Crowtrees LNR, July 2018 Part 2 – Gentians to Grasses

Last month’s June blog turned out to be rather an epic so I’ve decided to divide this one in two to make it more manageable, again following the order of plant families as they appear in Rose’s Wild Flower Key. Part 1 covered plant families from the Ranunculaceae (buttercups) to the Apiaceae (carrot family).  Part 2 starts with one of my favourite families, the gentians.  There is something particularly pleasing about the symmetry of the lobed flowers and the characteristic way the corolla lobes twist round one another in the buds.

Yellow-wort, once called yellow Centaury, is the first gentian I spot, in the verges beside the path up the hill – a good indicator of calcareous soil.

Yellow-wort, Blackstonia perfoliata

I expect to see much more Yellow-wort on the scree-like patch on the far side of the ponds which usually offers rich pickings but it’s been just too dry for most things to thrive in the thin soil.  Even the Common centaury is restricted to the edges of the area, where shrubby trees offer some shade.

Common centaury, Centaurium erythraea

Common centaury, Centaurium erythraea

Some of the Bittersweet I saw scrambling through brambles in June is still flowering now but other plants have produced the tiny tomato-like fruits which are such a good indicator of members of the Solanaceae family.  Soon they will be a dangerous-looking scarlet…

Bittersweet, Solanum dulcamara, fruits

Bindweed continues to scramble through the hedgerows and comfrey to thrive but, for the first time this year, I find no White dead-nettle in flower.  I do, though, find another of the Lamiaceae, mint, flowering in damp ground beside the ponds.

Mint, Mentha aquatica

For the first time since the ground thawed this year I’m finally able to cross the ground at the front of the ponds and I find two new members of the figwort family replacing the speedwells, which have largely set seed now.  Both Eyebright and Red Bartsia, like Yellow-rattle, are hemi-parasitic plants, deriving some of their nutrition from host plant roots.

Eyebright, Euphrasia nemorosa (left) and Red Bartsia, Odontites vernus (right)

I’m puzzled by why these two parasites are just coming into flower now, when many of their host plants are starting to die back, but guess that this may be more pronounced this year when our hot summer has ripened many grasses very early.

Harebells and the same bedstraws as before are still in flower, as is the Valerian at the back of the mine ponds.  The new kids on the block are many more members of the Teasel and Daisy families and the bees and butterflies are loving it.

Most of the scabious I see is Field Scabious, though in a range of colours, and it is hoaching with insects.

Knautia arvensis with white butterfly and Six-spot Burnet moth

I also found some of the Small scabious for which the reserve is noted, identifiable by its five-lobed corolla, as well as Devil’s-bit scabious.

Small scabious, Scabiosa columbaria (left) and Devil’s-bit scabious, Succisa pratensis, (right)

Scabious get their name from the fact the root was used thought to be useful in the treatment of scabies and other skin complaints, though this seems to be based mostly on the plants’ scaly stems rather than their efficacy! Devil’s-bit comes from the abruptly ending root in S. pratensis – the Devil supposedly bit off the plant’s root in a fit of pique at its ‘virtue’.

Teasels grow alongside the road on the last part of my route and they, too, are popular with insects – mostly bees this time. The flowers open first in the middle of each dense flower head and, as these are pollinated and set seed, the flowers above and below gradually replace them giving an odd appearance.  The spiky bracts around teasel flower heads were traditionally used by weavers to raise the nap (draw out the ends of fibres) on new woollen cloth before trimming this evenly to finish the cloth.

Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum

The daisies are the last big family in Rose and, with 22 species in flower this month, it’s easy to see why they are the largest plant family, with some 25 000 species worldwide. Like the teasels, they are full of long-tongued pollinating insects after their nectar, produced at the base of the florets and rising up the corolla tubes.  Yet again, my Identiplant course is helping me learn some of the key features of different genera, just when I need to.

