Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Guest post - roses in Montgomeryshire

When member (and regular recorder) Ruth Dawes sent me some lovely photographs, I thought more people would like to see them... and then she wrote me a guest article on the event in question. Big thanks to Ruth - and if anyone else would like a "guest post" on this blog please just send me an article and some photos!

Ruth writes:

Kate Thorne’s Botanical Workshop for Montgomeryshire Flora Group  on 11th October 2016 

A dozen intrepid botanists came from the west (Wales and borders) to Church Pulverbatch in the foothills of the Long Mynd and Stiperstones in Shropshire.  This delightful remote village is recorded in the Domesday Book and is believed to be the site of a prehistoric fort.  There was to be no traversing the ankle twisting rocks of the Stiperstones ridge today.  Our aim was to study Rosa, Chenopodiaceae and other groups.  We were warmly welcomed into Kate and John Thorne’s lovely farmhouse kitchen, where we had delicious coffee made in Kate’s new milk frother machine.   As this was accompanied by Sylvia Backhouse’s seed, fruit and quality cocoa rondels, Sue Southam’s cheese straws and M&S chocolate biscuits; here was a taste of what was to come.

Soon we were immersed in specimens and Kate’s excellent handouts.  Kate’s long term knowledge of the genera was imparted in an easy informal manner, ably assisted by retired husband, John, a talented gardener, who had grown numerous wild roses from cuttings.   Fresh specimens were regularly brought in from the garden in case we should start chatting again instead of working.  Gradually we separated out the dog roses from the downy roses and the sweet briars; even if our noses weren’t refined enough to detect apple (sweet briar) or Cherry Blossom boot polish (downy).  Technical terms were patiently explained verbally as well as being available on handouts with line drawings.  We learned (or relearned) everything from acicles, through subulate to villous.

At lunchtime, a veritable feast appeared before us.  Not only Kate and John’s homemade tomato and lentil and potato and lovage soups, but also hot pizzas and miniature savoury flans for starters, quickly followed by salads, turkey, cheeses and artisan bread, chutneys  and pickles, provided by numerous talented people in the group.  We finished with a Rosa and Rubus cake made by Ruth, washed down with Appletize, complete with a toast from Steve to Kate for her birthday on the 12th.  We managed a reasonable rendering of Happy Birthday both in English and Welsh too.  At last we were allowed out and Max the lurcher was delighted to join in the fun.  We practiced again outside in the garden.  (I couldn’t help admiring the way Kate coped with this big garden, not to mention playing church organ and ringing the bells when John was still working as a GP in Shetland.) 
Serving the Appletize

Ruth's Rosa and Rubus cake

We then needed to walk off some of the ubiquitous food so we pottered off to a nearby field (with permission) to see superb fresh specimens of Orobanche minor parasitic on agricultural red clover planted for winter sheep feed.  It was a real surprise to see the Common Broomrape looking so fresh.
Orobanche minor parasitic on agricultural red clover

After admiring the hilly view of south Shropshire, we were ushered back to focus on aquatics, arable weeds and Atriplex.  A big specimen of Potamogeton polygonifolius taught us not to rely on size of leaves alone for ID of this species and various tips about veins and hinges or lack of the latter were passed round.  We noted that Petty Spurge had petioles, which was handy to remember.

Finally Steve Attwood-Wright produced some of his splendid samples of colourful, expertly woven cloth and produced an FSC laminated guide to explain how he hoped to work on some patterns with fine botanical detail.
Steve demonstrating his colourful woven cloth and ideas for future fine botanical detail

Many thanks to Kate and John for a superb day.  I have since spotted Rosa tomentosa at a new site so the retraining worked.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Dryopteris and more over the weekend

Despite a most inclement weather forecast, sixteen intrepid pteridologists joined the workshop this weekend. Most of the group joined Fred Rumsey on Friday evening for an introductory talk, but I met them on Saturday morning, after driving through pouring rain to Glydyr forest. For many of us the key aim was to become more confident with the Dryopteris affinis agg., and the first site did not disappoint as we rapidly saw D. filix-mas (for comparison), followed by D. affinis, D. borreri and D. cambrensis, then \D. oreades, and plenty more to compare. D. dilatata was also in this site, bringing the species (of Dryopteris) count to six!

