Saturday, 14 June 2014

Roudsea Wood sedges

Carex digitata surrounded by Erinus alpinus
Our very wet leader, Mike Porter
A wet day, but one that didn't dampen the spirits of the 16 or so people who gathered for Mike Porter's field trip at Natural England's wonderful site in Cumbria.  Our first 'special' was Carex digitata above rocks covered in the charming alien Erinus alpinus, Fairy Foxglove. Its yellow tufts were looking great, flanked by a distinguished-looking Sorbus lancastriensis, Lancashire Whitebeam [this part of Cumbria was originally part of the old County Palatine of Lancashire].

Sorbus lancastriensis, looking great!

 Further on we hushed our chat as we approached the Osprey nest [the first year the birds have successfully nested here] where some were lucky enough to see one of the parents flying in. Along the track we saw Carex remota, Remote Sedge and C binervis, Green-ribbed Sedge, which looked graceful, unlike the robust and almost thuggish plants I am used to seeing in Merioneth.  Mike pointed out the differences between it and its close relative, C laevigata, Smooth-stalked Sedge, which has ginger-ish male spikes and a pointed ligule. It also never has the red staining seen on older leaves of C binervis.

A tussock of C x boenninghausiana
Later we saw one of the high points of the day for me, the "Dachshund/Alsatian" hybrid, Carex x boenninghausiana, between Carex remota and C paniculata, Greater Tussock-sedge! Its habit is that of C paniculata, but the inflorescence is graceful and 'remote', unlike the bunchy look of C paniculata

The inflorescence of C x boenninghausiana

Carex flava
Another excitement for me was seeing Carex flava , Large Yellow-sedge, in fine condition and great quantity - and not only that, but its hybrid, Carex x alsatica, with C demissa, Common Yellow-sedge, was there too.  Strangely, it looks quite a bluish green compared with either of the parents, and is sterile.

Eventually we reached the edge of the wood and broke through onto the shoreline - not as Mike had recalled, lying under a blue sky with the sun beating down, but grey and murky, although at least the rain had eased off!  

We enjoyed seeing the more coastal Carices, C otrubae,False Fox-sedge, C extensa, Long-bracted Sedge, and  C. distans, Distant Sedgebut failed to find Blysmus rufus, Salt-marsh Flat-sedge there.  We ended the day with a sickly-looking Carex pseudocyparis, Cyperus Sedge, bringing the day's haul to a fantastic 25 taxa - a remarkable site! I know I am not alone in thanking Mike for a great day's outing and for introducing us to so many of these superb plants. We members of the BSBI are so very fortunate in having these field meetings, so valuable to everyone, beginners and experts alike.
A damp but happy group!
Finally, my thanks to Phill Brown, who kindly let me use his great photographs for this account.  I didn't want to take my camera out in the pouring rain, and even if I had, my efforts wouldn't have been anywhere near the standard of these pictures.  Thanks, Phill!

Friday, 13 June 2014

Merioneth Nats, May meeting

The landscape of our south-eastern boundary
with Montgomeryshire, VC47
The routine, now I am living in Preston, is to spend a few days either side of our scheduled monthly meeting in the vice-county doing more recording.  I have stayed with friends, to whom I am really grateful for putting up with a nomadic botanist. However, this time I stayed at Y Llew Coch, The Red Lion, in Dinas Mawddwy, which is a 'proper' pub with good food and ale, and comfortable and reasonably-priced rooms.

I came via Llandrillo, happy to find that I no longer mourn my little bungalow by the river, rather I am happy that the many worries about a timber-framed house are not mine any more! We have woods and a nature reserve in Preston, too, and our own river in France!

I reached Machynlleth in time to join old friends Penny Condry, Arthur Chater and David Elias for lunch in the Quarry Cafe which was a delightful occasion. Then I went off for a square-bash in the  afternoon, walking from the Brigands Inn at Mallwyd up a steep incline until I was walking above the Afon Cleifion just north of the vice-county border with Montgomeryshire.  Lovely airy views and a good list for a nice acid roadside with abundant Pignut, Conopodium majus, and swathes of Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, garlanding the countryside.

Tegwyn Jones, our knowledgeable companion.
The next day, as I arrived in good time at the agreed meeting place, the farmer, Tegwyn Jones, rolled up in his Land Rover and made history by asking if he could join us for the day!!!  We were delighted to have his company as he is really well-informed about the plants and other wildlife on the farm, and I am sure we might have overlooked things without his input.

The five of us walked quite briskly up to the further tetrad where we began recording a lot of nice things typical of better-quality grassland. There was Thyme, Thymus polytrichus, and a good number[8] of sedges including Flea Sedge, Carex pulicaris, and perhaps the best show of flowering Common Butterwort, Pinguicula vulgaris I remember seeing

A lovely drift of flowering Butterwort
 Heath Milkwort, Polygala serpyllifolia was abundant in the turf and a small patch of a tiny Euphrasia was probably E scottica.  When we stopped for lunch, Tegwyn went off on his own, declining our offers of food from the rest of us - and came back with a clutch of 'bits' to add to our list of records for the day. 
Rowan, Sorbus aucuparia, in full bloom
A splendid display of Potentilla erecta

 It was the burgeoning abundance of flowers everywhere that was so lovely. Even the commonest species such as Tormentil, Potentilla erecta were looking their best

Part of the team, in working mode
 To round off on the way back down to the farm we took a detour up to a stream which is the site of a proposed hydro-scheme.   It is a delightful little valley, quite steep, with Water Avens, Geum rivale and Beech Fern, Phegopteris connectilis the stars of a lovely assemblage of plants typical of this habitat. With Heath Spotted Orchid, Dactylorhiza maculata in a very nice damp meadow and a clutch of weedy records from the farmyard we managed to raise the day's total  to around 140 species.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

May events - Publication of the Merioneth Rare Plant Register!

