Where to look for plants on a Saturday?

Steve Gater DWT Botany Group, News

With interest in botany on the up, what better time to be out looking at wild plants than on a spring afternoon, but where? Durham Wildlife Trust botanists were covering the county and beyond, with two trips that successfully recorded some wonderful species. In the South West a group of members took to Cow Green Reservoir to look for spring gentian, Gentiana verna, while another party struck North West to Blanchland in search of May Lily, Maianthemum bifolium (click here for this group’s report).

Cow Green Reservoir was built shortly after the Tees Valley and Cleveland Water Bill was passed by Parliament 50 years ago, much to the lament of contemporary botanists, ecologists and the forerunner of our Wildlife Trust. While it may look impressive and attractive in the sunshine, it drowns the remarkable arctic flora unique to Upper Teesdale. Fortunately the path alongside the eastern bank of the reservoir still holds populations of some the other wonderful ‘Teesdale assemblage’ of plants and this as the purpose of our visit.

Cow Green Reservoir

It’s a pretty unforgiving place when the weather isn’t kind, and that mean most of the time! But, we were not far out of the car park before out first plant was found, and many others followed……

Spring gentian, Gentiana verna

The colour of spring gentian, Gentiana verna, is so intense, so blue, so unforgettable! Odd plants, small clusters and drifts within the grasses and mosses were wonderful to see. As was mountain pansy, Viola lutea.

Mountain pansy, Viola lutea

The Latin, lutea, means yellow – so this is what we might expect to find. But in Upper Teesdale the purple form is more common, and there were a lot of plants to see in flower. Small, delicate and lovely.

Mountain pansy, Viola lutea

Mountain pansy, Viola lutea

We weren’t really expecting to see a species more common in woodland but it was good to come across wood anemone, Anemone nemoralis, within the wire compound that also enclosed and protected spring gentian from interference.

Wood anemone, Anemone nemoralis

Nearby, next to another enclosure we came across the quite elusive moonwort, Botrychium lunaria – another ‘hands on knees’ job to picture this tiny fern. There were 10 spikes and possibly more in the grass.


Moonwort, Botrychium lunaria

And talking of grass, the cotton-headed flowers of blue moor grass, Sesleria caerulea, were swaying in the wind, casting a light blue haze over the low banks. Later in the season we’ll be looking for the one-sided flowers of mat grass, Nardus stricta, to add to the tough spiky leaves on show today. It was good to see sedges such as common sedge, Carex nigra, coming into flower and the matt green (glaucous) leaves of glaucous sedge, Carex flacca, were easy to spot.

Another gem to delight in was bird’s eye primrose, Primula farinosa. This plant takes its scientific name from the Latin for flour – farina. The reason is clear to see when you look underneath a leaf – it is as if it has been dusted with white flour.

Bird’s eye primrose, Primula farinosa

And let’s not forget that this area is a mecca too for bryologists, with plenty of Sphagnum species making up the blanket bog and other mosses like this growing on boulders and stream beds.

A great morning and a thank you to members for being there, with particular thanks to Susanna Heath for her excellent and innovative photography.

Steve Gater
Chair at Durham Wildlife Trust

Steve has a life-long interest in wildlife and a passion for flora. As an active member of the Durham Wildlife Trust Botany Group Steve enjoys exploring Vice County 66, the area covered by Durham Wildlife Trust, with its many specialities and wide range of common species. Inspired by Albrecht Dürer, Steve is a strong advocate for enjoying, protecting and conserving habitats and the wildlife they support - a fundamental priority for us all!