Fred Rumsey explaining the characters of Dryopteris affinis (Scaly Male-fern)
Having found all the Dryopteris in the area, we also visited an old mine site, and saw this curious plant.
Asplenium septentrionale (Forked Spleenwort)
After a very damp lunch, and thoroughly drippy, we decided we had seen all we were likely to see in the area, and returned to Plas Tan-y-Bwlch for the benefits of a drying room, hot cups of tea, and a nice dry study room, in which to study the specimens of the morning (as well as an extensive collection of Dryopteris brought by Fred and by Helena Crouch). It proved much easier to use a hand-lens in the study room, and after dinner we were rewarded for our hard work with a fascinating after-dinner slideshow from Fred, about the many species and hybrids of Dryopteris. 
The workroom with many specimens of Dryopteris. 
Next day we were glad to wake to clear blue skies and a cold autumnal feel in the air, as we started our day with a visit to Coed Ganllwyd, where we saw Dryopteris aemula (Hay-scented Buckler-fern) and also both species of Hymenophyllum (Filmy-ferns). This was a beautiful example of the Welsh rainforest - Atlantic oak woodland simply dripping with spray from the waterfall, and covered with ferns and bryophytes.
Dryopteris aemula (Hay-scented Buckler-fern)
Botanists by the waterfall
We then had a drive over to another completely contrasting site, on Eglwyseg Rocks, where we walked up a steep and narrow path in bright warm sunshine, to see Dryopteris submontana (Rigid Buckler-fern) within a small area of limestone.  This baked dry site is another very special one and we also took a quick look at Sorbus cuneifolia (Llangollen Whitebeam) growing nearby.
Botanists walking across limestone scree
Dryopteris submontana (Rigid Buckler-fern)
Sorbus  cuneifolia (Llangollen Whitebeam)
It proved to be a great weekend, with such contrasting sites, and plenty of ferns. The grand total came to eight species of Dryopteris, six species of Asplenium, and a further 11 species, bringing us to 25 ferns in total. 

This workshop was very popular, and there was a long waiting list, so we hope to run it again next year. Priority may well be given to those who tried to book but were unable to get a place this year. 

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Getting pteridological

While an intrepid group of fern-studiers are getting ready for this weekend's Dryopteris workshop with Fred Rumsey, I was out hunting for a special little fern last week in Caernarvonshire (with Wendy and Mari). 
Polystichum lonchitis (Holly Fern)
There were some other interesting alpines around, including this: 
Oxyria digyna (Mountain Sorrel)

Friday, 9 September 2016

Orchids and more Eyebrights

After the Welsh AGM the next event on my Welsh calendar was the Caerdeon recording meeting over a weekend in Merionethshire. I was able to join for two full days although unfortunately not the final day, when I had hoped to join Martin Rand and others climbing up a mountain to look for Circaea alpina (Alpine Enchanter's-nightshade) and other treasures. In the event the weather was very poor anyway...

The real highlight of Caerdeon was the group who found Hammarbya paludosa (Bog Orchid) - as already reported in BSBI News and Views. 
Hammarbya paludosa (Bog Orchid) Photo: Sarah Stille
Back in the office in August, I heard about another exceptional find, of Pseudorchis albida (Small-white Orchid) in Radnorshire. Congratulations to the excellent finders of these two! You can read more about both these species in the BSBI Species Accounts. 
Pseudorchis albida (Small-White Orchid) Photo and record: Sorcha Lewis
Towards the end of August I spent a little while looking at more Euphrasias (Eyebrights), collecting specimens which I was able to take to the Recorders' Conference and Chris Metherell was able to confirm them. There was a full range, including E. arctica and E. nemorosa, and E. officinalis subsp. anglica and pratensis from a range of sites I've visited in the last few months. One specimen though seemed just too difficult and Chris took it away for further examination. However, I was glad to find I had correctly identified one or two of them myself using the keys (a preview of the new Euphrasia handbook which is awaited most eagerly)! For more reporting on Recorders' Conference please visit the BSBI News and Views blog. 
Chris Metherall describing various parts of Euphrasia (Eyebrights) at Recorders' Conference. Photo: Sue Townsend

Wednesday, 27 July 2016


From Carmarthenshire the next stop was Brecon, for the Welsh AGM. This was a great few days. I was joined by a few keen people on the Tuesday morning to visit Ogof Ffynnon Ddu, where we saw some treasures - from Asplenium viride (Green Spleenwort) which turned out to be very common in the area - to Antennaria dioica (Mountain Everlasting) - one of my particular plants of interest, which almost eluded us but turned up at the end of the day, close to where we had started.
Asplenium viride (Green Spleenwort)

