Sunday, 1 October 2017

Patch Botanising

The weather has been pretty ropy recently for botanising far from home, so I have been making use of gaps in the rain to get out on my local patch. The concept of a local patch is one well known to birders, and I think its something more botanists should embrace. Still the urge to jump in the car occasionally, in favour of developing a deeper sense of place. As a VCR its amazing how many records I receive for the same honeypot locations over and over again. One group will visit one year, another the next, another the next and before you know it the first group is visiting again. There are of course benefits from this, who doesn't want to visit nice sites, it keeps the records up to date, and the combined data is potentially worth more than the sum of its parts. But at the same time there is a big wide world out there, much of it is comparatively poorly botanised, and there are still some exceptional sites and plant populations waiting to be found.

Quite often the areas most poorly known are those on our own doorsteps. And yet these are the very locations we have the luxury of getting to know intimately, through the seasons and across the years. My local patch encompasses anywhere I can readily walk to from home, so allows for a variety of circular routes and diversions over a two to four hour period. It takes in the village, two VCs (63 & 64), rivers and waste ground, arable and woodland, post-industrial sites and ancient meadows. But a lot of bog standard suburban and rural habitats. So I am always amazed that there are still new things to find five years on. A slight difference in date or direction, and the familiar is thrown into new light and something new catches the eye. The more you walk a route the more you see, the background quite literally bleeds into the foreground as the eye detects increasing detail and the brain perceives even greater subtleties in shade and form.

Here are some recent highlights from my local patch. A bit heavy on the non-natives, but to everything there is a season ... (turn, turn turn, you know the rest!). I would be keen to receive news from the local patches of others to help build up knowledge of all those overlooked little corners where the mundane mingles with the unexpected.

This year seems to be the year of Greater Duckweed (Spirodela polyrhiza), a great rarity in VC64. It has come out of nowhere, with Mike Wilcox finding it along kilometres of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal upstream of Leeds, while I have found it on the Aire & Calder Navigation in Woodlesford with abundant Fat Duckeed (Lemna gibba).

Photo by Stefan Lefnaer (Wikimedia Commons)

An area where earth had been moved earlier in the year by Rothwell Football Club has rewarded me with both (not so)Common Ramping-fumitory (Fumaria muralis) and the quirky (but otherwise past its best) rusty orange fruiting spikes of Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa).



Down at St Aidan's there were a few fruiting plants of the VC64 rarity Nodding Bur-Marigold (Bidens cernua var. cernua).


While obscure corners of Rothwell Country Park have rewarded me with Argentinean Vervain (Verbena bonariensis), Japanese Anemone (Anemone x hybrida 'Honorine Jobert'), Japanese Quince (Chaenomeles japonica), and somehow, and showing the tenacity of plants, a yellow-flowered Hybrid Tea Rose (Rosa cultivar) growing out of an old spoil heap.





Elsewhere the stuff of nightmares. Floating Pennywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides) in the Navigation. In theory finding this plant, while still so tenuously established, is great as it affords the opportunity for a rapid response to protect the canal and river from further spread. Unfortunately this does not account for the ineptitude of the Canals and Rivers Trust, which has not to date lived up to its self-proclaimed role as "protector" and "custodian" of England's waterways. This despite having been informed in July (photo late September) and having direct management control over this location.


Less troublesome but widely planted and naturalised in the local area are Swedish Whitebeam (Sorbus intermedia) and Mougeot's Whitebeam (Sorbus mougeotii). Note the greater number and closer arrangement of the leaf veins of the latter.



And of course I always have one eye open for the infraspecifics. I'm not sure if I am just noticing it more now that I know it exists, or if it is genuinely spreading, but I do have a soft spot for this variety of Prickly Sowthistle (Sonchus asper subsp. asper var. integrifolius). This time at Swillington Park.


Here's to what the next season has to offer. Happy hunting.



Thursday, 21 September 2017

Geranium orientalitibeticum New to Britain

Nicky Vernon and Bruce Brown sent me a brilliant list of records a few weeks back for a site in the middle of nowhere, or as good as for this part of the world, up on Draughton Moor (VC64). Amongst an impressive assemblage of garden escapes one name jumped out at me - Geranium orientali-tibeticum. I did not really doubt it given the recorders, and also because it is quite a distinctive species with its yellow marbled leaves. But being a Crane's-bill fan (verging on a stamp collector when it comes to Dusky Crane's-bill Geranium phaeum and its ilk) I wanted to see more. The weather has not yet allowed me to pay homage in person, so I was very pleased today to hear Nicky and Bruce had been back and taken photographs (below).


To the best of my knowledge this species has never been recorded growing wild in Britain and Ireland (based on the BSBI Distribution Database). A slight surprise given this is a relatively well known garden plant, perhaps a little old fashioned these days, which spreads prolifically by rhizomes. The latter trait probably identifies one reason why it is less widely grown these days, and is also a possible means for its arrival at the site. Nicky notes that trees had been planted nearby so it may have come with these, or with the Montbretia (Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora), another thug, growing nearby.