A bare week after we got back from Lesvos we were off again - to Buget - our house in France!
We had a good journey there and enjoyed spending some fine days in the garden and walking in the surrounding countryside, with John faithfully carrying the vasculum - aka a polythene shopping bag! One of the best days botanically was from the charming village of Veauce with its fine chateau so typical of the Departement d'Allier.
Spiked Rampion, Phyteuma spicata,
only known in Britain from E Sussex
Melittis melissophyllum, Bastard Balm
This is very local in southern Britain

 We walked uphill along a woodland track  and then headed back down to the river through open woods which proved to be very rich with masses of Lily-of-the-valley, Convallaria majus and Herb Paris, Paris quadrifolia.
Herb Paris
Paris quadrifolia

Another day we walked along the bank of the River Sioule between a  animal feedstuffs factory and some rather nasty holiday homes. This unpromising site was nevertheless made lovely by the river,  and by some uncommon plants.  We found an unusual Scabious, Knautia dipsacifolia, with Teasel-like, cordate-amplexicaul leaves.  This is a plant normally found in mountains and seemingly not previously recorded in this part of France.
The other excitement this day was a splendid patch of Lathraea clandestina, Purple Toothwort.
The stem leaves of Knautia dipsacifolia

Lathraea clandestina, Purple Toothwort

Throughout the time in France I had been making use of rainy days to do a final proof-reading of the Vice-county Rare Plant Register, and on 15th May it went public at last!  With huge help and encouragement from Polly Spencer-Vellacott, the BSBI Welsh Officer, it was finally formatted and was posted as a PDF on the Merioneth webpage.  We thought we had been through it all with a fine tooth comb but very quickly someone pointed out that we had printed the English name of Blackstonia perfoliata as Early Marsh Orchid!!

The Register is a first draft and is only published on-line at present but there are plans to print a limited number of hard copies and it is hope to have some of these available at the Caerdeon recording meeting in August

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Lesvos in April

Just in case anyone thinks I have abandoned botany these days, here is a taste of what we had been doing between field meetings. We joined a Wildlife Travel holiday for the second year running, trying to hurry along the arrival of the flowering season.  Last year it was Morocco and this year we fulfilled a long-held ambition of mine, to go to Lesvos in the spring.

Even before we arrived in our hotel on the far side of the island from the airport at Mytilini,  our eyes were delighted by the botanical riches in store for us.  There were the familiar plants of the Mediterranean with their admixture of plants from Asia Minor.  It is not Merioneth, and so is perhaps not so interesting for British botanists to read, so I will simply post a selection of pictures which I hope will give a flavour of our lovely holiday.

Lavandula stoechas, French Lavender,
the iconic plant of the Med

The diminutive Cichorium pumilum,
an eastern Mediterranean specialist

Serapias cordigera lurking in the leaves
 of an Urginea, a Sea Squill

Another Mediterranean particular!
The well-armed and venomous-looking
Centaurea urvillei

Tulipa hageri, rather closed up on a damp day
Fritillaria pontica

Ophrys reinholdii,
an Eastern Mediterranean endemic

Silybum marinum, Holy Thistle ,
another plant I always associate with Southern Europe
Cephalanthera damasonia -
one of my very favorite plants

Molyvos harbour from the hotel.............
A Praying Mantis,
Empusa fasicata


.and a long view of our bay.

Monday, 9 June 2014

April with Merioneth Nats

Annie at work!
Now I am living out of the county I make an extended visit once a month to coincide with Meirionydd Nats meetings and in April I was lucky to have Annie's company to  survey the salt marsh at Gogarth on the Dyfi estuary. We made a good list of early plants and enjoyed the sights and smells of the marsh, which was bright with Cochlearia officinalis, Common Scurvy-grass, in the sward of Festuca rubra subsp litoralis.

The next day we all met in Dyffryn Ardudwy, where Guy had done a lot of work getting access permissions. He'd also let us park in his wonderful garden, although he was away and so not able to enjoy the day with us.  We walked down towards the sea, as usual not recording until we were in the right target tetrad, but then making a long list of weedy species, which take advantage of the early lack of competition.

The bright flowers of Lousewort, Pedicularis sylvatica, were a welcome sight so early in the year

Some better marshy conditions took our species count to 146, quite a respectable total so early  in the year, when it is difficult to do some plants, particularly young ferns, with accuracy. In some of the ditches we found Apium nodiflorum, Fool's Watercress,  and both Sparganium emersum and S angustifolium, Branched and Floating Bur-reed.

Andrew successfully foraging for Water Crowfoot
Andrew intrepidly went down a steep bank to retrieve some Water-crowfoot. Sadly it later proved impossible to identify beyond Ranunculus aquatilis s.l., with its single flower failing to develop into fruit.

We saw several clumps of the Sharp Rush, Juncus acutus, a Meirionnydd specialityon our way back towards the railway and village. The caravan site in the background and the derelict barn are signs of the changes in land use in recent times

Juncus acutus

Hiraeth, an almost untranslatable Welsh word
for a yearning nostalgia