Monday, 29 May 2017

Skelton Lake Part 2

I chose a much better day yesterday to revisit this site, focussing my attention on familiarising myself with the VC64 part. What a difference a week makes, the Wild Turnip was all over and run to seed.

Skelton Lake is a useful location in what is otherwise a very urban hectad, allowing me to try and boost the plant re-find total for the New Atlas. This square is right on my doorstep but is resolutely refusing to turn "green", meaning I have not re-found enough. Of course, in reality its more complex than that. There is no guarantee that the plants seen by previous botanists are still there to be re-found, particularly on the urban fringe of Leeds.

Nomenclature has also changed over time e.g. Arenaria serpyllifolia is now 2 species, one persons Arctium minus is now either sens. str. or pubens. The fun and games look set to continue with the most recent BSBI News highlighting a change in species concepts within the Dog-roses (Rosa canina), with three species now where there was once one highly variable species. A challenge to relish, but one that will render most historic records to an aggregate when once they were considered good species records. I was reminded of this as I was looking at Rosa canina group Dumales. This is now (or is again, those Victorian botanists knew there stuff) Glandular Dog-rose (Rosa squarrosa). A perfectly doable split but one that was too easy to ignore when it was considered a minor variant. Anyway, dog-roses aside, I did find much of interest and hopefully the hectad is getting closer to a robust re-survey.

A steep slope yielded an abundance of Silver Hair-grass (Aira caryophyllea). I didn't try to take a photo of this tiny wispy species, thinking I could rely on Wikimedia Commons. But it seems few people have managed to get a good photo of this species. See the link for some images.

I also thought I would give the Hawkweeds another go. Hats off to Vincent Jones and his Yorkshire Hawkweeds, they are doable if the experts translate their hard learnt knowledge into accessible field guides (see also the excellent BSBI Handbooks for the alpine species). There is only real progress when one generation makes its easier for the next to take things further forward. Sadly the book is out of print (again), time for a braver print run Yorkshire Naturalist's Union? Anyway this time it was a great new record for Hairy-leaved Hawkweed (Hieracium festinum), a species of scattered occurrence and rare in Yorkshire (image here, at least until mine is out of the press and can be photographed). It is very close to the common Southern Hawkweed (H. argillaceum), to which I originally mis-keyed until getting some leaves under the microscope. The long flowering branches are distinct and the miniscule stellate hairs on the underside of the upper leaves the clincher. The photo in Vince's book was a clear match for my plant, and this was part of the reason why I knew my original ID was wrong. One to look out for in post-industrial West Yorkshire, as it is likely to be more widespread. The key in Sell & Murrell does not work for this species.

Himalayan Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster simonsii) was widely naturalised along the woodland edge.

Red-leaved Rose (Rosa glauca - back to the old name again apparently!) was a surprise in an area of scrub where it appeared to have been bird-sown.

There was an array of blue, and indigo, and bicoloured Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) nearby, undoubtedly a garden escape at this location.

A large stand of the county rarity Field Pepperwort (Lepidium campestre) was next up, on a spoil mound by Pontefract Lane.

The established hedgerows were planted in the relatively recent past and include American Guelder-rose (Viburnum trilobum), note the long terminal leaf lobes of the leaves at the branch tips. The terminal lobe also has very large teeth.

An added benefit of the new access to Skelton Lake is that it now provides a nice circular route via Temple Newsam. So I headed there next.

The hedgerows here have a mass-planted deeply cut-leaved form of Common Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna f. schizophylla). This is quite common and seems to be propagated preferentially by some growers of "native" trees. I don't think this a discrete entity in the strict sense, it seems to cover a range of plants at the extreme end of the variation of the species. However it is worth being aware of, not least because it is often one of the parents of Crataegus x subsphaerica, and such forms can be readily identified even before they are in fruit.

A neglected corner near the House, yielded two interesting garden escapes. First up was a cultivar of Bistort (Persicaria bistorta 'Superba'), then four stunning plants of Bulley's Primrose (Primula bulleyana). The latter is not on the British list yet, although there is a record for Isle of Man (not part of the UK).

In the woods I found a single plant of Borrer's Scaly Male-fern (Dryopteris borreri), new to the hectad.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Gledhow Valley Wood (VC64)

Just a quick picture post with a couple of oddities from a brief opportunistic visit to Gledhow Valley Wood yesterday. A nice site, and one I had not visited before. There was enough interest to make we want to go back for a more detailed look soon.

The first nice find was this crested form of Lady-fern (Athyrium filix-femina). Not sure if it is a chance mutation or if it originates from a spore blown in from a garden plant. It seems close to the cultivar 'Vernoniae Cristatum', but there is a danger in linking wild plants to cultivars if you are not sure if they breed true. In this case the name was probably originally applied to a specific clone, and I doubt the name should be used to cover all similar crested forms.

The other big surprise was a stand of Giant Marsh-marigold (Caltha palustris subsp. polypetala). A well-intentioned but unnecessary introduction of a non-native form by "do-gooders". My A4 Weatherwriter and the Yellow Iris (Iris pseudacorus) both provide a useful scale against which to judge the size of this plant.