Photo by Ghislain118 via Wikimedia Commons

And if you are wondering whether to hyphen (as commonly done) or not, this is neatly and honestly explained by Peter Yeo in his monograph on the genus. The hyphen was added by him to make it easier to read and pronounce the name, and is not strictly correct. I can see his point.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Skipton and Embsay

On Saturday I took a trip on the train out to Skipton (VC64) to start work on a couple of under-recorded hectads. I picked a circular route out to Embsay and the reservoir. It did not turn out to be the most inspiring countryside with intensive farmland in the lowland and a 'sheep-wrecked' upland edge. But needs must with the pressures of Atlas 2020 mounting, and it just means you have to look a little harder.

The first nice find was a good stand of Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) along Springs Canal, later to be seen again at the entrance to Skipton Wood. This attractive plant does not appear to have been recorded from this hectad previously.

Purple Loosestrife - I am cheating with this photo as it was taken at 
Lowther Lake a couple of weeks back

Walking up The Bailey I was able to look up onto the walls of Skipton Castle where there were naturalised colonies of Aubrieta (Aubrieta deltoidea) and Golden Alison (Aurinia saxatilis). The former had not been recorded here previously, and the only other record for the hectad was last century (pre-1999, details very vague as is the case for too many records). Golden Alison was new to the hectad.

Golden Alison (photo by Prazak from Wikimedia Commons)

After a dull walk down into Embsay things picked up again with a number of oddities along Brackenley Lane. First up was a couple of plants of Upright Spurge (Euphorbia stricta). This is a rare British native but it is a casual up here. I see it is listed by some seed suppliers as 'Golden Foam'. A nice plant but I am not sure I need to grow it my garden. Each to their own.


Old walls further along the lane had Caucasian Stonecrop (Sedum spurium) and Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum), and then this surprise by the steps up to the footpath across the fields. Yellow Oxeye (Telekia speciosa).


Emerging onto Pasture Road I found a nice stand of Dusky Crane's-bill (Geranium phaeum var. phaeum) where Embsay Beck passes under the road. Still a few flowers present despite the season.


Reaching the reservoir I couldn't wait to get down to the shore to look for drawdown flora. Unfortunately this is one of the reservoirs where this is very poorly developed and there were none of the specialities. The highlights being Tufted Forget-me-not (Myosotis laxa) and Marsh Yellow-cress (Rorippa palustris). The latter the first record for the hectad since pre-1969. I was then pleased to find a bush of Glandular Dog-rose (Rosa squarrosa), a hectad first, swiftly followed by yet another in the form of Musk (Mimulus moschatus). A single large clump was growing in the northern inflow.

Musk, photo taken last year at Fewston Reservoir

Heading up onto the Moor, there was only slim pickings but it allowed me to record the usual suspects. The nicest find was Climbing Corydalis (Ceratocapnos claviculata). I then dropped down back towards Embsay. A few useful records were made on route, mainly garden escapes and plantings. The biggest surprise was Algerian Ivy (Hedera algeriensis) established in plantation behind the roadside wall. I suspect this species may be overlooked elsewhere, being passed over for Irish Ivy (Hedera hibernica Hibernica Group). Look out for large leaves, ruby red petioles and young stems, and a pine scent.

An old wall in Embsay had a nice bush of Garden Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) growing out of it, no doubt self-seeded from a nearby garden.

Having a little time to kill before catching my train I wandered up to Skipton Woods. Not the most interesting of woods (especially at this time of year), too many feet and too much bare ground, but adding a few plants that had not been recorded previously. Including such obvious species as Branched Bur-reed (Sparganium erectum). It was also good to find the Herb-Paris (Paris quadrifolia) just about still in leaf, allowing me to collect a detailed grid reference. However justifying this brief diversion was the best find. A large plant of Indian-rhubarb (Darmera peltata) has somehow managed to establish in the bank of Eller Beck by the boardwalk. I'm not sure if this is the same plant last reported in 2004, the location details are too vague, but it seems likely.

Indian-rhubarb





Friday, 1 September 2017

Settle Sojourns

I've been to Settle a number of times this year, it being a handy base for recording this hectad for Atlas 2020. However, I have had little time for posting pictures so it is time for a little catch up. In no particular order ...

Virginia-creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), colonising a wall on the Highway and new to the hectad

Perennial Sunflower (Helianthus x laetiflorus 'Lemon Queen'), start of Stackhouse Lane, Giggleswick. First mentioned to me by Mike Canaway

Double-flowered Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium 'Bachelor's Buttons') at Langcliffe Mill

My second favourite, sad I know, Prickly Sowthistle (after subsp. glaucescens) Sonchus asper subsp asper var. integrifolius in Giggleswick

Boo Hiss, Garden Lady's-mantle (Alchemilla mollis) making its bid for world domination, Craven Lime Works

Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), Craven Lime Works

How many succulents can you spot? churchyard wall Langcliffe. Some answers below

Hen-and-chicks (Jovibarba heuffelii)

Oregon Stonecrop (Sedum oreganum subsp. oreganum)

Cobweb House-leek (Sempervivum arachnoideum)

Armenian Crane's-bill (Geranium psilostemon), new to VC64, west bank of River Ribble, Giggleswick

Stinking Tutsan (Hypericum hircinum) by River Ribble downstream of Settle. Never put a piece in your pocket to look at later and then get on a crowded train!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

A Tale of Two Picris

Hawkweed Oxtongue (Picris hieracioides subsp. hieracioides) is a native plant of calcareous soils being found on waysides, old quarries, chalk cliffs and downland. It is always a nice find in Yorkshire as it is not common up here. I have only seen it in VC64 growing on the old walls of Fountains Abbey (photo) and at Burton Leonard Lime Quarries Nature Reserve, although at the latter I must admit I did not determine the subspecies.


