Sunday, 28 August 2016

Autumn Lady's-tresses

It seems to be a good year for Autumn Lady's-tresses Spiranthes spiralis. A small population (maximum count of 36 spikes so far) has appeared apparently out of the blue at Swaddywell Pit in VC32, growing in rather open structured grassland with Lesser Centaury Centaurium pulchellum, and close to a number of Common Spotted-orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii and Southern Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza praetermissa.

Today I received an email from Jeremy Fraser of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, who visited the well-known population at Tydd Gote Pumping Station, on the Lincolnshire - Cambridgeshire Border on 24th August. He counted 274 plants in three main areas, which is the highest count in recent years, though somewhat short of the estimated 1000-2000 recorded in 1983. A worker from the pumping station confirmed that the plants had flowered particularly well this year.

The other main population in VC53 was on the drain bank at Surfleet Seas End (TF285302), but there are no records from here since 1997. Perhaps this would be a good year to go and have another look!

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Cranwell and Bloxholm

On Sunday I set off in the cool of the morning for a day's botanising in some under-worked parts of the vice-county north-west of Sleaford. My first stop was the village of Cranwell (having driven swiftly through the RAF college whose grounds seemed far too orderly to hold any botanical jewels). This is one of the more intensively arable parts of VC53, but has limestone soils, and there were still fragments of species-rich grassland with an abundance of Field Scabious Knautia arvensis along the green lane and footpaths that I walked.

However, the arable field margins at the top of the hill were the richest hunting ground, with smoky clouds of Common Fumitory Fumaria officinalis, sprawling masses of Round-leaved Fluellen Kickxia spuria, Musk thistle Carduus nutans in profusion and five plants of Prickly Poppy Papaver argemone, a species that was once widespread in south-east England, but is now considered to be Endangered in the England Red List. It's only the second time I've found it, the first being almost thirty years ago. The small orange-red flowers are very distinctive, and only last a day. In fact in hot weather, the petals seem to drop by lunchtime, so one to get up early for!
Papaver argemone
Seed-head of Papaver argemone

The soft, hairy leaves of Kickxia spuria

Flower of Kickxia spuria

One of many plants of Kickxia spuria

Carduus nutans as an arable weed

By half past ten it was getting pretty hot, but I drove round to the northern part of my first tetrad, where a number of fields had been some with a wildflower mix containing plenty of Chicory Cichorium intybus and the fodder form of Bird's-foot-trefoil Lotus corniculatus var. sativus

On the side of a green lane I spotted three rose bushes that were quite upright in form and just looked a bit different from the Dog-rose Rosa canina I had been seeing scrambling through the hedges. I managed to extract some samples (reminder - carry secateurs!) and when I keyed them out they seemed to fit well with Round-leaved Dog-rose Rosa obtusifolia, which has strongly reflexed bipinnate sepals that fall early, and neat, rather overlapping biserrate leaves that are pubescent. There are few records for this species in VC53 and this seems to be the first since 1989.

Views of Rosa obtusifolia hips and leaves
By the time I returned to the car at about midday, it was really very hot and steamy, but I felt I couldn't give up and went for a walk around a contrasting area of sheep-grazed grassland and woodland west of Bloxhom. Initially it didn't seem as interesting, but on a very ordinary wayside I found a couple of plants of Good-King-Henry Chenopodium bonus-henricus, another rare species that's now considered to be Vulnerable in the UK, and one I'd never seen before. It is an archaeophyte, present in Roman times and once grown for its edible leaves - one of its vernacular names is Lincolnshire Spinach! It often grows in scruffy areas and has declined enormously, possibly as a result of the general tidying of ruderal vegetation.

Plants of Chenopodium bonus-henricus in improved grassland 

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Weird willow

As it was a glorious morning, Pete and I went for a walk to Ring Haw quarry, always a good spot to see the first hairy violets of the year. Sheltered corners were positively cosy in the sunshine, bringing out the first spring butterflies - a brimstone and two peacocks - as well as a basking lizard. We also heard the first chiffchaff of the year, bang on cue.

As expected the Goat Willows Salix caprea were flowering, plenty of males (top right) with their iconic golden bottlebrush catkins, and some of the more subdued females (bottom right). But we also came across one large tree that was very peculiar (left). The catkins were large, shaggy and a vivid bright green in the early morning sun - they were also popular with bees. On closer examination it became clear that this particular tree was hermaphrodite, with both anthers and stigmas developing in the same flower head. This phenomenon appears to have been known for several hundred years, but is remarkably unusual - willows are normally strictly dioecious - and this is the first hermaphrodite willow I've ever noticed.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Heckington - a fen-edge village

On Saturday 19th March a group of six botanists form the South Lincolnshire Flora Group braved the north-east wind to record plants in Heckington. We started in the car-park of the famous eight-sailed windmill, and found an interesting area of waste-ground behind it which kept us occupied for quite some time. There was an interesting mix of ruderals and garden throw-outs, including a single very healthy-looking plant of Spanish-dagger Yucca gloriosa. It was too early to record some potentially interesting species, such as a Lamb's-lettuce Valerianella sp. and an Evening-primrose Oenothera sp., but the rather fine grass, which initially looked like a rather weak Red Fescue, was identifiable and proved to be Rat's-tail Fescue Vulpia myuros, which was last recorded from the same location in 1975 by Miss. E. Gibbons.

A puzzling ragwort Senecio will need a return visit to be sure of its identity - the leaf shape was reminiscent of Oxford Ragwort Senecio squalidus, but it was too hairy. On further examination it seems to have characteristics of both S. squalidus and Groundsel S.vulgaris, so could possibly be their hybrid, S x baxteri. However, to be sure of this, it will be necessary to see whether the flowers have ray-florets, and whether any viable achenes are produced!

We recorded many of the usual suite of urban species while walking through the streets of the village, but a couple of plants of flowering Rocket Eruca vesicaria subsp. sativa were a bit of a surprise. The appeared to be self-seeded in an area formerly planted as a herb garden, but now neglected. Other highlights of the street flora included rather frequent patches of naturalised Glory-of-the-snow Scilla forbesii, two populations of Spotted Medick Medicago arabica (one of which was in exactly the same spot where Malcolm Pool recorded it in 2001) and a good population of Hart's-tongue Fern Asplenium scolopendrium on the north-facing wall of Heckington Hall.

Flowering Rocket
Although the cemetery looked rather well-groomed, the grassland had areas of interest. There was a significant population of Common Wood-rush Luzula campestris, just coming into flower, as well as a scatter of species such as Ox-eye Daisy Leucanthemum vulgare, Sweet Violet Viola odorata, Primrose Primula vulgaris, Cowslip Primula veris and Sorrel Rumex acetosa. A semi-naturalised population of Green Snowdrop Galanthus woronowii prompted some discussion on snowdrop identification. Unfortunately the churchyard was significantly less interesting botanically, but we made up for that by exploring the interior, which has one of the finest stained-glass windows in Britain.

All-in-all it was a satisfying day, both botanically and culturally. We recorded in two tetrads, and found 155 species (90 new) in TF14L and 110 (38 new) in TF14M. I can also recommend the tea room at Heckington Windmill where we had both lunch and afternoon tea - very necessary in the rather cool and grey conditions.