Some sources say this originates from Turkey, but I am not convinced the plant circulating in the horticultural trade is the same. For starters it is not polypetalous. It may be a cultivar rather than this subspecies, but the name must do for now as a label for these distinct giant plants. What is certain is that it is increasingly being found in semi-wild situations where aquatics have been introduced for amenity and "nature conservation" reasons.

Other interesting finds included an extensive and very diverse hybrid swarm of Geum x intermedium below the dam of the lake, where it was present with both parents. There is also a large bush of Gagnepain's Barberry (Berberis gagnepainii) near the dam.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Skelton Lake (VC63 & 64)

After a couple of weekends botanising in the Dales and VC31 I am spending this weekend on my local patch. Skelton Lake is the latest in a series of old workings along the River Aire to open to the public, with a new footbridge over the river and acres of land to explore. I think this will be a great site in late summer for drawdown flora.

It wasn't the greatest day for botanising, but I have been waiting for the bridge to open for weeks so was not going to let the torrential showers put me off.

Approaching along the towpath was the first nice find of the day. Dame's-violet (Hesperis matronalis) in full bloom.

There were swathes of the large flowered (and larger in general) subspecies of Field Forget-me-not (Myosotis arvensis subsp. umbrata) in the rough grass. This is more often relegated to var. sylvestris these days, but it seems to me phenologically, ecologically and morphologically distinct so I would rather give it the benefit of the doubt and a higher rank.  It is strictly spring flowering (unlike subsp. arvensis), and is the typical plant of woodland glades and other shady places, although it can be found in other habitats. Not a great photo, but I am still using my Nokia as my default pocket camera with hit and miss results (does a good job in good light, less good in the gloom of a rainy day). This is why I also have no photo for the best find of today Rough Hawk's-beard (Crepis biennis).

There were also some good stands of a particularly fine, strongly marked, form of Spotted Medick (Medicago arabica).

The Wild Turnip (Brassica rapa subsp. campestris) was in peak bloom along the river banks and scattered elsewhere.

And then to close things out just before I was drenched to the bone, Japanese Rose (Rosa rugosa) and Reflexed Stonecrop (Sedum rupestre).

So a productive couple of hours, with the promise of more as the season progresses.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Grassington (VC64)

Grassington is not somewhere I have ventured for a few years, and with the priorities for the New Atlas it was not on the hit list of hectads to visit as it is already adequately re-recorded. But my mind has been on Potentilla lately and this is a key location for the 'Yorkshire Dales' problem. But that is a post in its own right, so more on that later. There is more than enough at this botanical hotpsot to fill a post, so a few highlights below.

My route took me first down to Linton and its falls (Potentilla wild goose chase), then along the river to Ghaistrill's Strid, into Lower Grass Wood, Grass Wood proper, back across the fields towards Grassington and up to Bastow Wood, before back to the village. A good route, with each location having its own special interest and enough to remind me that I need to get into this part of the Dales more often.

Starting at Linton Falls the sheer riverside cliffs had a small population of a distinctive hawkweed, and not only could I identify it (that's four now out of the 90 recorded from VC64, baby steps) but I knew I was right as there was a record in the database from an expert. This stunner, distinctive by hawkweed standards, was Wood Hawkweed (Hieracium silvaticoides). Later to be seen again on rocks by the river in Lower Grass Wood. The photo is a plant in situ growing out of vertical rock, what a tough plant.

There was a second hawkweed here, not in flower yet. I had a fair idea of what it should be and it is not to be collected under an circumstances, I suspect herbaria are already full of it.  So admired at a distance and as far as is known this is its only surviving population, and it occurs no where else in the world. I only saw two plants! A precarious existence, water on one side, sheep and tourists on the other. This is Linton Falls Hawkweed (Hieracium lintonense).

The River Wharfe here has some exceptionally good stands of Opposite-leaved Pondweed (Groenlandia densa)

photo David Perez (Wikimedia Commons)

In Grass Wood I was really pleased to stumble over some Herb-Paris (Paris quadrifolia) in full bloom. Flowering plants have eluded me for so long, normally it is well into berry and past its best. Sure I could have twitched it somewhere it if I wanted, but I am quite happy to wait until something wants to reveal itself to me. A memory based on a sense of time and place has much more meaning.

Finally, at the base of a drystone wall on the way back to Grassington was an abundance of Brittle Bladder-fern (Cystopteris fragilis).

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Holywell and Houghton (VC31)

May is always a frenetic month, as spring races on it becomes more and more of a challenge to keep pace. There is lots to report but too little time to post news, as well as keeping on top of the record keeping. But this weekends trip down to Huntingdonshire provides an easy post while I take stock.