In recent years it has become known that several other subspecies also occur, or have occurred previously, in Britain. Most of these are non-native casuals. Generally the native plant can be distinguished from these by its longer branches and capitula on relatively long pedicels.

This came back to me today when I stumbled across a small colony of Hawkweed Oxtongue in Rothwell Country Park (VC63). This is not a location where the native would be expected, as this site is restored colliery land and was sown with a seed mix in the past. Sure enough this plant did not look quite right, with me having at the back of my mind that if it had some capitula near-sessile it was worth a closer look.

Of course coming home and revisiting the above photograph the differences are quite obvious. The current plant is subsp. villarsii (its synonym of subsp. umbellata is more descriptive). It has flowers arising in tiers on short branches, and the terminal inflorescence is sub-umbellate. Of course this latter trait was most obvious in the plant I decapitated for ID purposes, so I did not get a photograph in situ but I did manage to salvage a few photos later (see below). The phyllaries are meant to be blackish-green, this seems a bit variable and was not as pronounced as I was expecting from reading the key previously. It is probably less useful than the other characteristics of the inflorescence, but perhaps it darkens when pressed.





Sunday, 27 August 2017

Sparganium erectum - Getting to Grips with the Subspecies

Mike Wilcox is taking an interest in Branched Bur-reed (Sparganium erectum) at the moment, with the aim of improving knowledge of the distribution of the four subspecies. Much needed, and particularly valuable for the New Atlas project.  It is too easy to ignore variation below the species level, but in recent years we have seen a number of under-recorded subspecies raised to species status leaving a black hole in our records as a result. Even where this is not warranted the ecology and geography of the component subspecies can diverge and is in itself interesting.

                                   Sparganium erectum subsp. microcarpum on the Ripon Canal. Image: M. Wilcox

So ideally we should be recording subspecies, although it is not always easy especially when published descriptions are often inadequate. It is too easy to make a false start, reducing confidence and increasing the inclination not to try. Which neatly brings me back to Mike, who is keen to receive samples of mature fruiting heads from anywhere in the UK and Ireland and will provide or confirm the initial ID's. So its win win for all concerned.

There are four subspecies in the UK & Ireland, all of which are detailed in our standard floras. So they are doable, but only with mature fruit (so now onwards is a great time to collect fruit) and being aware of the pitfalls in the key. The split between subsp. microcarpum and subsp. neglectum is particularly tricky as it relies on a judgement as to whether the individual fruit are 'shouldered' or 'gradually narrowed'. See Mike's photo of the former and note the difference between the mature fruit and the immature fruit. Subsp. microcarpum might perhaps be better described as having a domed head as it is not markedly shouldered, and subsp. neglectum as tapering. There is a great picture of the latter (and subsp. erectum) here.

If you would like to get in touch with Mike his address is in the BSBI members handbook (Members area of the website) or drop him an email. Fruiting heads can be put into a paper packet or envelope, and full details of the location should be provided (there is no value in a record if we don't know where it comes from!). You can email Mike at michaelpw22[at]hotmail.com  (replace the [at] with an @).

Friday, 18 August 2017

The 'Grey Man' of the British Flora

The 'grey man' concept is about surviving by never drawing attention to yourself, blending into the background, giving no lasting impression. Sea Pearlwort (Sagina maritima) has this down to a T. Poor thing.

Photo by Geoffrey Hall, NatureSpot website for Leicestershire & Rutland

I suspect I have been overlooking this annual species, and I suspect this will be case for many others also. Particularly those like me who largely botanise inland and therefore do not have this species on their radar as a possibility. Mike Wilcox has recently drawn my attention to the presence of this species at St Aidan's (VC64), and having been for a look I had seen it previously and just ignored it as seedling Procumbent Pearlwort (Sagina procumbens). How wrong I was. After this I found it in pavement cracks in Leeds (VC63). Mike knows this species well from Bradford, about as far from the sea as you can get.

Photo by David Nicholls, NatureSpot website for Leicestershire & Rutland

Part of the problem is that this species is very variable, and many populations comprise tiny plants (2 pence coin size), so it is easily missed. Published descriptions are also not adequate, for example in Stace it is described as 'diffusely branched +/- erect annual'. Not strongly prostrate as per my plants and the photos above. The associated key also links the species to other annual species, the unintended mental image of which (coupled with the description) is a plant similar in character to these other species. The key jizz of the plant as shown above is a central rosette with flowering branches arising around its margins, and no sterile shoots (unlike the perennial species).

I was please to have opportunity again to use my bargain £10 macrolens for my iPhone. Quite pleased with the result below.