Friday 8 January 2016

Botanists at all skill levels join in New Year Plant Hunt 2016

Galium album blooming in Newquay
Image: Judy Swift
The deadline has now passed for submitting New Year Plant Hunt records and Co-ordinator Ryan is probably quite relieved - the poor man has been rushed off his feet this year! I've just been having a look at the database to find some interesting snippets for you and the columns of records seem to go on and on...  

It's fascinating to see the plant records that some botanical "big names" sent in. Past BSBI Presidents David Pearman, Michael Braithwaite and Ian Denholm were out hunting in Cornwall, Berwickshire and Herts. respectively and current President John Faulkner was out hunting in Armagh. 

David Pearman was with members of the Botanical Cornwall Group in Newquay and their list of 61 species in flower included our first record of Kickxia elatine (Sharp-leaved Fluellen) and a very out-of-season Galium album (Hedge bedstraw)! 

Kevin Walker, BSBI Head of Science, was out with his children in W. Yorks. and they found 18 species in flower. Obviously not all our eminent botanists were able to devote three whole hours to a Plant Hunt but several very kindly submitted short lists while nipping to the shops and others managed to find interesting species in flower. 

Kickxia elatine blooming in Newquay
Image: Judy Swift
Mick Crawley nabbed the only records this year of Mirabilis jalapa (Marvel-of-Peru) and Sisymbrium irio (London-rocket)

Remember Sandy Knapp's Mystery Mustard from her Plant Hunt around Walthamstow Marshes? Her original hunch was Sisymbrium irio but like the world-class botanist she is, Sandy checked her plant carefully against herbarium specimens and this what she said:

"Checking the identity of our mystery mustard (always so tricky, mustards) in the herbarium let me see the variation in these most variable of plants - it was great to see how the leaf shape is different up and down the plant (just like ours) and over the season. 

"Mustard identification depends so much on fruit, it's tough when you are not sure if the siliques are full size or not....  I thought our mystery plant was Sisymbrium with bitsy siliques, but in fact it was Hirschfeldia incana (Hoary mustard) - tiny siliques normal in this species! 

London Botanical Still Life #2:
'Imprisoned Mercury'
Image: Sophie Leguil 
"The other character I shall always remember this one by was the way the leaves were in clumps on the stem, and the incredibly loooong inflorescence. But really, I couldn't have done it without the BSBI Crucifers Handbook, the NHM herbarium and of course the incomparable Fred Rumsey!!"

Ok, now we know what Sandy's secret weapons are - a great ID book, a great herbarium, and a fellow BSBI member to discuss the plant with ;-) And this is the second record of H. incana in bloom - Jim also found it in Edinburgh. It does seem to be a plant that likes city life in general, whereas Sisymbrium irio favours London, as its common name suggests!

Also out New Year Plant Hunting were Alan Cann of Annals of Botany fame who spotted eight species blooming during a short walk in Leics. and bryologist Sam Bosanquet of Mosses and Liverworts of Britain & Ireland fame who found 23 higher plant species in bloom in Northants. 

BSBI Grasses expert Arthur Copping recorded 44 species around Diss in Norfolk, including our only records so far of Anisantha diandra (Great Brome) and Chenopodium ficifolium (Fig-leaved Goosefoot) in flower, while Trevor Dines of Plantlife (and a BSBI member, of course!) found 36 species blooming in the lanes of Denbighshire

Petrocoptis pyrenaica
Image: P. Oswald
Arthur Chater, author of the Flora of Cardiganshire as well as BSBI's gold standard Guide to Pressing a Herbarium Specimen, had Rubus ulmifolius (one of the hundreds of 'micro-species' of Brambles) on his list of 36 species in bloom from a 2-hour walk in CardiganshireHis fellow "Pubs" member Philip Oswald sent several lists from his peregrinations in Cambridge - 27 species from one 45 minute walk, 21 from another. 

Philip, Arthur and several other "Pubs" members, all friends of the late Peter Sell, have been working hard to bring the final two volumes of Sell & Murrell to press so it's good to hear of them getting out to do a little plant-spotting. 

And Philip spotted one particularly noteworthy plant. He sent the image (on left) saying: 

"Petrocoptis pyrenaica, established for several years on a wall in Shaftesbury Road, Cambridge, possibly for the first time in the wild in Britain. Photo of 19th December 2015, but still flowering well on 1st January 2016 (when the light was poor for photography)".  

Ivy Broomrape blooming in Cambridge
Image: P. Oswald
Not only are Arthur and Philip superb field botanists but between them they have chalked up many years of service on "Pubs" (BSBI Publications Committee), advising the Committee and New Journal of Botany on issues from copyright to Latin descriptions of new species but, although they are both somewhat older than the botanists featured here, this hasn't stopped them from keeping up with social media. Philip very kindly responded to several plant ID queries and observations he noticed on these pages and on the BSBI Twitter feed

On Helena and the Somerset Rare Plants Group finding Ivy Broomrape Orobanche hederae in bloom, Philip said "It isn't just in Somerset that O. hederae is flowering, though admittedly it's native there and only naturalised in Cambridge. Here (on right) is a photo of one of two plants in flower in Mill Road Cemetery this morning – along with more than a hundred dead spikes.

"I believe it is a consistent characteristic of this species that, unlike any other Orobanche (anyway to my knowledge), spikes regularly come up all through the period from June to November (the latest that I have seen them previously –  in the Botanic Garden, killed off by a sharp frost).

Ceratocapnos claviculata (Climbing Corydalis)
blooming on Killiney Hill, Dublin 1/1/2016
Image: Sylvia Reynolds
"It looks as if the colony in Mill Road Cemetery has expanded from an area of Irish Ivy into one of Hedera helix ssp. helix, which – inexplicably to me, but obstinately – the late David McClintock maintained it didn't grow on"!

Martin Rand, County Recorder for S. Hants. got several excellent lists from his own Plant Hunts and also very kindly acted as one of our Expert Referees for the duration of the New Year Plant Hunt. Kevin Walker, Brian Laney and Ian Denholm have checked a few tricky plants and thanks also go to John Poland who checked vegetative IDs on a few atypical specimens - just to be extra sure that the results, which we hope to circulate next week, will be as robust as possible!

Coming up next: the first of the New Year Plant Hunt prizes!

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