Genista pilosa (Hairy Greenweed)

Antennaria dioica (Mountain Everlasting)
Two days later I found myself balancing along ledges high on the slopes of Cribin, in pursuit of the Attenborough's Hawkweed, along with Tim Rich, who found and named the new species. There was plenty else to see up there though. 
Ledge vegetation - Sedum rosea (Roseroot) in centre with Scabiosa columbaria (Small Scabious)

Tim Rich with the Hieracium Attenboroughianum (Attenborough's Hawkweed)
Back in Brecon there were excellent talks each evening - James Cresswell gave us a potted geological history of the Earth, illustrated by Brecknockshire; Mike Porter talked about the history of botanical recording in Brecknockshire (preceeded by a short talk from me about Welsh Rare Plant Registers) and Ray Woods talked about the conservation of plants and fungi - stressing the importance of good knowledge of our rare plants and fungi - and of joined-up thinking in terms of sharing the knowledge. 

There were a range of interesting exhibits including an impressive collection of live plants grown by Andy Shaw, some Hedge Brambles in Brecknockshire from Mike Porter, photographs from John Crellin illustrating the activity of the Brecknock Botany Recording Group and Brecknock Mistletoe records, some hybrids with missing parents from Andy Jones, and some details of the Polypodii of Flintshire by Martyn Stead. 

It was an impressively organised few days as ever, and the weather was remarkably good for a field meeting. 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A visit to Carmarthenshire

I managed to join the recording group at Glynhir for one day out a week ago. We were assigned a monad with only two post-2000 records, so it was all a surprise. We began walking along a lane and then a footpath across fields - and some lovely fields they were, like this for example with the Carmarthenshire (and South Wales) speciality, Carum verticillatum (Whorled Caraway) turning the field white.
Carum verticillatum, Whorled Caraway, in a meadow.
Eventually having had enough lanes, and to increase our potential species list, we ventured up onto a hillside, which at first glance seemed unrewarding, covered in bracken and coarse grass. But determination was rewarded when we stumbled across a small but delightful bog, where this Drosera rotundifolia Round-leaved Sundew was spotted, amongst a host of other delights. 
Drosera rotundifolia, Round-leaved Sundew, with Narthecium ossifragum, Bog Asphodel
By the end of the day the tetrad had (I think) well over 200 species, so that was one small contribution to the Atlas 2020 coverage for the county. Meanwhile, my children had a great time chasing the ducks at Glynhir!

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Eyebrights, cowbane and a busy July coming up...

Last week I met up with a number of botanists in Dolwyddelan who were equally brave or foolish as I am - it was pouring with rain. Luckily some had come prepared with specimens, so after a brief half-hour foray we called discretion the better part of valour and retired with a hot drink to go through some Euphrasia keys. This was for me the first proper attempt since the workshop in February, and there are still some big challenges there! But I do now have some specimens pressing to take to some upcoming events to see if anyone can confirm the identification. We hope to repeat the day, perhaps in Denbighshire in August, so if you are interested in informal Euphrasia identification please do get in touch for more details in the near future.

When I got home (early) the rain was pausing and I decided to investigate a site I've wanted to return to for a while. A new housing estate has been built adjacent to a pond which was the only county site for cowbane (Cicuta virosa). It had been fenced off for a few years during the building works and I was hoping that it would still be there. Luckily, it seems that this time the developers have been advised well, as the pond remains, as does the cowbane, well fenced off and next to a meadow which looks like it may be left for conservation. At least from the point of view of the cowbane, this development does not seem to have been a bad thing.
Cowbane (Cicuta virosa) happily by the pond with new housing in the background.
July is a busy month for botanists in Wales. This week is the annual Glynhir recording week in Carmarthenshire (which I shall be joining briefly at the end of the week). Next week is the Welsh AGM in Brecon. The programme for this looks great, and currently the weather doesn't look bad either. Due to a cancellation, there is a double room (in fact a one-bedroom cottage) available for a late booking! If you can come for several days it is great value - so please contact John Crellin, the organiser. At the end of the following week, the Caerdeon recording weekend in Merionethshire also promises great botanical excursions, a chance to contribute to local recording, and a nice chance to socialise with some friendly botanists. If you are unable to commit to the whole weekend, the organisers will still undoubtedly be glad to see you for a day of botanising.