Sunday, May 31, 2015

Yellow Flag

Continuing the yellow theme, this is yellow flag, or sometimes just flag, which appeared in the garden uninvited but not unwelcome.
Iris pseudacorus looks best in large groupings, as it is usually found along the edges of watercourses or damp ditches.
In our garden it looks as though it was badly planted, about two metres from the pond. Perhaps I should reunite it with its cousins in the autumn...

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Meadow Buttercup

Completing the trio of buttercups: meadow buttercup or Ranunculus acris. It has deeply divided leaves and stipules, with small green spreading sepals which yellow with age.
I was pleased to discover all three species growing in my garden. Bodes well for the Garden BioBlitz this weekend!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Creeping Buttercup

This one is creeping buttercup, Ranunculus repens. It is stoloniferous, hence its name. The sepals differ from bulbous buttercup in that they are spreading and not bent back on themselves (reflexed).
It is very common and probably most easily identified from its leaves, especially when differentiating it from the third common buttercup (see tomorrow), meadow buttercup.
I didn't realise that all buttercups are poisonous to animals. This no doubt accounts for their ubiquity in pasture. This toxicity disappears, however, on drying, rendering hay safe.
In the top left picture you can see an achene, the cluster of fertilised carpels, which are characteristic of the buttercup family.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Bulbous buttercup

Time to tackle the 'buttercups'. 
For some reason I've always struggled to remember the differences between the three common buttercups: meadow buttercup, creeping buttercup and bulbous buttercup. 
This year I finally had them all off pat. I'm happy to report that all three grow in the garden. 
This is bulbous buttercup: Ranunculus bulbosus. You can tell because the sepals are folded downwards or 'recurved'. It has divided leaves, not totally dissimilar from meadow buttercup, and tends to form tufts in the turf.
It also usually flowers first of the three. 
Another common name for it is St Anthony's turnip, a reference to it's swollen corm, although why St Anthony isn't clear to me.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Broom (not prostrate)

This broom, Cytisus scoparius, is definitely not prostrate (see 4th May). Growing tall beneath a Scot's pine in Ashdown Forest this looks like a skinny, spineless, scentless gorse bush. Closer inspection reveals a lack of spines and a five-angled stem. The flowers, although very similar, lack the calyx found in gorse.
Our word broom, for brush on a long handle, comes from the plant, which was employed for the purpose. It has replaced the Old English word which is occasionally still heard: besom.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ragged Robin

Ragged robin is one of my favourite flowers, with one of the more unusual Latin binomials: Lychnis flos-cuculi
It's increasingly rare, preferring damper soils in our increasingly drained and dry landscape. This was growing by the side of the cycle path between Beddingham roundabout and the Glynde turn-off, and I can't help feeling it was part of a 'wildflower' mix of seeds planted after the development.
It is a member of the Caryophyllaceae or Carnation or Pinks family which includes a number of other easily recognisable and attractive flowers.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Cryptocephalus aureolus

Well this is a bobby-dazzler, as my dad used to say (and possibly still does from time to time (not about this particular creature, but when something was particularly visually impressive)). I came across it when looking again for the early spider orchids Andy and I had seen on our bike ride a few weeks ago. It was sitting in the yellow flower like an emerald ornament. 
Entomology is mostly a mystery to me at the moment, something I look forward to remedying, so of course I had no idea what it was. The interweb is a marvellous place and within minutes help was to hand. It was suggested to be from the genus Cryptocephalus (cryptic-headed due to the head being almost invisible beneath the pronotum) and after a few suggestions followed by sleuthing various websites, I have decided it is Cryptocephalus aureolus rather than Cryptocephalus hypochaeridis which has bluer/darker elytra (wing cases (getting with the entomological jargon!)).

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Common Vetch

A lovely splash of colour in the hedgerows and longer grass, Vicia sativa or common vetch is aptly named. There are lots of vetches and vetchlings in the books but the other commonly seen one is tufted vetch, which has a cracking Latin binomial. I shall endeavor to find some for the blog. 
The end of my week off draws to a close and I seem to have been far busier than would have been the case had I been working. Highlights have been visiting my square for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme up in Ashdown Forest and almost becoming an apiarist. (I built a bee hive but have no bees, although I nearly did!)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Heath Milkwort

This is a milkwort. They are not particularly common and probably only noticed in short-cropped grassland such as we have on the South Downs. There are several species which are difficult to tell apart. Differentiation depends largely on the arrangement and size of the leaves. This is heath milkwort, Polygala serpyllifolia, which can be recognised from the fact that the leaves lower down the stem are opposite.

