Sunday, 20 May 2018

The Little Things in Life

I had a pleasant surprise this week finding a plant that has long alluded me, and boy is it tiny. I have worried for a while that I was missing Annual Pearlwort (Sagina apetala), and even more so since it was split from Slender Pearlwort (Sagina filicaulis). The latter I know well from pavement cracks in summer when it generally occurs in abundance and it quite obvious. Looking at the New Atlas I was surprised at how widespread Annual Pearlwort was meant to be given I was not finding it.

So it was a great pleasure this week to be down at Brotherton Ings (VC64) and to find a tiny pearlwort in a sparse community of winter annuals on a pocket of otherwise unvegetated substrate derived from deposits of pulverised fuel ash (the Ferrybridge Powerstation is just across the river). So  popped a few in a bag to look at under the microscope. Back at home a quick look met my hopes and it keyed out quite nicely to Annual Pearlwort. Even better it was growing with equally diminutive Slender Pearlwort so I could see the differences in sepal arrangement (erect versus patent), and the ciliate leaves of the latter. The latter species was very different (smaller in all parts, more branched,  more compact, and ascending not erect stems) from the typical urban plant and seems to be var. minor, I shall have to look for it further in this kind of niche and at least a month before I would ordinarily be looking for and recording the species.

Having a feel for the niche now, I thought I would see it I could find it at my Little Mouse-ear (Cerastium semidecandrum) site down by the railway to the north of Rothwell Country Park (VC63). It took a little searching but low and behold there it was and even tinier than the previous population. There would be no spotting this without being down on your knees consciously looking.

Some photos below of plants from the Rothwell colony, the first with equally diminutive Little Mouse-ear and Silvery Hair-grass (Aira caryophyllea). I think this is var. patula, the equivalent of filicaulis var. minor.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Patch Botanising

May is such a beautiful month that it seems criminal to waste a sunny day and not get out to enjoy the vibrancy of spring. So with no specific plans in mind I decided to take one of my usual routes round the village to St Aidan's and back.

There was nothing ground-breaking but it is great to see the grasslands and lake margins at St Aidan's coming into peak growth. Another two to three weeks and it will be a carpet of flowers.

However, it was good to find some of the nominate variety of Crack Willow (Salix x fragilis nothovar. fragilis). Its a great time to be looking for the varieties as trees are in catkin and the leaves are mature enough to avoid potential confusion with White Willow (Salix alba). Nothovar. fragilis seems very under-recorded, no doubt in part because when it is not in catkin it is the most nondescript of the nothovars, making it hard to have confidence in the ID. In the case of the local trees they are male, so can only be this nothovar. The only other similar male form (nothovar. furcata) has forked catkins.

The margins of the lakes and meadows have been sown with a variety of supposedly native species, but prevailing as non-native fodder forms. In peak bloom at the moment is Fodder Salad-burnet (Poterium sanguisorba subsp. balearica). A relatively tall form, with large flower heads longer than wide. I found it a challenge to get a decent photo, being left with just a couple out of 20 plus attempts.

The bicolour flowers of Common Vetch (Vicia sativa subsp. segetalis) were also much in evidence.

Elsewhere the two mature trees of a robust cultivar of Bird Cherry (Prunus padus 'Watereri') - relicts from a former colliery planting - were flowering well. I find it hard to believe this is not of hybrid origin. I am not the first to think this but I can find no evidence that this has ever been tested.  It was once a popular plant for landscaping schemes, but in recent years the wild type has become the prevailing form planted. Not surprising given that the latter is a much more charming tree in comparison with this rather ungainly cultivar. Note the large leaves and long racemes (pencil in the photo is 15cm long).

A surprising plant this far down the Aire valley and out in the open on a ditch bank was a large clump of Greater Wood-rush (Luzula sylvatica). As this site is important flood storage in winter, I can only assume that it arrived with flood water.

On the way back home a garden throw-out by the marina gave me a new patch record, and the first hectad record in the DDB since before 1993. Round-leaved Mint (aka Pineapple Mint) was found under trees in its variegated form (Mentha suaveolens 'Variegata').

Photo by KENPEI (Wikimedia Commons)

Saturday, 5 May 2018

St Neots Rural

Its always nice when work takes me to one of my VCs. It doesn't happen very often but when it does I usually find something interesting. This time it was a trip to St Neots Rural Parish, an obscure corner of VC31 which until recently (following expansion of neighbouring St Neots) was virtually unpopulated. VC31 has a couple of these strange parishes, with Stanground North being even more obscure and unoccupied.

The first of the good finds was an obscure variety of Crack Willow (Salix x fragilis nothovar. furcata) that can only be reliably identified in flower (but the foliage is relatively distinct - large, wide and very glossy - and does give a clue of where to go back and look in the following spring). As the photo shows it is a male with forked catkins. This is the first record for the VC for at least 40 years.

