Crowtrees LNR, June 2018

I have to admit to a little bit of cheating this month.  I knew there were going to be far more species in flower but didn’t have time to walk round the route carefully till nearly the end of the month so started with a check list of things spotted on my weekly run round Crowtrees.  Everything on the list was in flower at some point in June and most things still at the end of the month.  I’m also conscious that a lot of the smaller, less conspicuous flowers I found in May (Hairy tare, Vicia hirsuta, for example) are probably still in flower but are much harder to spot amongst their bigger, blowsier cousins. Summer is in full swing, and the hedgerows which were hacked back so brutally in March have sprung back to life.

I found nearly 100 species in flower this month but am well aware I missed many more.  The balance between families in flower has shifted and I was delighted to find one or two species new to me as well as some I should undoubtedly have noticed before, but haven’t.  Interesting fruits and seed pods were another new feature this month, making it much easier to identify some of the brassicas, in particular.

Buttercups are in flower everywhere now but Celery-leaved buttercups were new to me, growing on damp ground by the old mine ponds. I know there will be properly-aquatic spearwort in flower too when I return in July.

Celery-leaved buttercups, Ranunculus scleratus

Three new plant families have appeared now between buttercups and campions if you follow the order of the Wild Flower Key; poppies, fumitory and nettles.

Common ramping-fumitory, Fumaria muralis

There are several new campions to see this month too, including the Lesser stitchwort I needed to find for my Identiplant course.  Now I’ve seen it, the difference between this and the ubiquitous Greater stitchwort seems obvious – it is altogether a more delicate looking flower and the petals are so deeply split that there seem to be ten, rather than five.  Three styles protruding from the flowers are the key to identifying the Bladder campion I find on dry, open ground above the ponds.

Lesser stitchwort, Stellaria graminea (left) and Bladder campion, Silene vulgaris (right)

There are still a few Red campion flowers, nearly all male ones now as the female plants have largely set seed.

The Polygonaceae, which I’ve written about before, are the next new plant family in flower, represented by Common sorrel, Knotgrass and at least two species of dock – Rumex crispus and R. obtusifolius.  These are probably no-one’s favourite plants; the archetypal ‘weeds’ of road verges and unkempt land.  However the tiny, delicate flowers are beautiful if you look closely.

Tepals of female common sorrel flower, Rumex acetosa

After the Polygonaceae, it’s back to the brassicas.  Some of these are much easier to identify now that there are seed heads to see as well as flowers.

Field penny-cress, Thlaspi arvense (left) and Shepherd’s-purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris (right) fruits

Wild mignonette, Reseda lutea, growing on the road verge on the way up to Old Quarrington is one of just three species in one of the smallest plant families in Rose, the Resedaceae.  The roots of both R. lutea and R. luteola were historically used to make the natural yellow dye, weld.

May’s cowslips are long gone, replaced by more flowering members of the rose family, though different species to those flowering in May.  Instead of trees such as apple and rowan, now there are Silverweed, Creeping cinquefoil, Dog roses and Brambles.  The bramble flowers seem to be a magnet for Speckled wood butterflies as I walk down the leafy lane leading to the mine ponds.

The pea family are, again, one of the largest groups of plants I see – not surprising on the thin, alkaline soil which develops on the Magnesian limestone.   Bush vetch has now largely been succeeded alongside the path by long racemes of glorious, purple-blue Tufted vetch.  Yellow Ribbed melilot, Meadow vetchling and Kidney vetch are also newly in flower, along with Hop trefoil and red and white clover.

Left to right: Tufted vetch, Vicia cracca; Ribbed melilot, Melilotus officinalis; Kidney vetch, Anthyllis vulneraria

The willowherb family, the Onagraceae, are coming into flower now too; Rosebay and Broad-leaved species already, with Great willowherb in bud, not far behind.  These plants are ‘weeds’ in most people’s eyes because many have seeds which spread readily over large distances but you do have to admire species which are both beautiful and such efficient colonisers of bare ground. Rosebay willowherb is called Fireweed in North America because of the speed with which it occupies bare ground after a fire whilst in Britain it was nicknamed Bombweed during the second world war, for the same reason.

