Saturday, 24 June 2017

Teeny Tiny Things

Back to Skelton Lake (VC63 and 64) where the drawdown flora is just starting to develop. Much of the strandline has been exposed for a while and is very dry, so we will either need some rain or further drawdown to wet mud if the site is to live up to its potential.

Much of the flora was miniscule. However, it was a great opportunity to test my new toy, a x10 macro lens you can just clip onto a smart phone. Did a good job and a bargain at £10 from Amazon. I will have to see if there is a lower magnification version, as with x10 you are nearly on top of the subject before it comes into focus. Fine for plants, but critters are likely to be less obliging.

Anyway the results below. Best find was Sand Spurrey (Spergularia rubra), hiding amongst the Buttonweed (Cotula coronopifolia) which was also very small but towered over these plants. Also present was Pink Water-speedwell (Veronica catenata) and Swinecress (Lepidium coronopus). In sequence below.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Malva sylvestris var. mauritiana

My latest find on the streets of Holbeck, Leeds (VC63) is this stunning form of Common Mallow. It's amazing what turns up on your local patch if you keep one eye open.

It also gave me another chance to look at the Ladybird Poppy (Papaver commutatum). A little worse the wear for recent weather, but still going strong. Another trait that seems to set this species apart from Common Poppy (Papaver thoeas) is petal retention, the latter seems far more ephemeral while the flowers on this plant have clearly been around for a while to get this weather worn.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Huntingdonshire Update

The last couple of weeks has seen a small flurry of interesting records come in.

Brian Laney has been in Huntingdon leading to a chance encounter with Four-leaved Allseed (Polycarpon tetraphyllum), a first record for the county. This is a summer annual of drought stressed habitats. It is native to the south coast, but has been spreading in recent years. The reasons for this are obscure. In part the horticultural trade may be dispersing it, but it may also have been aided by our changing climate. Various drought tolerant species have been expanding their range in VC31 in recent years, Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera), Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) and Knotted Hedge-parsley (Torilis nodosa) being particularly prominent examples.

photo by Forest & Kim Starr (Wikimedia Commons), not ideal as seems to be the two leaved form, but you get the gist

He also found Annual Beard-grass (Polypogon monspeliensis), providing a useful range extension. This species is common at Hampton, Peterborough where I took this photo last year.

Meanwhile Pete Stroh has been to Holme Fen accompanied by Fred Rumsey. Fred pointed out Dryopteris x deweveri, the cross between Broad Buckler-fern (Dryopteris dilatata) and Narrow Buckler-fern (Dryopteris carthusiana), and it is apparently quite common on the fen. This is a new species for the county, and the first record of a hybrid fern.

Fred also pointed out Golden-scaled Male-fern (Dryopteris affinis), providing confirmation of the presence of this species as well as the previously reported Borrer's Male-fern (Dryopteris borreri). The former has been mooted in the past but was not confirmed by an expert or claimed with confidence.

Saturday, 10 June 2017


Last weekend, before summer went on strike, I went over to Settle (VC64) again on the train and then headed off into the countryside on foot. As usual the strategy of a planned route quickly gave way to whim with serendipitous results. The original plan was Winskill Stones which is somewhere I have wanted to visit since a teenager when Plantlife ran its campaign to buy the site. A nice site but one that could not match the image I had painted in my head, and still a little too early for the peak of the flowers. So a headed back into the shelter of the valleys below, with my attention drawn to Catrigg Force on the map - not on the planned route but too close to a waterfall to ignore so off I went.

This deep gorge had much of interest with Golden-scaled Male-fern (Dryopteris affinis sens. str.) in the humid woodland, along with Pyrenean Scurvygrass (Cochlearia pyrenaica), Large Bittercress (Cardamine amara) and Goldilocks (Ranunculus auricomus). While the beck above the falls had an abundance of Hybrid Monkeyflower (Mimulus x robertsii) in peak bloom.

Pyrenean Scurvygrass

Hybrid Monkeyflower

I then headed down Goatscar Lane towards the village where the banks were lush with Smooth Lady's-mantle (Alchemilla glabra). That's when the big surprise came. I have been keeping my eye out for the obscure non-native Various-leaved Hawthorn (Crataegus heterophylla) for a number of years and never expected it to pop up in this setting. How it got here is a mystery, an obscure location for a planting or for a bird-sown bush. But then I thought that with Sorbus x liljeforsii a few weeks previous. I had been starting to feel that I had been overlooking this hawthorn, so it was great to not only find it but also to see that it exactly matched the only two images (see here and here) I had managed to track down. This species is only known in cultivation, and its origin has been lost to time. It keys out in Sell and Murrell with patience and not a little trial and error, but you need enough material to understand the "stipules of leaves of flowering shoots more or less irregularly denticulate-serrate or more or less denticulate" character. Most of the stipules had no teeth (so more of the less!), a few had minute teeth (denticulate) and a few had more obvious ones (denticulate-serrate).

