Botany 2018 starts here!

11:00 Monday 1st January was not the time to be still in bed or suffering a mighty hangover, but the time to meet up in Durham market place for the first trip of the year for the DWT botany group. Some 10 of us were there to take part in our 3rd New Year Plant Hunt, on a quiet and fairly mild day with odd spells of sunshine.

The New Year Plant Hunt is an inspiration of the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) and is a great way to shake off the cobwebs of Christmas and burn off a little of the excesses of seasonal indulgences. The instructions are simple, find a suitable day over the New Year, find a group, find a place to visit for 3 hours, find as many plants as possible that are in flower, identify and send your records to BSBI. This is now a very popular event and you can see the results of groups nationwide by clicking here.

So, off we went towards the Wear and first up was a common weed, Poa annua (annual meadow grass), a small grass that grows from seed almost everywhere – including in your lawn. Further along in the cut grass next to the indoor market, Bellis perennis (daisy). Quite a lot in fact, but only one plant in flower below.

Close by were two more common weed species, Cardamine hirsuta (hairy bitter-cress), Capsella bursa-pastoris (shepherd’s-purse) and another common grass in your lawn and on pastures, Lolium perenne ( perennial rye-grass).

Capsella bursa-pastoris (shepherd’s-purse) – white flowers against the purse-shaped fruit

Walking under the A690 Bridge took us to a small patch of wasteland, a great spot to look for weeds most likely to be in flower and we were not disappointed to find Senecio vulgaris (groundsel), Matricaria discoidiea (Pineappleweed), Taraxacum agg. (dandelion) and Lamium album (white deadnettle).

Taraxacum agg. (dandelion)

Lamium album (white deadnettle)

Matricaria discoidiea (Pineappleweed)

However, we were not prepared for our next find, our 10th species, an unknown grass that needed further study before Angela and Keith independently identified it as Alopecurus myosuroides (black-grass). This being new to Keith, he also discovered the following, quite disturbing, information;

Black-grass is a noxious weed of winter wheat – principally autumn-sown wheat, which is grown by more intensive methods than spring-sown wheat. The combination of new growing cycles, high doses of nitrogen and methodical application of herbicides has eliminated many traditional cornfield weeds but the new method has produced an explosion of Black-grass’.

Time to move on!

Heading downstream along the racecourse brought us to a really nice find, Hesperis matronalis (Dame’s-violet), a member of the cabbage family, Brassicaceae. There was a few in flower among the long grass and dead vegetation.

Also a chance to see Trifolium pratense (red clover), Veronica persica (common field-speedwell), Lamium purpureum (red dead-nettle), Stellaria media (common chickweed) and Lapsana communis (nipplewort).

Trifolium pratense (red clover) – a visitor from fields and lawns

The dainty blue flowers of Veronica persica (common field-speedwell)

Another grass was identified Elymus caninus (bearded couch) as we looked at the trees along the riverbank, scouring the buds to see if any were yet open, and sure enough Alnus glutinosa (alder) and Salix caprea subsp. caprea (goat Willow) obliged. But we couldn’t spot any hazel which is likely to be partly in flower now, and other ‘safe bets’ not found were gorse or hogweed. We have Michael to thank for reminding us to check if Hedera helix (common Ivy), below, was still flowering – yes, so 20 up!

Add the final one below to make it 21 in total, Scorzoneroides autumnalis (autumn hawkbit).

Not the longest list produced by groups on the day, but we had an enjoyable day that augers well for the botanical delights to come as the day grow longer and temperatures rise. Thank you to Angela, Barbara, Bill, Carole, Gaynor, Keith, Krys, Lynne, and Michael for your expertise and great company.

You may expect to see a separate report on the Bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) found on the day that do not count in the`NYPH.

If you are interested in plants and want to find out more about the botany group please email botany@durhamwt.co.uk.