Wednesday 4 January 2017

The President's New Year Plant Hunt

Fatsia japonica in bloom
Glengary, Co. Wexford
Image: Paul Green
Today was the fourth and final day of BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt, so recording has now ceased, although records from the past few days are still coming in. The results so far are here.

We still have quite a few lists to input from people who didn't use the new on-line app: most of you liked it and used it, which saved us a lot of time this year compared to last, but some of you didn't get on with it at all. We will be making some tweaks to the app before next year, based on the feedback you've given us so far, and we hope that you'll all have a go with version two.

Meanwhile, the New Year Plant Hunt team has lists to input and identifications to check, so we'll leave you with this account by BSBI President John Faulkner:

"This year, we decided to go somewhere unfamiliar for our New Year Plant Hunt. So Gilly and I got on a train, and headed south for 30 miles to Dundalk in County Louth. Getting out into the sunshine, the station area looked bare at first sight, with most surfaces devoid of all signs of vegetation. Indeed, despite it being a Bank Holiday, a Station employee was busily scraping away the few remaining clumps of moss in one corner of the yard. Not a promising start. 

John at St. Patrick's Church, Dundalk,
searching in vain for open flowers
 on Hairy Tare Vicia hirsuta
Image courtesy of J. Faulkner 
"But as ever, on closer inspection there were nooks and crannies here and there where the herbicides, shovels, scrapers and brushes had not penetrated. Before we emerged from the station forecourt we had found 12 species in flower including a Hawkweed (Hieracium). Now, I find Hieracium is a difficult genus at the best of times, and “scraggy winter fragment with undersized tattered yellow flowers” is not a diagnostic description in any of my keys. The specimen will have to go to the relevant BSBI referee for identification. 

"In wall to wall sunshine (at this time of year the low sun really does shine more on the walls more than on the ground!), we spent 3 delightful hours wandering around the streets, parks, and any waste ground we could find. An obvious place to head for was that part of town known as “The Marshes”.  Neither in terms of botany nor of hospitality did it disappoint. Its eponymous shopping centre had the only cafe in town that was open that day, and we enjoyed a much-needed lunch and coffee there. It also had acres of flat land in various stages of development or redevelopment, and it was here we came across the best botanising, with a good collection of urban weeds, some in flower and some not so. 

Annual Mercury
Courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
"Of particular interest to me were Keeled-fruited Cornsalad Valerianella carinata and Annual Mercury Mercurialis annua. Both of these have only one previous record for Co. Louth in the BSBI Database, and neither has ever been noted in my own vice-county of Armagh, which adjoins to the north. The former required us to reach at full stretch through impenetrable railings onto the bank a stream to pluck a small sample. 

"Fortunately, some of its tiny bluish flowers were open, and hidden among the lush green shoots were some of the fruits required for identification. Had it not been on a herbicide-treated patch of ground, it would have been tempting to munch it as the salad component implied by its English name of Cornsalad.

Dog's Mercury
Courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
"The Annual Mercury had me stumped at first. It is a south-eastern plant in Britain and Ireland, and I had never knowingly seen it before, despite it being relatively common some 50 miles further south in Co. Dublin. Dundalk, it seems, is on the north-western limit of its distribution

"Only on close examination back at home did I realise it was dioecious and its inflorescences were so similar to its woodland cousin, Dog’s Mercury.

"By the end of the day, we had found 37 species in flower and various others of interest too. From the train home, we enjoyed a wonderful orange-purplish glow from the horizon above hills of the Ring of Gullion and the Cooley Peninsula".

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