Monday, August 31, 2015

Common Cord-grass


This is a genuinely interesting grass. No really. It is the primogenitor of saltmarsh succession, invariably the only plant to grow until it has trapped sufficient sediment to raise the land out of the tidal range inhospitable to the rest. Here it has formed a small patch of saltmarsh in Swansea Bay and was the only thing growing apart from seaweed. 
It is also the best understood example of allopolyploidy: the creation of a new, fertile species from the hybridization of two species followed by chromosome doubling. Common cord-grass, Spartina anglica, has evolved from the sterile hybrid Townsend's cord-grass, S. xtownsendii. This is a hybrid of Small cord-grass, S. maritima, and Smooth cord-grass, S. alterniflora. So you get a lot of cord-grass for your buck with this tough little critter.
Smooth cord-grass was introduced from North America and the hybrid arose around Southampton in the mid nineteenth century. S. anglica was first noticed in 1892 and its vigour and sediment-trapping ability was soon recognised. Consequently it was widely planted around the coast as part of sea-defences and land-reclamation. It can grow seaward of every other perennial plant! 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Fox Moth

This little fella was crossing the road, one can only assume to get to the other side. It took a bit of sleuthing to identify, but it is an early instar of the Fox Moth, Macrothylacia rubi. It lives with remarkable views and plenty of food. After overwintering as a final instar it pupates around the end of March/April to emerge as the moth which flies until June.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Wild Parsnip

I feel a bit stupid for not taking a picture of the whole plant as it is a massive thing towering to around two metres. There were several of them spaced out in a glade amongst pines behind the beach at Burry Port on the north side of the Loughor estuary. They looked like a weird installation.
The book says they are strong smelling, so I crushed a bit to check. Later it warns you that the sap is highly irritant, causing a nasty rash on exposure to sunlight. I can't help thinking the warning should have come first.
It is Wild Parsnip, Pastinaca sativa. It is generally classified as the same species as the vegetable but a number of different subspecies are recognised.
The plant contains useful chemicals, including coumarins and psoralens. The latter absorb UV light and are used in suncreams.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Marram Grass

This is perhaps the most familiar plant of British dunes: Marram grass, Ammophila arenaria. It's extensive rhizomes stabilise the sand preventing drifting of the dunes. The plant was harvested in the past for various uses, including thatching and basket-making, but this led to dune movement and loss of arable land and villages, especially in Denmark. Laws were introduced in Scotland in the seventeenth century and Denmark in the eighteenth century to prevent its removal.
The genus name derives from the Greek ammos: sand, and philia: lover. It is an example of a xerophyte, able to tolerate drought through various adaptations that help reduce water loss: waxy covering; inrolled leaves with stomata on the internal surface only; stomata situated in small pits; hairs to slow air movement across the leaf surface.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Sea Holly

Sea Holly must be the most striking plant of the dunes? This magnificent specimen of Eryngium maritimum was growing at the back of the beach at the Llangenith end of Rhossili beach. It caught my eye when the sun came out, silvery blue ruffs around the spiky inflorescence.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wood Sage

This is another plant from the Pembrokeshire coast which I was a little suprised to find growing amidst the gorse and heather: Wood Sage, Teucrium scorodonia. It has a great Latin binomial.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


"Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax -Penwith -Cornwall -flying-8b" by Andrew - originally posted to Flickr as chough. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons -
My final catch-up post is of one of my favourite birds: the Chough, Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax, the red-legged red-billed member of the crow family and one of our rarest. It is confined to coasts in Wales and Cornwall. It is the county bird of Cornwall but absent for around fifty years until it re-colonised in 2001. The Latin name refers to the ancient belief that it was drawn to and caused fires, although the means by which it initiated conflagrations was never clearly elucidated. It has broader more rectangular wings in proportion to its body when compared with the other crows, with long separate primary 'fingers' which are seen clearly in the photo. It's call is described by the inestimably Geoff Sample as "whizzing zings" which is a perfectly succinct summary.


Catching up on missed posts: this is Betony, Stachys officinalis, growing amidst the bell heather and western gorse beside the coastal path. 
The specific name indicates longstanding usage by the herbalists. The Romans thought it protected against sorcery and later it was used to thwart witchcraft.

Rock Sea-spurrey

This was a new one for me and it's taken a little while to find it in the books. Close up it has exquisite little flowers and is densely covered in glandular hairs. It was growing right on the coastal path at the base of one of the stone 'steps' put in by the National Trust team. 
It is Rock Sea-spurrey, Spergularia rupicola, a member of the Caryophyllaceae family (Chickweeds, Pinks and Campions).

Babington's Orache

This is, I'm pretty sure, Babington's orache, Atriplex glabriuscula, sprawling over the shingle at the back of a beautiful little cove between Newgale and Solva on the Pembrokeshire coast. To be certain one would need to check the bracteoles, but as you can see from the photos the flowers are only just appearing. It can be difficult to distinguish from Spear-leaved orache, Atriplex prostrata.