The first good find of the day was tens of thousands of Common Cornsalad (Valerianella locusta) in Parsons Green industrial estate, St Ives. The plants were going over but at least that meant that seeds were present to allow confirmation of the species ID.

photo by J.F. Gaffard (Wikimedia Commons)

New to the county was this surprise - Corsican Hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius). I caught a hint of yellow-green out the corner of my eye and instantly knew I was onto something good. Its not a colour I expect for a native plant, and so much of plant hunting is keeping half an eye open for subtle changes in colour and texture. On closer inspection I found nine plants in rough grassland by the Park and Ride at St Ives. Past their best, but with signs of lots of seed to come.

Further along Meadow Lane, the next find was Pink-sorrel (Oxalis articulata) (photo), with Large-flowered Pink-sorrel (Oxalis debilis) later in Holywell churchyard,

In Holywell churchyard there was also Dusky Crane's-bill (Geranium phaeum var. phaeum) self sown on a grave. This was also new to the county.

photo by Michal Smoczyk (Wikimedia Commons)

To round off a productive day, I joined the HFFS for the visit to Houghton Meadows. The meadows were in full bloom, with one of the highlights of the site being its population of Green-winged Orchid (Anacamptis morio).

Monday, 8 May 2017

Stackhouse and Langcliffe (VC64)

With the weather forecast suggesting the west would be best on Saturday I headed over to Settle on the train to see what I could find. I had originally planned to head up to Winskill Stones, but going up Giggleswick Scar first it quickly became apparent that spring was not as far on as it is on my home patch to the east of Leeds. So I'll save the Stones for another day and regardless my meanderings soon went off plan with serendipitous results, including the discovery of Castlebergh Crag in Settle. Great views and some nice plants, including Wallflower (Erysimum cheiri), Alpine Currant (Ribes alpinum), and the pink-flowered form of Hybrid Bluebell (Hyacinthoides x massartiana). The latter very much a recurring theme of the day. But back to the subject of this post ...

The orange flowered form of Welsh Poppy (Meconopsis cambrica 'Aurantiaca') was lighting up verges in several locations. 

In Stackhouse I found this fine stand of Pheasant's-eye Daffodil (Narcissus poeticus subsp. recurvus). This subspecies is the last of the daffodils to flower, no doubt a reflection of its origins in Switzerland. It must pay to delay your flowering up there.

In and around the churchyard in Langcliffe there was the pink-flowered Hybrid Bluebell, a striking naturalised Lesser Periwinkle (Vinca minor 'Aureomarginata'), Scarce London-pride (Saxifraga x geum) and Spring Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum subsp. aestivum). 

Heading up onto the high ground above Langcliffe, the limestone turf was studded with Mountain Pansy (Viola lutea).

And then great views back towards Giggleswick Scar.

And finally, the surprise of the day and at a completely incongruous location, a mature tree of the rare Liljefor's Whitebeam (Sorbus x liljeforsii) in Old Plantation. No idea if it was planted or bird sown, but its been there a long time. The leaves of sterile side shoots had 6 free lobes, distinguishing it from the more usual (and in my experience more grey-green) Bastard Rowan (Sorbus x thuringiaca).

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Narrow-leaved Ragwort New to Huntingdonshire

Not more than a week since Pete Stroh noted in BSBI News that Narrow-leaved Ragwort (Senecio inaequidens) was yet to be found in VC31, against national trends for the species, low and behold we get the first record for this species. So well done to Jocelyn Gale for first recognising it and then sending the record in.

Not surprisingly this species has turned up on a roadside in one of our larger conurbations, namely Edison Bell Way, Huntingdon. It must be more widespread, and one of the last major frontiers for botanical recording in the county is urban botanising. We know very little about what grows on the mean streets of Peterborough, Huntingdon and St Ives, although Peter Walker is doing his best to rectify the situation for St Neots.

Photo by Stefan Iefnaer (Wikimedia Commons)

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Tuberous Comfrey at Aberford (VC64)

A brief stroll yesterday along the bridleway by the Dark Tunnel at Parlington Hall rewarded me with Tuberous Comfrey (Symphytum tuberosum). This species occurs here and there in VC64 but it is not common, and this appears to be a new hectad for the Atlas Project.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Freak Show

I had an interesting potter round the some woods near Aberford (VC64) yesterday, with additional colour added by some interesting mutants and hybrids of common plants.

First up was a variegated form of Water Figwort (Scrophularia auriculata). Not all of the plant was affected so it was presumably a mutation in the growing tip of a side-shoot. Very attractive but unlikely to persist over the long-term.

With a greater chance of persistence was this striking golden form of Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica). I am intrigued to see if this is a stable mutation, so I am growing a little rooted side shoot on to see what happens. Hopefully the parent plant will persist to intrigue others with a botanical interest.

Last find of the day was this Polyanthus (Primula x polyantha). A common garden hybrid, but the shape of the inflorescence caught the eye, with the morphology of a beefed up Cowslip (Primula veris). It did not look planted so I can only assume a bee transmitted pollen from a garden plant to a cowslip in the wood, no mean feat given the nearest garden must be getting on for 500 m away. It is redolent of the red and orange Cowslips that are increasingly seen naturalised (the cultivar 'Sunset Shades'), and which are believed to originate from back-crossing Polyanthus to Cowslip.