Ptyxis Ecology - Our Botany Blog

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Northern hawk's-beard

I've always thought it very strange that the common names of so many plants are named after parts of animals. Hawk's-beard, hawkbit, hawkweed, cat's-ear, and ox-tongue all look confusigly similar. There are lots more - dog's-tail, cat's-tail, squirrel-tail, mare's-tail, rat's-tail, mouse-tail, hare's-tail, horse-tail, fox-tail, buck's-horn, crane's-bill, stork's-bill, adders-tongue, hart's-tongue, weasel's-snout, ox-eye, bird's-eye, hare's-ear, mouse-ear, lamb's-ear, buck's-beard, goat's-beard, old man's-beard (yes we're animals too!), dog's-tooth, dragon's-teeth (does dragon count?), oxlip, bird's-foot, hare's-foot, crow-foot, colt's-foot, cock's-foot, goose-foot, cockspur, larkspur, parrot's-feather, etc. Unfortunately dog's-dibble is no longer in common usage. One plant is even named after 2 animals, mouse-ear hawkweed. Sometimes these names are helpful when trying to remember which plant it is but most of the time they are not helpful. How many people know what a hawk's beard looks like and even if they did, would they spot the resemblance to the plant? I guess the real reason is that after most plants have been named its difficult to think up original names for new plants so the plant namers start to clutch at straws.

But anyway, back to northern hawk's-beard, or if you prefer (as I do) Crepis mollis - much simpler! I've had a good year for Crepis mollis this year. Here's a picture of it taken by my colleague Rebecca last year near Nenthead in the Cumbrian pennines.

Yes, I know it just looks like a load of dandelions, but it really is a very special plant - honest! Its particularly relevant for me as its main habitat is upland hay meadows which is what my day job is all about and I live right in the centre of its British distribution in south-west Northumberland.

This map from BSBIs website shows its distribution in Britain. The darker coloured dots (there are not very many of them) are records from recent years. Not only is it a scarce and very loclaised plant in Britain, but it has also declined a lot in recent decades due to agricultural intensification.

As my job in summer involves lots of surveying in upland hay meadows, I'm always on the look out for it. Also, this year it was chosen as one of the species in BSBIs threatened plants survey so I've been looking for it in some of the sites where it was recorded a long time ago. Although I couldn't find it in a few of these places, it is hanging on in a good number of its old sites in this part of the world. My colleague Fiona Corby also managed to find 2 new sites for it in Allendale including one on a large herb-rich bank with upland hay meadow type vegetation which had about 500 plants of Crepis mollis on it. This was particularly good news as we think this could well be the biggest population left in the country. The landowners are pleased that they have it and are willing to try to do the right things to conserve it which is also good news.


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At 12 September 2008 at 15:57 , Blogger Mark said...

I sincerely hope it is better than Crepis praemorsa; I still have nightmares after seeing that species earlier in the year.


At 13 September 2008 at 09:44 , Blogger John and Clare O'Reilly said...

Crepis mollis can look very similar to some types of Hieracium. Even very experienced botanists struggle to separate them sometimes - so scope for more nightmares I'm afraid. I'd love to find a new site for Crepis praemorsa. It must be out there somewhere other than its 1 Cumbrian site.


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