Saturday, 12 December 2015

Huge Colony of Adder's-tongue

It is always nice to get a good batch of records through the post, and this week I received a valuable batch of monad records from Peter Walker. These included details of an exceptional population of Adder's-tongue (Ophioglossum vulgatum) at Little Less Wood (VC31), where it is estimated that the population stood at around 1000 in the plantation. Makes me want to go for a look next year. No photo unfortunately, but here is one from just over the county border at Ailsworth Heath, Castor Hanglands (VC32) - another good place to see this small fern.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Wester Flisk

It's the time of year when British botanists have to find other outlets, so I've been falling back on seed catalogues and gardening in recent weeks. One of the plants I want to try and establish from seed this year is Stinking Hellebore (Helleborus foetidus), one of the cultivars of which rang a few bells in the back of my head.

The Wester Flisk Group is notable for its red tinged petioles and stems and this reminded me of some striking plants found at Little Paxton Pits (VC31) in March 2009. These must surely be part of this group, if perhaps not the best examples of this seed strain. That said, I believe the weather can also impact the intensity of the red colouration. There are several naturalised colonies of this species in VC31, but I don't remember seeing any others of this group.

And in case like me you are wondering why the odd cultivar name - apparently its the name of the garden in Fife, Scotland where it was first found.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Italian Lords-and-Ladies

Nick Millar has just sent me a batch of interesting records made this year. Among these is a new location for Italian Lords-and-Ladies (Arum italicum ssp. italicum) at Harrison Way, St Ives (VC31). This attractive winter foliage plant seems to be on the increase, with this being the fifth record of this garden escape.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Just Because ...

... its a member of my favourite genus of plants, and I'm cooped up with a cold without any recent news to share.

A beautiful mass of the spring flowering Munich Crane's-bill (Geranium x monacense var. monacense) in the Engine Fields, Yeadon (VC64). This the hybrid between Dusky Crane's-bill (Geranium phaeum), a plant I am addicted to in all its variation, and Geranium reflexum. It inherits the reflexed petals from the latter, and they seem to reflex only gradually and are definitely encouraged by a bit of warm sunshine. Until then it might easily be overlook for Dusky Crane's-bill.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Golden Dock at St Aidan's

With sunshine and blue skies today I thought it worth a late season trip to St Aidan's (VC64) to see if any of the Golden Dock (Rumex maritimus) rosettes seen earlier in the year had made it to flowering. I was rewarded with four plants, one of which was in peak bloom and worth photographing. This species was more abundant a couple of years ago, water levels and goose trampling haven't favoured it recently. I also wonder if the recent rapid spread of New Zealand Pigmyweed (Crassula helmsii) is also impeding germination.

Golden Dock is a rare plant in VC64 and is largely restricted to a few wetlands in the far east of the county. It is a little more frequent in VC31, but it is still a scarce plant of drawdown habitats.

Less attractive, but equally pleasing - at least to me and perhaps because it requires a little more investment in time to go beyond a species-only identification - was the scattering of the wetland specialist subspecies of Greater Plantain (Plantago major ssp. intermedia) along the drawdown zone. While identifications should always be confirmed by counting the number of seeds in a pod (>15 seeds is diagnostic) it is very distinct once known, with its typically diminutive size, pointed leaf tip, toothed and hairy leaves, and usually decumbent inflorescence. It is also much more specialist in niche than its more competitive and weedy sister (ssp. major), normally being associated with disturbed damp ground, and often only germinating and flowering late in the season.

A final lucky find was a second location for Greater Soft-rush (Juncus pallidus), again doing its best to blend in with the Club-rushes (Schoenoplectus spp.). The following photo is pretty ropey (I should have got my camera out rather than using my phone), and it does nothing to show the size of the plant which was easily as tall as me.

Progress in Recording for the New Atlas

As the season winds down I thought it worth a quick review of where VC31 and 64 stand with regard to the objectives of the BSBI Atlas 2020 project. There are only four seasons left to record for the Atlas, so now is a good time to look at successes to date and requirements going forward.

VC31 is in good shape, and essentially work here is done to meet minimum requirements for the New Atlas. This is not to say more records aren't of value - lets try and exceed minimum requirements - but we have the luxury of going where the whim takes us without an emphasis on "square-bashing".

The following map taken from my VC page on the BSBI database website clearly shows the good performance in VC31 since 2000. The map on the right illustrates how thoroughly hectads have been re-surveyed - the paler the squares the more thorough the re-recording. The map on the left shows level of survey effort by tetrad - the darker the colour the more survey effort has been applied. The latter map amply illustrates the effects of bias towards the home patches of active recorders, and the honeypot effects associated with places like Woodwalton Fen and Paxton Pits.