Rock Samphire

Another coastal plant growing on a headland near Caerfai Farm. This was taken late on our last day. That night a cold front blew in and changed things utterly: high winds and torrential rain.
This is Rock Samphire, Crithmum maritimum, which is an unusual member of the Umbellifer family in that it has fleshy stems and leaves, like cacti. It is confined, as the binomial suggests, to coastal locations. Oddly it isn't found between the very north of Scotland and Suffolk. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Hare's-foot clover

I have been unable to connect to the interweb for the last few days on account of having been stuck in some fields near Crickhowell with a large number (around 20,000) other (mostly white, middle-class) people. The result of such large numbers in a rural location was overload of the local mobile network to the extent that data-services were suspended. 
Now I am at my parents' house in Swansea I do have access, albeit at unfeasibly slow connection speeds. In fact it has only been possible to load a page without it timing out by fiddling with various techological bits. (For anyone of a sufficiently geeky bent, the ping time was initially over 2000ms with a download speed of 0.04MB/s.)
Enough excuses; there is a lot of catching up to do, most of which will be done tomorrow as it's now already late. But for today I offer you this lovely little Trifolium, Hare's-foot clover, Trifolium arvense. It was growing by the quayside at Solva which, having read the books, is just where you'd expect it to be growing. The Trifoliums are rather charming members of the Fabaceae family, aka the 'legumes', aka peas, vetches and clovers. They all have funny nodules in their roots which contain bacteria that can 'fix' nitrogen, i.e. convert inorganic nitrogen to organic.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


Great looking flower and great common name: Bittersweet. It's also known as Woody Nightshade, revealing its close relationship with a deadly cousin. The Latin binomial reveals other relationships: Solanum dulcamara. It is in the same family as potatoes and tomatoes. Of the seven or so family members living in Great Britain this is the most widespread, often seen scrambling through brambles and hedgerows.
posted from Bloggeroid

Tufted Vetch

Missed yesterday's post; busy striking camp in a brisk westerly cold front complete with torrential rain. Lunch at the (still) querky Druidstone hotel before a circuitous route via Ammanford, Llandovery and Brecon back to Llanvihangel Crucorney's (no really) real fires for dinner.
Reviewing the haul from my coastal walks I thought I would post this, the vetch with the best name: Vicia cracca. I always hear it in my head as though spoken by Frank Carson.
posted from Bloggeroid

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


This is Redshank, Persicaria maculosa, growing at the back of a beautiful sandy cove just west of Newgale beach. It was just above the small storm beach of pebbles where a stream disappeared beneath. 
This is the first member of the Dock family, Polygonaceae, which includes (besides the namesakes) Knotweeds, Bindweeds and Knotgrasses as well as Persicarias. It can be a tricky group due to small differences between species. This one is one of the easier ones as it often has a dark splodge on the leaves, just visible in this rather poor photo.
posted from Bloggeroid

Monday, August 17, 2015

Western Gorse

This is Western Gorse, Ulex gallii, growing by the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path alongside bell heather and some Ulex europaeus which is no longer in flower. Telling it apart from its big cousin can be tricky, but their flowering times differ and general growth habit, which helps when they are found in proximity. Also Western Gorse doesn't smell of coconut and has tiny bracteoles. The spines are only faintly furrowed and less robust than those of Gorse.
posted from Bloggeroid

Sunday, August 16, 2015


This is Sheep's-bit, Jasione montana, seen today on a walk from the campsite along the coastal path to Solva. It is a member of the Bellflower family, Campanulaceae, and not a member of the Teasel family, Dipsacaceae, where the Scabiouses belong. The latter are often confused with the rampions and sheep's bits but they have opposite leaves and spiny calyces.
It was a lovely day; one that makes you question the need ever to travel overseas. And the Brains beer tasted especially good at the Harbour Inn.

posted from Bloggeroid

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Red Bartsia

This is Red Bartsia, Odonites vernus, which is a partial parasite on grasses. (see Yellow Rattle.) It is a member of the Figwort family.
Somewhat diminutive, it is easily overlooked, especially as the flowers are are small with muted colours.
posted from Bloggeroid

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Bog Asphodel


These beautiful bog asphodel, Narthecium ossifragum, were photographed when my friend Ian was visiting from France back in July. It was the same camera that took those extraordinary photos of the swallowtail caterpillar but without the fancy post-production. Still impressive I think. The orange anthers are striking, as are the hairy filaments and general delicate beauty of the inflorescence.
Although widespread in the north and west of Britain, they are relatively rare in the south, confined as they are to acid bogs, wet heaths and flushes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Forest Bug

This is, I think, the first bug on the blog. Bugs differ from beetles in having a piercing beak, wings with membranous tips that overlap when not flying. They are the True bugs: the Hemiptera and there are 50,000 to 80,000 species. This is a shield bug. They belong to the sub-order Heteroptera (which accounts for around 40,000 species) and are sometimes referred to as the Typical bugs.
The Forest Bug, Pentatoma rufipes, belongs to the family Pentatomidae, so-called because of their five-segmented antennae (compared with the four found in most Heteropterans). It is common throughout Britain

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Scalloped Oak

Much better haul with the trap last night, which is just as well as I woke up around 4am just as it started to drizzle and rushed out to through a waterproof over it. 
This was the most eye-catching of the bunch: a Scalloped Oak, Crocallis elinguaria. It's common throughout the British Isles.

Monday, August 10, 2015


This is a common flower at the moment. At first sight you think it's an umbelliferer, but in fact it's in the daisy family, Asteraceae. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, is native throughout the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere where it has always been associated with the treatment of bleeding wounds. Hence its ancient name of herbal militaris. 
It also had other uses and was considered powerful by some for, and some against, evil. Mr Grigson tells us that in one part of the country girls would put the leaves up their noses and chant a rhyme that essentially asked that if their love should love them, let their nose bleed. I can't see that trending amongst the youth of today.