Rosebay willowherb, Chamerion angustifolium

Another favourite plant at the opposite end of the size spectrum, now flowering on drier parts of the reserve is Fairy flax, Linum catharticum.  The delicate flowers are only four or five mm across, but still look too heavy for their fragile stems.

Fairy flax also goes by the less lovely name of Purging flax because of its potent laxative effect when bruised and gently cooked in white wine (not that I’ve tried it!)  Milkwort is growing alongside the Fairy flax and now I know it’s Common milkwort, Polygala vulgaris, because its leaves are arranged alternately up the stem and are smaller lower down the stem.

The next plant family in Rose, the Geraniums, all go by the common name of crane’s-bills or stork’s bills, for reasons which are obvious when you look at their fruits.  Some of last month’s Herb Robert now has fruits but the new kid flowering on the block, Meadow Crane’s-bill, is glorious in the bright June sun.

Meadow crane’s-bill, Geranium pratense

The Apiaceae (previously umbellifers) I found in flower in May have now been joined by Ground elder. To my shame, I’d never noticed its compact, egg-shaped umbels before.  Like most gardeners, I spend my time trying to ensure it never makes it as far as flowering!  Originally from Eurasia, some will tell you that Ground elder was introduced to Britain by the Romans as a tasty pot herb whereas others blame the monks, who brought it from southern Europe as a remedy for gout.

Ground elder, Aegopodium podagraria, flowering amongst Hogweed and the last of the year’s Cow parsley

The final flowering umbellifer on June’s list is one which I detected by its smell rather than appearance.  In fact, I must have missed Sweet Cicely, Myrrhis odorata, when it was flowering in May and early June and only noticed the distinctive aniseed smell of its bruised leaves and its black fruits when the verges on the road up to Old Quarrington had been cut.

One plant which I, like many other people, have long misidentified is Bittersweet, Solanum dulcamara, a member of the potato family. Many of the potatoes are poisonous, at least in parts, and Bittersweet is no exception though it is not the lethal Deadly nightshade I’m sure my mother taught me it was!  The purple and yellow flowers and translucent red berries must send out strong warning signals.

Bittersweet, Solanum dulcamara

Bindweed, in the Convolvulus family, is now scrabbling through many of the hedgerows along my route as well as in my allotment where, despite the flowers’ beauty, it is the bane of my life.  I’d be intrigued to measure how fast a shoot can actually grow – my guess would be several cm per day.   It also regenerates rapidly from the tiniest portion of root material, making it well nigh impossible to get rid of.

Large bindweed, Calystegia sylvatica

In the borage family, the Forget-me-nots I’ve seen since April are now joined in the damp shady ground around the ponds by Russian comfrey, much loved by bees of all sorts.

Russian comfrey, Symphytum x uplandicum

There are also many more of the Lamiaceae in flower, alongside the ever-present White dead-nettle – nicely timed for module 11 of Identiplant.  Selfheal, Hedge woundwort and Wild thyme all share the family’s characteristic square stems and zygomorphic flowers. Woundwort and thyme, like many of this family, are strongly scented as they are rich in volatile essential oils.  Many garden herbs are Lamiaceae.

Hedge woundwort, Stachys sylvatica (left) and Wild thyme, Thymus polytrichus

The plantain family, which come next in Rose, are much maligned weeds.   The pinkish stamens and anthers of Hoary plantain, though, make it welcome in my garden!

Hoary plantain, Plantago media

The speedwells which have been flowering for some time are now joined by other figworts.  I spotted Brooklime in the wet ground around the ponds for the first time, alongside the Celery-leaved buttercups and there is Yellow-rattle amongst the grass.

