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.