schizochlamys is not correctly applied in Sell & Murrell. All this is possibly academic given the more you look, the more variation can be found. It seems likely that these named forms only represent a tiny proportion of the true variation of this long cultivated tree, and at best are only loose groupings. I am increasingly inclined to take the stance of Alan Leslie in his excellent Flora of Cambridgeshire.

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Lapsana communis subsp. intermedia

So the excitement this week, while out on a work survey at South Hetton (VC66) with aspiring ecologist Harriet Duffield*, was this non-native form of Nipplewort (Lapsana communis subsp. intermedia). I don't know who was more excited, me or Harriet**. The BSBI database shows that it has been recorded from the county previously, but this is a new hectad.

It stands out with its large bright golden flowers (I was expecting it to be a hawkweed), but it also has very distinct foliage. I see that Stace 4 has dropped mention of the lateral lobes on the leaves being nearly as wide as the terminal lobe, which is mentioned in other sources. Even so, when compared with subsp. communis, the leaves are very distinct. I was also interested to see that some plants are completely glabrous, while others have either hairy stems and leaves, or just hairy leaves.

subsp. intermedia on  the left, subsp. communis on the right

* That's for saying that you would never get a mention on my blog! And yes I do know that's not how you spell inspiring.

** Ok I do.