Yellow-rattle, named for its rattling seeds capsules, is often found in wild flower seed mixes as it is a key plant in maintaining diversity in meadows – it is a semi-parasite on grasses and plants of the pea family, free-loading by obtaining some of the sugars it needs for growth by tapping into the roots of host plants.  This reduces the vigour of the host, meaning that other herbs are better able to compete.  It seems counter-intuitive that limiting the nutrients available in an environment increases plant diversity but it means that no one species is likely to dominate. Traditional meadow management practices such as those used by Durham dales farmer Hannah Hauxwell encouraged diversity both because they don’t involve the use of lots of fertilisers and because meadows are cut as hay once the grasses and herbs have set seed rather than earlier as silage.

Hannah’s Meadow nature reserve, June 2017

The bedstraw family or Rubiaceae, with their characteristic whorls of flowers and leaves are now in flower everywhere – Cleavers, Lady’s bedstraw and Hedge bedstraw scramble through hedges and long vegetation on the road verges.

Lady’s bedstraw, Gallium verum

The honey-like scent of Lady’s bedstraw made it a favourite for straw mattresses, in the days when mattresses were temporary affairs, replaced when they became too bug-infested. One mediaeval legend has Mary giving birth to Jesus lying on bed of Galium verum, hence ‘Our Lady’s bedstraw’.  The common name of Galium aparine – Cleavers – also has a Biblical root.  The hooked leaves and fruits used by generations of children to irritate their parents, cleave to any passer by as closely as a man is supposed to ‘cleave to his wife’, in the language of the King James Bible.

Elder (Honeysuckle family) and Common valerian (Valarianaceae) are representatives of small but important families of plants.  Valerian, in particular, is important for many butterfly pollinators.

Fritillary and Ringlet butterflies on Common valerian, Valeriana officinalis

After the valerians we come to the enormous daisy family, a good number of which are flowering in June. Many are also important insect food sources – ragwort (Senecio vulgaris), detested by farmers, is a favourite of Six-spot Burnet moths and Cinnabar moth caterpillars.

Some kind of tiny micro-moths were enjoying the Yarrow flowers the day I walked my route and knapweed is always buzzing with insects.

Moths on Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, and Hoverfly and Meadow brown butterfly on Common knapweed, Centaurea nigra

Knapweed seeds are on my hit list for things to scatter in my ‘lawn’ in the autumn in the hope of encouraging more insects. Fox-and-cubs too, for its glorious range of fox-like colours as the flowers develop.

Fox-and-cubs, Pilosella aurantiaca

For the first time this year, some of the monocot lily and orchid families are now in flower.  The ponds host glorious yellow flag iris and the boggy ground behind is home to a sea of Common spotted and Northern marsh-orchids, including the inevitable hybrids.

Left to right: Yellow iris, Iris pseudoacorus; Northern marsh-orchid, Dactylorhiza purpurella; Common spotted-orchid, D. fuchsii

I’d have missed most of these orchids if I’d been able to pass to the north of the ponds, as I’d intended.  Despite our dry June, this area is still too boggy to cross without wellies – there must be some sort of drainage issue. The horses have finally left this part of the reserve and are enjoying easy pasture at the bottom of the hill.

I have to abandon all pretence at this stage of a comprehensive survey of grasses on the reserve by admitting I can only recognise four or five species, reliably.  Improving on this is something for future years, once I have got my head around the more obvious plant families!

I was interested to see, this month, that some of the rubble removed during current extractions at Cold Knuckles quarry is now spread with topsoil (in the right of the photo below).  Let’s hope this is the topsoil removed prior to the recent quarrying so it still harbours plenty of lime-loving wildflower seeds to regenerate the grassland quickly.  The wonderful, diverse Magnesian limestone grassland is rare enough to need careful nurturing.