So thinking ahead, while we can be satisfied in a job well done, the maps together suggest that "white" tetrads need a visit as these have not been recorded post-2000, and that there is a need for more recording on the fringes of the VC.

This situation in VC64 is also relatively favourable, but given this is a much larger county there is still a definite need for square-bashing in locations away from the main areas of interest for the most active local recorders and recording societies.

The map on the left again shows which hectads are relatively better recorded, and there is a clear need to target the larger dark red hectads on the fringes of the VC. The map on the right shows clear hotspots of recording activity focussed on my recent areas of interest as well as Wharfedale, the Washburn valley, Bowland and the Leeds/Bradford conurbation. Note the hectads with no or only few recently recorded tetrads.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Armchair Botany

The nights are drawing in and the rain is back, so its time to start doing some of those indoors tasks that I've been putting off for a rainy day. First on my list of priorities is to try and name the bramble (Rubus fruticosus agg.) specimens I collected and carefully pressed back in July before sending them off for expert judgement.

Fortunately, not all of the 350 odd UK brambles are an ID challenge to a novice like me. One of my favourites is Soft-haired Bramble (Rubus vestitus) because it is very common, so you see it often enough to keep reinforcing its characteristics in the memory, and because it is very tactile with its thick but softly pubescent leaves. The terminal leaflet is also distinctive, typically being nearly circular in outline. Soft-haired Bramble is widespread in both VC31 and 64 and indeed nationally.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Well Worn Path

It's always nice when walking a regular route to spot something that you haven't seen before. That really is the beauty of having a local patch and getting to know it inside out. This time it was on my route over to Temple Newsam (VC64), and it was a tree of all things. I must have walked past this species at least four times a year for the last 3 years without seeing it. To be fair to myself, it was Dwarf Cherry (Prunus cerasus) and it was growing with its larger cousin Wild Cherry (Prunus avium), but even so it was only a metre off the path. Perhaps it was something to do with the low autumn sun shining off the glossy leaves that caught my eye this time.

Dwarf and Wild Cherry are quite distinct once known, as the following scan of the leaves should show. Dwarf Cherry (four leaves on the left) has smaller, darker green, glossy leaves with rounded rather than sharp teeth along the edge.

Other nice finds on the same trip included a planted Pin Oak (Quercus palustris), a tree I have wanted to see for a while to understand how it differs from Red Oak (Quercus rubra) - the answer to which is smaller more refined leaves, and naturalised Late Michaelmas Daisy (Aster x versicolor) with it large flowers providing a nectar feast for late flying bees and butterflies.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

Today's Sunday stroll ended up being fruitful in every sense, with plums and haws a plenty.

First up, I found a stand of Damson (Prunus domestica ssp. institia var. damascena) near Little Preston (VC64). There were few fruit left and those were out of camera reach, so here is a picture from Wikimedia.

© Copyright Jonathan Billinger and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Next up was a dense suckering thicket of a small plum next to the allotments at Great Preston. While this plant keyed out to Black Bullace (Prunus domestica ssp. institia var. nigra) (see also below), I'm not entirely happy with the ID, the fruit were only just in the range for this taxon and the look of the plant was wrong with its densely suckering habitat (Bullace suckers, but not usually to this extent) producing a billowing stand more typical of Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa). I suspect it may be the hybrid between the two (Prunus x fruticans) but need to ponder further and perhaps revisit in the spring when it is in flower. The fruit were astringent but not to the mouth drying and puckering extent of Blackthorn.

Next up was a magnificent Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) on the way to Owl Wood, with exceptionally large haws. This is the perfectly named var. splendens. The following photo shows the size of the haws against three typical sized haws from an adjacent bush.

Brian Davis sent me photos of a couple of other plum varieties he found last year in hedges in VC31. These are included below to allow comparison. The first is Black Bullace, while the second is White Bullace (Prunus domestica ssp. institia var. syriaca).

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Petition to Save the Natural History Museum Garden

I have recently heard of plans to impact at least 50% of the wildlife garden at the Natural History Museum, London. The garden is an important biodiversity, educational and amenity asset in the middle of London from which 3000 species of plant and animal have been recorded over the years. Apparently it is the only place in Britain where Summer Lady's-tresses (Spiranthes aestivalis) orchid can be seen, albeit as an introduced colony. This species became extinct as a wild plant in Britain in the 1940s.

Read more and sign the petition here. The following photo is from the campaign webpage and shows what an established oasis the garden is. The wildlife garden is open daily from 1st April to 31st October.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Chameleon of Cheesecake Farm

Thought I would have another look back through photos from the spring. This stunning plant popped up in a relict area of acid grassland at the intriguingly named Cheesecake Farm (alas the farm is long gone), Royds Green (VC63). It is Sweet Spurge (Euphorbia dulcis 'Chameleon'), which apparently owes its horticultural origins to a chance find in a French ditch! This grassland also has a good range of natives including betony (Betonica officinalis), Devil's-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) and Sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica).