Friday, May 22, 2015


Erinaceus europaeus by Michael Gäbler. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Abbey came across an Erinaceus europaeus strolling across our lawn the other night. It's the first one we've seen in the garden for five or more years. Somehow a hedgehog always cheers you up. There's something nice and unassuming about them, as well as the fact that they consume many 'pests' in the garden. Unfortunately, but the time she'd shut the chickens away and got her phone it had scurried away into the bushes.
We reflected on how common they seemed to be when we were children. Our own kids have only seen a live hedgehog once and they are now on the Biodiversity Action Plan for the UK as a threatened species, having an estimated decline of around 25% over the last couple of decades.
Furze-pig is a great colloquial name for them. They can make funny noises too.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Wall Bedstraw

This is Galium parisiense or wall bedstraw. It looks a bit like hedge bedstraw but the differences are its weak roots, more prostrate habit, the recurved prickles on the angles of the stems and the forward pointing prickles on the leaves. It is now rare in the British Isles and declining so I was suprised to find it growing at the base of a wall not more than 20 metres from my house.
The leaves aren't actually all leaves. Only two are leaves, the others are stipules. Quite why the stipules evolved to mimic the leaves is beyond me. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Adonis Blue

Apologies for not posting yesterday. Given that I'm on annual leave all week you'd think I'd have plenty of time to post on the blog but as usual I've made myself an unrealistic list of 'things to do' which means much toing and froing and missing of blog posts. Apologies also for mis-identifying this initially as a common blue. It is clearly an adonis from the black markings in the white borders!
Today I went on a glorious ride over the Downs with my (now older) pal Andy. We rediscovered the early spider orchids of which a few are still in flower but we also came across this stunning male adonis blue, Polyommatus belargus.
Managing to mostly miss the rain we then had a magnificent lunch with a couple of bottles of claret, the likes of which I doubt I'll ever be lucky enough to taste again.

Camperdown Elm

This is unusual. It's a mature elm tree, which is noteworthy in this era of Dutch elm disease, but it also has an strange growth habit; the trunk is seen on the right and the tree is growing along a bent bole towards the left of the picture.
Elms are unusual in another way. Despite producing prodigious keys (seeds) (see right hand photo) they only rarely germinate. Consequently reproduction is largely vegetative by a process known a suckering. This leads to the formation of clones, with genetically identical trees growing in close proximity. It also makes taxonomy a nightmare, a bit like it is with dandelions and brambles.
In the past each village had its 'own' elm trees, subtly different from those in the village down the road. There is an excellent chapter on elms in Rackham's (god rest his soul) book The History of the Countryside. In the introduction he says "They are the most complex and difficult trees in western Europe, and the most intimately linked to human affairs. Oak and hazel have played at least as great a part in shaping civilization, but have not themselves been shaped by civilization as have elms."
People, even people living around Brighton and Eastbourne, believe that all mature elm trees were wiped out during the Dutch Elm disease massacre of the 1960s and 70s. In fact the radical actions of the local authorities in these districts, felling and burning affected trees at the first whiff of trouble, has preserved the English elms. The commonest tree in central Brighton is the English elm!
This specimen is growing in Jevington churchyard. My wife commented on it's unusual shape and I got (over) excited about it being an elm. I'm guessing it is likely to be a weeping elm, Ulmus glabra 'Camperdownii', which will have been created from the original tree discovered in the Camperdown estate near Dundee. It is not an English elm, but a cultivar of wych elm.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Cock's Foot

To continue the grassy theme, this is one of the easier to identify of the common grasses: cock's foot, orchard grass or Dactylis glomerata. (No prizes for guessing where this was growing.)
It is a key plant in one of the National Vegetation Classification categories (MG1) along with false oat-grass.
The National Vegetation Classification (NVC): now there's a thing. Very important in ecological circles!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Wall Barley

How gratifying to find wall barley, Hordeum murinum, growing by a wall.
This is growing by the prison wall along with what seems to be an endless variety of other plants, many of which have featured on this blog. 
It's biodiversity in action right on our doorstep, right under our noses, and largely ignored by everyone!