Several species have both yellow tubular disc and ligulate ray florets, including the ubiquitous Common Ragwort and Common groundsel and the Hoary Ragwort I see by the roadside as I head back towards Coxhoe.  Government advice recognises Common Ragwort as a ‘Specified Weed’ because of the alkaloids it contains, which can be fatal to grazing livestock – there is a balancing act here too, though, as it is the unique source of food for 30 species of invertebrates, according to the charity Buglife.  Cinnabar moth caterpillars are perhaps one of the best known examples, but many other less charismatic beetles and flies, as well as 14 species of fungi, also depend entirely on ragwort. Even more species rely on ragwort as an abundant nectar source.


Cinnabar moth caterpillars feeding on Common ragwort, Senecio jacobaea

In the light of a recent review of the evidence, the new government Code of Practice on controlling ragwort no longer proposes eradicating it but ‘promotes a strategic approach to control the spread of common ragwort where it poses a threat to the health and welfare of grazing animals and the production of feed or forage.’ It is not now illegal to have ragwort on your land, but it does need to be controlled if there is a likelihood of it spreading to neighbouring land used for grazing animals or forage production.

Others in the daisy family share the common Daisy’s arrangement of white ray florets around a disc of yellow tubular florets; Oxeye daisy, Feverfew and the Scentless Mayweed growing in Bowburn park where the park keeper’s bungalow was recently demolished.

Scentless mayweed, Tripleurospermum inodorum 1

Scentless mayweed, Tripleurospermum inodorum

Two Achillea species, Yarrow and Sneezewort, have creamy white or pink ray and tubular florets.

Yarrow, Achillea millefolium (left) and Sneezewort, A. ptarmica (right)

Some Asteraceae have no ray florets worth mentioning – Pineappleweed presumably uses its distinctive scent to attract pollinators instead.

Pineappleweed, Matricaria discoidea

The thistles and knapweeds also have only tubular florets.  These are important sources of nectar for both bees and butterflies at this time of year.

Painted lady butterflies on Creeping thistle, Cirsium arvense, and Small copper on Common Knapweed, Centaurea nigra

Despite this, and the food value of thistle seeds for goldfinches, I’m not sure I can face a garden full of thistles but I’m definitely going to collect some knapweed seeds for my garden this autumn.

Around 20 Goldfinches feeding on thistle seed in a Lake district meadow

The Carline thistles (Carlina vulgaris) have done well this year, coping well with the extremely dry soil on the waste tips above the mine ponds – they always look more like everlasting flowers in any case but are obviously drought tolerant.  What look like ray florets are, in fact, just yellowish bracts.

Perhaps the most surprising of the daisies with only tubular florets is Mugwort, an untidy-looking plant common on road verges and waste ground everywhere. The tiny, red-brown tubular florets are barely longer than the sepals which enclose them.

Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris

For me, the most difficult group of daisies to differentiate are those with just yellow ray florets and no tubular florets – common plants such as Dandelions, Hawkbits, Hawk’s-beards and Sow-thistles which unfurl from the outside inwards over a day or two.   The leaves are variable and flowers look pretty similar at first glance.  Some are quite easy to distinguish at a distance – both Smooth sow-thistle and Mouse-ear hawkweed have lemon coloured flowers, quite distinct from the more common golden yellow ones.


Mouse-ear hawkweed, Pilosella officinarum

Otherwise, according to Identiplant module 14, I should be looking at whether or not the stem is branched and whether there are leaves up the flower stalk, as well as leaf shape and hairiness.  I suspect plenty of practice is the key!

I can’t leave the daisies without mention of the beautiful seeds heads of some species, particularly Goat’s-beard (Tragopogon pratensis) – the delicate, feathery hairs of the pappus ensure the seeds can fly long distances in even the slightest breeze.  I prefer the plant’s other name, Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon, for the fact that the flowers open only on sunny mornings and close again around lunchtime, like a lazy boy reluctantly dragged out of bed!