Then down into the village with more plants of definite or likely cultivated origin. No apologies for these. The native flora of the Dales are relatively well recorded, but little attention has been paid to the villages. You can't have a full picture of a region's flora without including artificial habitats.

The first thing to catch my eye on the edge of the village was three plants of Wood Crane's-bill (Geranium sylvaticum) under scrub. This is a native plant and indeed it occurs in meadows just up the hill. However, in the case the flower colour looked off for the wild plant and I think this is the cultivar 'Amy Doncaster'. A trail of plants (more typical in flower colour) led back to a garden and may support an origin as a garden escape.

The road edge nearby yielded Spanish Stonecrop (Sedum hispanicum). The common name is a bit literal, and ignorant in the process, given this species is not a native of Spain. Next to it was Malling Toadflax (Chaenorhinum origanifolium).

The villages of Dales are exceptional for the diversity and luxuriance of plants dripping from the limestone walls. Amongst all the usual suspects were the more notable Colarado Stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium 'Cape Blanco') and Cobweb House-leek (Sempervivum arachnoideum).

Monday, 5 June 2017

Its a Mixed up Muddled up Shook up World

West Yorkshire has more than its fair share of post industrial land. Much of it has now been reclaimed by nature and a lot of it has been 'restored'. The latter normally means too little patience to let nature take its course, so seed mixes and plantings are thrown about like they are going out of fashion. The end results are always a delight for the eye and provide much of interest for botanists, who are also the only people likely to notice whats wrong.

St Aidan's (VC64) is one such place, and as its behind my village it is a good local spot in easy reach from home. Five years in it is still throwing up new plants for me. I spent Sunday afternoon on The Hillside. I hadn't appreciated how many rose species there were up there. Within an hour, and ignoring the undoables, I had Sweet-briar (Rosa rubiginosa), Dog-rose (Rosa canina groups Lutetiana and Transitoriae), Glandular Dog-rose (Rosa squarrosa aka group Dumales), Hairy Dog-rose (Rosa corymbifera aka group Pubescentes), the common hybrid Rosa x dumalis sens. lat. (canina x vosagiaca), Soft Downy-rose (Rosa mollis) which surprisingly had white flowers (but perhaps bleached as pink beneath and in bud) but otherwise (pending fruit) looked typical, and Sherard's Downy-rose (Rosa sherardii). Last two in sequence below.

Rosa mollis

Rosa sherardii

However, the best was yet to come. I have been  waiting for Round-leaved Dog-rose (Rosa obtusifolia) for so long. You really do have to scrutinise and mull every bush to find the goods. Delightfully delicate furry leaves, and white flowers.

Some of the planted and regenerating birches had tiny leaves and originated from further north, completely the wrong form for lowland Leeds. This was Fragrant Downy Birch (Betula pubescens subsp. tortuosa).

Elsewhere the grasslands had Rough Hawk's-beard (Crepis biennis) (terrible photos) and the tussock-form of Red Fescue (Festuca rubra subsp. commutata).

Next up and one of the treasures of June was the impossible to photograph Grass Vetchling (Lathyrus nissola) by the line drag, and then Cultivated Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa subsp. sativa) on the causeway.

And to end on an orchid, here is one of the many hundreds of Common Spotted x Southern Marsh-orchid (Dactylorhiza x grandis). The orchids are getting better year on year.

Finally, not in St Aidan's but near home (VC63) there was this stunning hybrid ragwort (Senecio x albescens). I must remember to go back and see in flower.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Ladybird Poppy

I had two fine plants of Ladybird Poppy (Papaver commutatum) today in Holbeck (VC63). The best was in a pavement crack at the base of a lamp post, but not a location where I felt I could take my phone out for a photo. Not the most salubrious of neighbourhoods. The second plant was less well presented. I managed a quick photo before being haranged by a lippy 5(ish) year old tike on a trike!, but did not manage to catch the white edge to the spots. Note how visible the spots are through the underside of two layers of petals.

I am at a loss why British botanist feel it appropriate to lump this species with Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas). Sure the genetics show they are closely related but none of the recent studies I have seen call into question the distinction of the species. In a herbarium they may be tricky but in the field with your eyes open?, come on! The former is well branched, with high leaf mass, and deep red velvety flowers. The later doesn't come close, typically much more slender and I have never seen it put on such lush growth in such poor conditions.

One to distinguish I think, certainly recent trends suggest a need for caution in lumping. As a minimum it surely merits subspecific status. See also the invaluable Alien Plants of Belgium. Google has some great images of the species at its best in garden settings.