A sunny, bright Monday afternoon on 16th September saw six people from the Botany Group strolling through Baal Hill Wood. The object of the exercise was to identify plants vegetatively, (that is to say without the benefit of flowers) using leaves, stalks and all other aspects of a plant especially seeds and seed cases. Making it more fun or difficult depending on your point of view we used Latin names wherever possible.
Baal Hill Wood is a site managed by the Trust’s Low Barns team. Baal Hill is an ancient woodland. It was owned in the fourteenth century by the Prince Bishops of Durham. Baal Hill is a reference to an old term for a pit used in lead smelting or perhaps from the fact that the Bishop’s bailiff lived nearby. As an ancient woodland it contains many of the trees you would expect, including a veteran oak tree (Bishop’s oak) thought to be about four hundred years old, which can be found at the northern edge of the wood. However, it also contains more exotic species such as Giant Redwoods, a Monkey Puzzle Tree and different pines. It is a damp woodland, although (surprisingly dry when we went in) home to many ferns, fungi, lichens, liverworts and mosses as well as wildflowers. The entrance to the wood is a hidden site but in actual fact a short walk across fields from Wolsingham.
It wasn’t far into the wood that ferns became obvious, starting to identify them by the number of times a frond is divided. We identified Broad buckler fern (Dryopteris dilatata), Male fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) Bracken (Peteridium aquilinum) and the beautiful Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina).The Lady fern has delicate looking fronds arranged in shuttlecock clusters. It is a more lime green than many ferns and likes moist woodlands and streams often on a acidic soil.
From the many flowers we identified two appeared frequently being Enchanter’s Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) a member of the Willowherb family but not a thug like our well known Rosebay Willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) and Common Figwort (Scrophularia nodosa). Figwort has pointed leaves with a heart shaped base and saw toothed edges. It grows well in damp woodland alongside ditches or rivers.
One plant we didn’t expect to find was a plant that also likes to grow in damp places but can be a garden escapee and that was Monk’s – hood (Aconitum napellus), a member of the buttercup family. It is known to be poisonous. Moving on through the wood we next identified two plants that are well known to us but appear rather infrequently so we often forget their names. Firstly Wood Sage (Teucrium scorodonia) and secondly Common Hemp nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit), both members of the Dead nettle family. Both these plants we were able to identify by looking at the leaves, type of hairs and the actual formation of the plant.
On our trips round the Durham countryside and with the surveys we undertake we don’t just look at flowering herbs but include trees, grasses, fungi, mosses and lichen. Being the time of year the fungi were in abundance and we saw many Puff Balls (Lycoperdon perlatum) pushing their way through quite hard ground. You can eat puff balls when young and tender but with any fungus NEVER eat anything in the wild unless you are absolutely sure you know what it is and whether it is safe to eat. Another fungus we found interesting was Dead Moll’s Fingers (Xylaria longpipes). This lives on dead rotting wood.
The day was interesting although comments were made about being a lack of the variety that we often see. That is purely down to the woodland environment and type of soil. The paths were well maintained and it was a good stroll although uphill in places.
Thanks again to Steve for organising it, Lesley for taking the photographs (See more on the botany group Facebook page) Jane for recording and everyone else for making it an enjoyable afternoon. If you are a member of Durham Wildlife Trust and are interested then please sign-up to the Botany group and join us on our walks and surveys. Beginners and everyone welcomed. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text 07823384083 for more details.