The remaining plant families this month are all monocots and several are water plants – Water-plantain, Bur-reeds and Bulrushes.

Water plantain, Alisma plantago-aquatica

Branched bur-reed, Sparganium erectum (left) and Bulrush, Typha latifolia (right)

Water-plantain flowers look much like three-petalled buttercups, with hermaphrodite flowers but both bur-reeds and bulrushes have flower heads with separate male and female parts – the tiny, pollen producing male flowers lie above the female ones, in each case.

Nearly last but not least, of course, we get to the orchids.  The marshy ground behind the ponds still provides rich pickings though the Twayblades and Common spotted-orchids are starting to look a bit sorry for themselves now. I love the Fragrant orchids, partly because they smell like carnations, one of my favourite garden plants.

Left to right: Common twayblade, Neottia ovata, Common spotted-orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii and Marsh fragrant-orchid, Gymnadenia conopsea

Many of the grasses I identified last month are in seed rather than in flower, now, but I’m reasonably confident to have identified both Jointed and Compact rush, amongst the many species present.

Juncus articulatus

Jointed rush, Juncus articulatus

With the plants identified in flower in the first part of my July blog this, again, brings the total number to over 100 species for July.  Maybe August will be slightly easier, as more plants start to set seed!  Here is the second part of July’s list.

Yellow-wort Blackstonia perfoliata
Common centaury Centaurium erythraea
Bittersweet Solanum dulcamara
Large bindweed Calystegia sylvatica
Russian comfrey Symphytum x uplandicum
Water mint Mentha aquatica
Selfheal Prunella vulgaris
Hedge woundwort Stachys sylvatica
Ribwort plantain Plantago lanceolata
Eyebright Euphrasia nemorosa
Red bartsia Odontites vernus
Yellow-rattle Rhinanthus minor
Harebell Campanula rotundifolia
Cleavers Galium aparine
Hedge bedstraw Galium mollugo
Lady’s bedstraw Galium verum
Common valerian Valeriana officinalis
Wild teasel Dipsacus fullonum
Field scabious Knautia arvensis
Small scabious Scabiosa columbaria
Devil’s-bit scabious Succisa pratensis
Yarrow Achillea millefolium
Sneezewort Achillea ptarmica
Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris
Daisy Bellis perennis
Common knapweed Centaurea nigra
Greater knapweed Centaurea scabiosa
Creeping thistle Cirsium arvense
Marsh thistle Cirsium palustre
Spear thistle Cirsium vulgare
Hawkweed sp. Hieracium agg
Cat’s-ear Hypochaeris radicata
Autumn hawkbit Leontodon autumnalis
Oxeye daisy Leucanthemum vulgare
Pineappleweed Matricaria discoidea
Mouse-ear-hawkweed Pilosella officinarum
Hoary ragwort Senecio erucifolius
Common ragwort Senecio jacobaea
Groundsel Senecio vulgaris
Prickly sow-thistle Sonchus asper
Smooth sow-thistle Sonchus oleraceus
Feverfew Tanacetum parthenium
Tansy Tanacetum vulgare
Dandelion Taraxacum agg.
Scentless mayweed Tripleurospermum inodorum
Water-plantain Alisma plantago-aquatica
Branched bur-reed Sparganium erectum
Bulrush Typha latifolia
Common spotted orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii
Fragrant-orchid Gymnadenia conopsea
Marsh fragrant orchid Gymnadenia densiflora
Common twayblade Neottia ovata
Quaking grass Briza media
Jointed rush Juncus articulatus
Compact rush Juncus conglomeratus



  1. Hi….I was fortunate to grow up on Crowtrees Local Nature Reserve and was also lucky to be the person responsible for its designation and the creation of the ponds and many other habitats. I know the place extremely well and remember what it was like as far back as the 1970s. Sadly I don’t live local now but still occasionally pop in to enjoy this wonderful site. If you need any info please get in touch…. kind regards Ian Armstrong

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