Monday, 21 September 2015

Caucasian Penny-cress found at Harrogate

Kevin Walker has sent news of a huge colony of Caucasian Penny-cress (Pachyphragma macrophyllum) on the Oak Beck, downstream of the RHS Harlow Carr gardens, Harrogate. He managed to track it for approximately 2km of watercourse so it is clearly well established. This is the first VC64 record.

Caucasian Penny-cress is a rare garden escape, spreading by rhizomes. While its flowers are attractive in early spring its pungent smell is much less welcome. Kevin took the following photo back in the spring.

Oak Beck has long been known as a hotspot for garden escapes. Last year Mike Wilcox found both American and Asian Skunk-cabbage (Lysichiton americanus and Lysichiton camtschatcensis respectively), Aconite-leaved Buttercup (Ranunculus aconitifolius) Coral-root (Cardamine bulbifera), Fly Honeysuckle (Lonicera xylosteum) and Madeira Holly (Ilex perado) to name but a few of the more unusual. The escaped Coral-root is particularly prolific having established in the Nidd Gorge also.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Ploughman's Spikenard

The season is definitely winding down now, but some species are still going strong. Ploughman's Spikenard (Inula conyzae) is one such species and is relatively uncommon in both VC31 and VC64, although in the former it appears to have increased in recent years. It is a species of dry rough grassland on calcareous substrates, particularly in open scrub habitats and at the woodland edge. In VC31 it occurs locally on the boulder clays, while in VC64 it is very much a speciality of the Magnesian Limestone to the east of Leeds, although it is of scattered occurrence in the Dales also. The following photo is from Swillington (VC64).

And, in case like me, you were wondering why the weird name! Apparently its the poor man's equivalent of true Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansii), a Himalayan plant with perfumed roots. The roots of our plant have an aromatic smell and were sometimes dried to hang up or burn as a room-freshener.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Hybrid Hedge Bindweed

Finally the rain has gone and today was too good a day not to get out somewhere and enjoy the late summer sunshine. My walk took me past Royds Green (VC63) where the bindweeds were in peak bloom and one large stand stood out from the rest due to its intermediate flower size and the wide variation in bracteole morphology, making me instantly think Hybrid Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia x lucana).

The variable bracteoles is often the best way to spot plants that may be of hybrid origin and this is illustrated in the following photo of three flowers taken from the same plant/clone. Note that the flower on the left has ridiculously smally bracteoles, the middle flower has markedly asymmetric bracteoles, while the flower on the right has very large bracteoles that make no attempt to wrap around the flower. The photo also shows variation in corolla length. The flowers are larger than the native parent, Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium ssp. sepium), but smaller than the other parent Large Bindweed (Calystegia silvatica).

Stamen and stigma size are also intermediate between the two parents. The following photo has the stigma of the hybrid on the left and one from Large Bindweed on the right.

Now is a great time to look for the hybrid. There are lots of historic records for VC31, made by Terry Wells in the 1970's, but it has not been reported recently. The BSBI database doesn't seem to hold any records for VC64, so there's something that needs to be resolved!

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The Sow-thistle That Dreams of Being a Lettuce

I've not been out botanising much recently. Too many other demands on my time and the recent spell of weather always seems to be threatening a torrential downpour at any moment. So to make up for it, I have had a rifle back through the archives to see if there is anything that might be of wider interest.

The following photos are of an unusal form of Prickly Sow-Thistle (Sonchus asper subsp. asper var. integrifolius). This plant popped up in my garden in Woodlesford (VC63) but I've seen it in a few places in the "Rhubarb Triangle". Its yet to pop up in VC31 and I don't think I have a record for VC64 (I say think because the name is not in my computer database, so for oddities like this I still need to operate a paper system). Its very distinctive once known and the biggest challenge is likely making the link with the parent species.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Not Your Average Potato

Today work took me to Ravensthorpe, Dewsbury (VC63) and the last thing I expected to find on the edge of an arable field was Chilean Potato-tree (Solanum crispum). It will have been planted at some point, but given the size of the bush it is clearly well established.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Almost The Full Set

Nick Millar has just let me know of an interesting new find. He has spotted Yellow-flowered Teasel (Dipsacus strigosus) growing on the road verge of Harrison Way, St Ives (VC31). With this find we almost have the full set of this genus, barring a couple of obscure hybrids.

Yellow-flowered teasel is similar to the native Small Teasel (Dipsacus pilosus) but can be distinguished as follows (text and photo taken from the Manual of the Alien Plants of Belgium website).

