An interesting February morning in Baal Hill Wood

DWT Botany Group DWT Botany Group, News

The weather was murky and mild, the group of 10 was eager to find plants in flower a month after the New Year Plant Hunt – with luck that could mean more than the 14 recorded then. To make the magic work we hugged the Bishop’s oak, a magnificent veteran tree that once marked a fence line in this hunting estate owned by the Prince Bishops. The tree is a sessile oak, Quercus petrea, the more dominant species on this reserve – but not in flower.

Bishop’s Oak – Baal Hill Wood

Following our recent winter trees ID training, our eyes were focused up and down, so it was appropriate that hazel, Corylus avellana, was the first plant in flower to be seen. Most trees were heavily laden with long yellow/brown male catkins and one in particular also had good numbers of red female flowers. Goat willow, Salix caprea, was just starting to flower, the buds with tell-tale white wisps giving rise to the common name for this tree – pussy willow.

Other trees of interest were being successfully ‘keyed out’ which gave a nice sense of satisfaction. The introduced Western hemlock, Tsuga heterophylla, offered a fascinating contrast to our native yew, Taxus baccata. Scots pine, Pinus sylvestris, and juniper, Juniperus communis, make up the trio of native coniferous trees – only the former was found. Also of interest as we left the wood were more planted introductions and very impressive too – giant redwoods and monkey trees.

Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla)

Yew (Taxus baccata)

Two plants in flower so far – look harder! Well we did and soon came across plenty of small, early specimens of dog’s mercury, Mercurialis perennis, just starting to flower. This plant is dioecious, meaning that is has separate male plants and female plants. The difference will be much easier to spot in a few weeks time, and a good reason to revisit the wood around Easter time. It is a typical plant in deciduous woods, so have a look in a wood near you any time soon.

Dog’s mercury (Mercurialis perennis)

Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis)

Gorse, Ulex europaeus, has been in flower of several weeks now, so it was no surprise to see more on the day. A member of the pea family, Fabaceae, it provides a refreshing yellow sparkle to a sombre patch of wood, as well as providing nectar for early pollinators. Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, was also on the hit list and good carpets were eventually found with more bright flowers to add a highlight to the shade. Looking very closely, we were wondering if the slight variation in some of these plants might indicate different species or hybrids. We left with a doubt in our minds, the jury remained uncertain. What was certain, however, was the number of plants seen in flower – 5!

So, were we disheartened? Certainly not! With lots of fungi and bryophytes like these to see, many trees in different stages and with new plants emerging in the undergrowth offering an inspiring spring show to be, our visit ended on a high. We’ll be back to see more later in the season.

Tamarisk Moss (Thuidium tamariscinum)

Thank you to all who came out, to Lesley for the photographs and to Keith for recording.

DWT Botany Group

Established in 2015, the DWT Botany Group aims to ignite and encourage an interest in the world of plants. The group is based at Rainton Meadows Nature Reserve and organises talks, botanical walks and field trips throughout the Durham Wildlife Trust area. Please click here for information on our upcoming events.

For more information or to register your interest in getting involved then please email Steve Gater on or telephone 0191 584 3112