Ribwort Plantain


I don't know what happened yesterday! I had plenty of time and managed to fill it with gardening, cooking and socialising until waking this morning and realising I didn't post the blog.
It was a glorious day and I spotted a number of plants in the garden as yet unblogged. This caught my eye. There isn't loads of it in the garden but there is loads of it in the world. I think it's Europe's commonest plant (most widespread or numerous - not sure). Plantago lanceolata or ribwort plantain. We used to play 'conkers' with it when I was a kid, seeking out the stoutest specimens with the largest inflorescences. In paleobotany, the presence of its pollen suggests open, grazed areas of land. It appears in northern Europe during the neolithic period.  

Friday, May 15, 2015

Green Longhorn Moth

Here we have a couple fo male Green Longhorn moths, Adela reaumurella, hanging out with about forty others on this hawthorn bush on the edge of this lovely old (and somewhat overstood) hornbeam coppiced woodland near South Chailey.
They are, of course, waiting for the ladies!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Spanish Bluebell

Spanish Bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, is the bluebell of gardens. It has flowers all around the flower stalk, including some facing upward. The flowers are broad-mouthed and open wide. They are a lighter shade of blue with (usually) blue anthers (see Bluebell - 7th May). The leaves are much broader too.
It hybridises easily with our native Hyacinthoides non-scripta to form intermediate forms known as Hyacinthoides x massartiana. Unfortunately the seed produced by the non-natives is bountiful and fertile so the plants rapidly invade native populations. This has lead to them being considered invasive species and the natives as being under threat.
This second post today is to catch up for not posting yesterday; I didn't get back from work until after midnight!


Primula veris or Cowslip is coming towards the end of its main flowering period now. It is closely related to Primrose (Primula vulgaris) and hybridises with it to form False Oxslip or Primula x polyantha
However, unlike Primrose, which favours shadier spots and flowers a little earlier, Cowslip is a plant of grassland and the open. It can appear in vast numbers, competing with Dandelions for the cones in your retina.
There was a nice article by George Peterken in the current British Wildlife magazine about Primroses which revealed a great deal about a species we very much take for granted.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Wood Melick

Another pretty grass from the garden: Melica uniflora or Wood Melick. It is common except for the far north of Scotland and the islands. It is usually found in woods, especially the edges of rides and hedgebanks. It dies back in the winter, which is apparently unusual for a woodland grass. Seeds rarely germinate so its regeneration is mainly rhizomatous. 
The BSBI handbook tells me that not very much is known about its ecology, which seems odd to me but what do I know.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Sterile Brome

Bromus sterilis by HermannSchachner Wikimedia Commons
I finally managed to get out on a Sussex Botanical Recording Society field trip on Saturday. I think the last one I managed to get to was in 2013, which was also my first! I had been inspired to join after going on 'An Introduction to Botanical Recording' run by the BSBI. The woman who ran it was on Saturday's field trip, which was nice. 
We were surveying some ancient woodland south of the A27 west of Arundel which is under threat from 'road improvements'. I only hope the efforts of organisations like the SBRS help to prevent the continued attrition of our remaining fragments of decent habitat.
I say 'we'; the reality was that the eleven others spotted the species and shouted out the Latin binomial abbreviations used for recording whilst I struggled to work out which plants were being referred to, usually resorting to asking someone what was what. They kindly took me under their collective wing and taught me the identification features of this and that, including some grasses and sedges.
Part of the motivation to really get out there was reading about the new National Plant Monitoring Scheme in the current issue of British Wildlife. This is a new collaboration between the BSBI and Plantlife to allow long term monitoring of the flora in various habitats of interest. It was inspired in part by the similar schemes run by the BTO, such as the Breeding Bird Survey and Wetland Birds Surveys which I've done for the last five or six years. So in a burst of enthusiasm I've signed up to survey a 1km x 1km Ordnance Survey square in the Ashdown Forest. My information pack arrived today and it is very impressive. Furthermore there are a number of free training days being run around the UK for volunteers and I've signed up for the Grasses Identification workshop at Reading University on 8th June. 
Grasses, sedges and ferns are, to me anyway, a step up from identifying what we think of as wildflowers. I've got some superb books, but the jargon can be opaque to the beginner (see 28th February!), making the keying out of specimens a real headache. 
But you know what they say... practice makes one a little better than one was before. So I've decided to have a bit of blitz on grasses in preparation for the workshop.
This is a rather pretty grass growing plentifully by our polytunnel and here and there in the orchard. It is very long and wispy with a lovely purplish hue. I have just spent a good 40 minutes keying it out in three different books and can confidently announce that it is Bromus sterilis or Sterile Brome. Hurrah!