How to find the time in a wood

Malton nature reserve is a compact, varied and easily accessed site, full of bird song at this time of year and plenty of  woodland plants for the botany group to enjoy. It sits just off the Lanchester railway path, with a good car park and all the facilities of Lanchester down the road. So why not visit over the bank holiday? Click here for more details of the reserve.


An interesting violet Viola riviniana (common dog violet) or early or hybrid?

This as the first evening visit of the year for the botany group. It was originally planned as an oppotunity to see carpets of bluebells in a woodland setting, but the cold spring put paid to those ideas, so instead we opted to look for another woodland species, Adoxa moschatellina (moschatel).

Pic: Adoxa moschatellina (moschatel)

This is a fascinating little plant, growing up to 12cm high and spreading via underground runners (scaly rhizomes) into small patches. It is relatively common in woods and around streams – there are some nice patches at Low Barns near the education bird hide. Jane had prepared well for our visit and it wasn’t long before she carefully steered us to the first of what proved to be many areas where moschatel was flowering.

At this time of year it is an easy plant to spot, with compound leaves (double trifoliate) and light yellow flowers posted on top of a long flower stalk. The flowers give rise to the vernacular name for this plant – ‘town hall clock’. Each flower head (inflorescence) comprises five flowers, four of which face outwards at ninety degrees to each other to resemble a town hall clock. Each flower has a three-lobed green calyx (sepals), five-lobed yellow corolla (petals) that encloses ten golden stamens. A fifth flower sits on top of the four ‘clock faces’, facing upwards with a two-lobed calyx, four-lobed corolla and eight stamens. So, if you need to know the time, this is the plant to find! It certainly is a delight to see.

Moschatel has many other common names, including five-faced bishop, hollowroot, tuberous crowfoot and muskroot. The latter term refers to the faint musk-like smell of the flowers as evening approaches. Interestingly, this scent disappears when the plant is crushed (other plants that have a smell tend to intensify the scent when bruised). Hollowroot also has an interesting back story fed by folk lore, as John began to relate and then go on to the social history of this site – former colliery, hamlet and school (all now demolished).

Pic: Myrrhis odorata (sweet cisely)

The smell is obvious when you get near and intensifies if a leaf is bruised. Note the pale white markings on the green leaf – another clue to the identity of this plant.

 Fritillary – a garden escape and possible remnant of the former colliery hamlet?

The evening wore on and a good total of 96 species were recorded, including bluebell – well leaves anyway. Click here for a full list. It proved to be an enjoyable way to spend the evening with like-minded, friendly and interesting folk in a wood waking up to the prospects of a warm summer. Well. Let’s hope so!

Chrysosplenium oppositifolium (opposite- leaved saxifrage)


Thank you to Jane and others from the Lanchester Wildlife Group, for showing us one of your patch, to John for additional information, Lesley for pictures, Richard for visiting early, Carole for trying and everyone for your company, interest and expertise.

If you would like to know more about the DWT botany group and join our events please email or telephone Rainton Meadows on 0191 5843112. Everyone is welcome, whatever your experience and skills are, we would be delighted to welcome you to an event.