Dipsacus strigosus
Dipsacus pilosus
Corolla pale yellow
Corolla white
Anthers pale yellow or greenish (not contrasting with corolla)
Anthers dark purplish to blackish (much contrasting with corolla)
Flower head ca. 30-40 mm across
Flower head ca. 15-25 mm across
Receptacular scales distinctly longer than corolla, long attentuate and glabrous at apex
Receptacular scales hardly longer than corolla, abruptly narrowed and ciliate towards apex

Monday, 24 August 2015

Lesser Centaury at St Aidan's

Phyl Abbott sent me news the weekend before last that Lesser Centaury (Centaureum pulchellum) had been found at St Aidan's (VC64), so I couldn't resist going for a look. This a rare plant in the county with only one other known location at Fairburn Ings. Sure enough I found it, the tiniest of tiny plants edging the causeway at the spring high water mark. Just a shame the flowers were closed that day.

The drawdown zone was carpeted with the non-native Buttonweed (Cotula coronopifolia), while elsewhere the gravelly edges of tracks supported some good stands of Hare's-foot Clover (Trifolium arvense).

I can't resist also sharing a photo of the Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) butterflies that lit up one sheltered corner of the site.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Blue Holly

Working through plant material collected over the last 12 months or so, for distribution to referees and Herbaria, I came across my collection of Blue Holly (Ilex x meserveae) from Fleakingley Bridge, Swillington (VC64) where there are at least 11 bushes amongst scrub on the embankment of a drainage ditch. These bushes are undoubtedly of planted origin but as they are in a rural location distant from habitation they merit recording.

Blue Holly covers a suite of cultivars arising from crosses between our native Holly (Ilex aquifolium) and Ilex rugosa. It is typically a small, dense bushy species that rarely attains a height any greater than 8 feet. This may be the first record for Britain and Ireland. My pressed material has been sent to the Herbarium at the Natural History Museum.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

August Means Wetland Flora

As I've not posted anything for a few days, and as August is midway through the peak season for recording wetland and aquatic flora, I thought I would post something vaguely topical in the hope that it attracts a few more records or puts a face to a name for people interested in the variation present within species.

The robust form of Common Water-pepper (Persicaria hydropiper var. densiflora) is proving frequent in the margins of the River Great Ouse in Huntingdonshire, I am also finding it in similar habitats along the lower River Wharfe e.g. near Bolton Percy (VC64). It seems to cope with the more vigorous vegetation of river banks better than the less robust var. hydropiper (it would have helped to have a photo of this one also - a task for the next few weeks). It often occurs with some or all of the following relatives: Persicaria maculata, P. mitis and P. minor var. latifolia.

As the varietal name suggests it has a stouter inflorescence densely packed with flowers.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Studley Royal

Entry into Fountains Abbey (VC64) also entitles you to visit the wider Studley Royal estate. This provided additional interest to the botanical riches of the Abbey ruins. In particular, the unimproved species-rich grassland outside the Banqueting House was a feast for the eyes with its carpet of Betony (Betonica officinalis) and the promise of abundant Devil's-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) to come.

The woodland edge provided an impressive stand of the imposing Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna), as well as the additional treat of Martagon Lily (Lilium martagon). Small Teasel (Dipsacus pilosus) was also found but unfortunately it had been mown to near oblivion.

Elsewhere the interest was more subtle, with a diversity of ferns including Hard Shield-fern (Polystichum aculeatum), and a widespread colony of pink-flowered Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris f. rubriflora), which obviously comes true from seed given its abundance.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Suspect Sorrels on Stocking Fen

Before the HFFS meeting at Monks Wood, I took myself off to Stocking Fen (VC31). My primary aim was to investigate the Woodland Trust plantation of Muchwood and Mary's Wood, but ultimately this turned into a much more rewarding trip onto the "fen" down as far as Ramsey Cemetery.

Corners of some of the arable fields had been put down to wildflower grassland, no doubt under a Stewardship grant, and were carpeted with Lady's Bedstraw (Galium verum), Fodder Bird's-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus var. sativus), Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) and Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra agg.). However, what caught my eye was a colony of an enormous Sorrel. This turned out to be Garden Sorrel (Rumex acetosa ssp. ambiguus), sometimes treated as a distinct species (R. rugosus).

Garden Sorrel, as in this case, can tower to 1.5m tall, has long floppy pale green leaves and large repeatedly branched panicles. My photographic skills let me down, so here is a photo borrowed from the Manual of the Alien Plants of Belgian website.

The other good find of the day was Dwarf Fool's-parsley (Aethusa cynapium ssp. agrestris) scattered along arable margins with Treacle Mustard (Erysimum cheiranthoides) and Sharp-leaved Fluellen (Kickxia elatine).