Even better was the next find in a nearby field corner, where a 100 plants of Shepherd's-needle (Scandix pecten-veneris) were waiting to be found. Some were already in flower while others had only recently germinated. This species has become very rare in recent years, both in the VC and nationally, so it was great to find it in such good numbers and with spent stems from the previous year to show it had been here at least the year before as well.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Curiosities Part I

I recently had a day botanising in the Clapham area (VC64), including around The Lake where Reginald Farrer introduced so many new exotic species to his estate.

Heading up to the Caves this fabulous form of our native Ramsons (Allium ursinum) caught my eye. Several clumps all with the same bright yellow midrib. If anyone knows the name for this variant (assuming it has one) then please leave a comment as I would love to know.

Whether it is a chance mutation at this location, as it grows with the typical form, or a prized introduction from elsewhere is hard to know. It deserves greater appreciation as at present it is slowly disappearing under dense regenerating tree saplings.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

New for VC31

I have just spent a rather frenetic few days making the most of the recent heatwave to do my first square-bashing of 2018 for the New Atlas, as well as for the Flora of Fenland project. My day down in the Colne and Earith area of Huntingdonshire proved rewarding with two new county records. Interestingly these were both Alliums.

First up was a stand of Few-flowered Garlic (Allium paradoxum) on Meadow Lane. This is a species I know well from VC64 where it is widespread and abundant, particularly along river valleys where the spread of bulbs is facilitated by water. I suspect it may have been brought in with spoil at this location, but not recently.

The naturalised form is var. paradoxum which has most of the flowers replaced by bulbils. Its a bit of a scruff and makes you wonder who ever thought it was a good idea to introduce it to this country.

The second find was another species with potential to become a bit of a thug. This was Three-cornered Garlic (Allium triquetrum) on a ditch bank in Colne. I couldn't get to it for a photo, so here is one from Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Kenpei

Interestingly the latter species was also growing with what in the UK we know as Spanish Bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica). This is my first observation of this species in VC31 (its common in VC64), and I had to date not trusted previous records. This robust species is triploid and bears little resemblance to the wild Spanish plant; current thinking is that it may have evolved in cultivation, but more work is needed. I had only seen the hybrid (H. x massartiana) since taking on the VC in 2008, and it is proving quite widespread. Despite being far more common than Spanish Bluebell, the hybrid still seems to be widely misunderstood and under-recorded in some quarters. 

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Green Hellebore

Howard Beck has been to Threshfield Moor to see the Green Hellebore (Helleborus viridis) and has kindly shared details and the following photograph. This is a welcome update given the last record from this location is now more than 20 years old.

Green Hellebore (photo by Howard Beck)

This colony seems to be doing well along the banks of a small beck. This remote location is far from what would ordinarily be considered typical habitat for the species. It seems likely that it is a long established garden escape, from the days before the modern hybrids supplanted this species in gardens or perhaps even from when it was still valued as a medicinal plant. Its value being as a powerful antihelminthic, as well as a cure for boils and 'melancholicke' diseases. It is possible this colony derives from a wild gathering from nearby Grass Wood, where this species is also known (last reported in 2002). 

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Work Starts on the RPR for VC64

I have been meaning to start work on the Rare Plant Register (RPR) for Mid-West Yorkshire for a number of years, so am pleased to have finally made a start. Its still in the very early days, but I now have the format set out, a draft cover (sneak peek below, the cover star is of course Thistle Broomrape Orobanche reticulata), and have spent the day adding in the first tranche of species.

For those not in the know, a RPR is a mini Flora, containing details of just the rarest species in the county, together with up-to-date information on how they are faring. It is intended as a reference to actively assist nature conservation planning as much as being a Flora of wider interest for botanists. More detail can be found on the BSBI website, along with most of the RPRs produced to date (including mine for VC31).

My plan at present is to progress the RPR slowly, starting with a first edition largely restricted to species listed in national Red Data Lists, following later by a fuller account bringing in species that are rare and scarce in the VC. This is the approach I took with VC31 and it works well. It allows a start to data collation and dissemination, whilst postponing the decisions on which species meet the county criteria. The data needed to support identification of the latter is far from adequate, many of the historic records are now quite old and there is no side-stepping the fact that the resolution of most of these historic records is very poor. So there is a lot of work still to be done, and the RPR will gradually evolve as the records come forward to support its development.

So what can local and visiting botanists do to help? To be honest I would be grateful for any support, big or small, that can be offered. Detailed records of any species listed as Near Threatened or worse status in the England Red Data List will be very welcome (you can find my contact details in the BSBI list of members or on the website), most especially if they come from locations away from the usual botanical hotspots for recording. Its a large county with much to offer.

A few photos of species coming forward in the first draft below.

Mousetail (Myosurus minimus) - extinct in the VC unless anyone knows otherwise

Greater Water-parsnip (Sium latifolium) - extinct in the VC unless anyone knows better

Rye brome (Bromus secalinus) - Vulnerable in Great Britain

Hound's-tongue (Cynoglossum officinale) - Near Threatened in England and Great Britain

Corn Marigold (Glebionis segetum) - Vulnerable in England and Great Britain

Grassington Cinquefoil - (Potentilla cryeri) - ok not in the Red List but otherwise endemic and Nationally Rare