In the meantime, here is June’s list of at least some of the species currently in flower…

Bulbous buttercup Ranunculus bulbosus
Meadow buttercup Ranunculus acris
Celery-leaved buttercup Ranunculus sceleratus
Creeping buttercup Ranunculus repens
Common poppy Papaver rhoeas
Common ramping-fumitory Fumaria muralis
Common nettle Urtica dioica
Common mouse-ear Cerastium fontanum
Red campion Silene dioica
Bladder campion Silene vulgaris
Lesser stitchwort Stellaria graminea
Common chickweed Stellaria media
Common sorrel Rumex acetosa
Knotgrass Polygonum aviculare
Curled dock Rumex crispus
Broad-leaved dock Rumex obtusifolius
Shepherd’s-purse Capsella bursa-pastoris
Perennial wall-rocket Diplotaxis muralis
Charlock Sinapis arvensis
Hedge mustard Sisymbrium officinale
Field Penny-cress Thlaspi arvense
Wild mignonette Reseda lutea
Wild strawberry Fragaria vesca
Wood avens Geum urbanum
Silverweed Potentilla anserina
Creeping cinquefoil Potentilla reptans
Barren strawberry Potentilla sterilis
Dog rose Rosa canina agg.
Bramble Rubus fruticosus agg.
Kidney vetch Anthyllis vulneraria
Meadow vetchling Lathyrus pratensis
Bird’s-foot-trefoil Lotus corniculatus
Black medick Medicago lupulina
Ribbed melilot Melilotus officinalis
Hop trefoil Trifolium campestre
Red clover Trifolium pratense
White clover Trifolium repens
Gorse Ulex europaeus
Tufted vetch Vicia cracca
Common vetch Vicia sativa
Bush vetch Vicia sepium
Rosebay willowherb Chamerion angustifolium
Broad-leaved willowherb Epilobium montanum
Petty spurge Euphorbia peplus
Fairy flax Linum catharticum
Common milkwort Polygala vulgaris
Meadow crane’s-bill Geranium pratense
Herb Robert Geranium robertianum
Ground elder Aegopodium podagraria
Cow parsley Anthriscus sylvestris
Hogweed Heracleum spondylium
Sweet Cicely Myrrhis odorata
Bittersweet Solanum dulcamara
Large bindweed Calystegia sylvatica
Field forget-me-not Myosotis arvensis
Russian comfrey Symphytum x uplandicum
White dead-nettle Lamium album
Selfheal Prunella vulgaris
Hedge woundwort Stachys sylvatica
Wild thyme Thymus polytrichus
Ribwort plantain Plantago lanceolata
Hoary plantain Plantago media
Brooklime Veronica beccabunga
Germander speedwell Veronica chamaedrys
Common field speedwell Veronica persica
Thyme-leaved speedwell Veronica serpyllifolia
Yellow-rattle Rhinanthus minor
Crosswort Cruciata laevipes
Cleavers Galium aparine
Hedge bedstraw Galium mollugo
Lady’s bedstraw Galium verum
Elder Sambucus niger
Common valerian Valeriana officinalis
Yarrow Achillea millefolium
Daisy Bellis perennis
Common knapweed Centaurea nigra
Greater knapweed Centaurea scabiosa
Creeping thistle Cirsium arvense
Hawkweed sp. Hieracium agg
Cat’s-ear Hypochaeris radicata
Oxeye daisy Leucanthemum vulgare
Pineapple weed Matricaria discoidea
Fox-and-cubs Pilosella aurantiaca
Common ragwort Senecio jacobaea
Groundsel Senecio vulgaris
Smooth sow-thistle Sonchus oleraceus
Feverfew Tanacetum parthenium
Dandelion Taraxacum agg.
Goat’s-beard Tragopogon pratensis agg.
Yellow iris Iris pseudacorus
Common spotted orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii
Northern marsh orchid Dactylorhiza purpurella
Quaking grass Briza media
Crested dog’s tail Cynosurus cristatus
Cock’s-foot Dactylis glomerata
Yorkshire fog Holcus lanatus


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