Ptyxis Ecology - Our Botany Blog

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Chickweed willowherb in south Northumberland

Chickweed willowherb Epilobium alsinifolium is one of our montane willowherbs that is scattered in the North pennines, the Lake District, The Cheviots, the southern Scittish uplands and North Wales, as well of course as the Scottish Highlands. See the distribution map from the BSBI website at alsinifolium&commname=Chickweed Willowherb

Our county recorder John Richards (who is also an expert on alpine plants), took this photo recently at the only site for this plant in south Northumberland.
John says that out of 500 plants present in the flush this was the only one that was flowering! So it would be easy to overlook it if you were not an expert. The previous county recorder George Swam found the plant at this site in 1969 and last recorded it there in 1991. John was revisiting the site to check out the population as part of a series of surveys he and others are doing to check on populations of Northumberland's most rare and special plants.

You can see an account of all of the county's rare plants at


Labels: , ,

Its all gone yellow!

Many traditional arable weeds have declined hugely or dissappeared completely due to changes in agricultural methods in the last 60 years. Corn marigold still survives here and there, but is much, much less common than it was.

It is very rare now to see so many corn marigolds in an arable field like in this picure from Bamburgh. There is an interesting story behind this. Steve Pullan sent me these pictures and explained what happened. Steve and I used to work together at RDS setting up agri-environment schemes and Steve still does this work for Natural England. These fields have been in arable for a long time, but for the last 4 years they have been managed organically, which has allowed some corn marigolds to germinate from the seedbank and grow in the crop. You can see quite a few corn marigolds in the foreground, but there is a continuous sea of deep yellow in the background.

This field has some interesting archaeology below the ground and so the field is in the process of being converted from arable to grassland to protect the archaeology. A grass and clover mix has been sown and the cultivation method encouraged the corn marigolds to germinate. There must have been many thousands of corn marigold seeds in the soil for years waiting for their opportunity. Of course, as the field will be a grassland in future, the corn marigolds are likely to dissappear in a few years once the sward closes up. But there will be lots of seeds produced this year that will lie in the soil waiting for the soil to be disturbed again.

In the latest edition of Stace's flora from last year, several common plants have been given new scientific names. We now have to call corn marigold Glebionis segetum which sounds very odd when you are used to the old name Chrysanthemum segetum. I guess we will have to get used to it, but you see the plant so rarely nowadays that there is lots of time to forget the new name before you see it again.



Saturday, 9 July 2011

A long week’s botanising in South Northumberland

It is always a great pleasure to visit Northumberland. Compared to the suburbs of Brussels, it is quiet, friendly and interesting. After a year since my last proper recording trip any small glimpse of wild places is a pleasant experience and Northumberland always has a few botanical surprises in store for me. So, I thought I’d share my finds in the hope that someone finds them interesting.

I started off my trip around Blyth and Ashington. It is not the most obvious location for botany, but random squares settle where they will. Still, this small area contains the only salt marshes and some of the best lowland ponds in the vice county. horned pondweed (Zannichellia palustris) was my favourite find in this area. It is not common, though it may be more common than records suggest. It lurks, cryptically, under water often in the shade of bigger, more obvious water plants.

Moving on, I passed by Heighley Gate Garden Centre. I was not there to buy plants, but to see if they had been infected. New Zealand bitter-cress (Cardamine corymbosa) has been rapidly spreading across Europe like a disease of pot plants. It didn’t take long to find it there. By the way, this bittercress should not be confused with either wavy bitter-cress (Cardamine flexuosa) or hairy bitter-cress (Cardamine hirsuta), which also inhabit plant pots at garden centres. Another treat of Heighley Gate, was seeing their Mistletoe; to my knowledge, this is the only Mistletoe in Northumberland. Though it is obviously introduced, it is interesting that it flourishes so well, even though it fails to naturalise.

Further north I had a long visit to Holystone where I recorded about 220 species in one monad! This small area contains all sorts of little habitats, including river bank, bog, moor, meadow and woodland. Probably the best find was one plant of hairy rock-cress (Arabis hirsuta) on the shingles of the Coquet. It has been recorded in that area previously and I hope that this one plant might be an outlier from a larger population upstream.

The habitat of Arabis hirsuta on the Coquet gravels

On the Sunday, John O’Reilly, Phil Brown and I went to look at Hummell Knowe and cover the neighbouring monads. Phil managed to collect and then get refereed Trichophorum x foersteri; T. cespitosum and T. germanicum all from Hummell Knowe. Even though the neighbouring Burndivot monad looked rather boring, we still managed to find 141 species in it.

During the visit I interspersed trips to wild places with “boring” agricultural monads. One of the big surprises from these “boring” places was great brome (Anisantha diandra). I found it for the first time last year, near Newcastle Station. I had assumed it was a casual there. Still, this year I found it at five new sites, four of them inside random monads. It has obviously increased in the county, but it has perhaps also been mistaken for barren brome (Anisantha sterilis). You may find it in the borders of wheat and barley fields where both Anisantha species can be found growing together.

The rarest record was refinding needle spike-rush (Eleocharis acicularis) at Catcleugh reservoir. I found one patch of less than 1m2. To my knowledge it was last seen there in 1972. I think the low water helped to make it more visible.

The view of one monad, Lumsdon Law from another, Hungry Law. near Catcleugh

In the last couple of days I revisted the Bee Orchids at the Royal Keys. The old sewage works is perhaps the best brown-field site in Northumberland. It hasn’t been surveyed thoroughly but contains at least 200 species including musk thistle, yellow-sedge, delicate stonewort and even common cottongrass, which is practically extinct in the south-east of the county.

Last, but not least, I found a small patch of grass vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia) in a monad near Amble. It is an elegant plant, which is practically invisible amongst grass, were it not for it flowers. It has been moving northward in the country, perhaps as a contaminant of grass seed.

Well, it isn’t easy fitting a year’s worth of recording into a long week but I did my best. I will now look forward to next year and ponder over what I might find then.

Quentin Groom

Labels: , , ,