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.