Saturday, 17 May 2014

Practical Session Report - May 2014

Our May session saw us enjoying the lovely weather. Ivan had been out earlier in the week to start the mowing, which meant that Lucy and Liz were able to begin raking straight away, while Archie loaded up the wheelbarrow and carted the grass cuttings over to our compost heap.

Sue and myself had our walk around the churchyard, which kept us busy recording the plants in flower and photographing them for the blog. This is the first year that I've seen a holly (Ilex aquifolium) in flower, we have a male plant along the side fence and a female plant along the back wall. We were a bit late for the female flowers, which as you can see in the photograph below, had already begun to develop berries (right).

After our first sighting in the churchyard of pignut last year, we were very happy to see another one this year. Interestingly it wasn't the same plant, but another individual about a foot away - last year's plant hasn't come back for some reason, which is odd as it is a perennial plant.

Pignut is a plant from the genus Conopodium and has the specific epithet of majus, which I initially found odd as the largest I've seen it is no more than 30 cm tall. I've tried to have a look at other species of the genus, but it doesn't seem to be a well documented genus, so I can't find what it's supposed to be bigger than - however O'Reilly and Rose note that it grows up to 50 cm tall, while Mabey suggests it can grow up to 80 cm tall! Pignut seems to be the only species of this genus in Britain. It's an important species because it only grows on long established grassland and open woodland - and as such is an indicator of ancient woodland for most of Britain, including our county of Wiltshire, but this picky nature means that it has declined in recent times due to loss of habitat.

As an umbellifer with fine leaves, it, perhaps, doesn't take much looking at to realise that it's part of Apiaceae, the carrot family. If you trace the roots carefully, and with permission of the land owner, down to the tubers, you'll find some roundish 'nuts'. These nuts are the reason for the common name of pignut and are about the size of walnuts. Eaten raw they apparently have a taste somewhere between hazelnuts and celery (another member of the carrot family). When cooked they are reported to have the taste of yet another member of the carrot family, that of parsnip. Talking of food, it was soon time for our mid-session break for tea and biscuits.

It was an important session for myself and Lucy as it was our last session before getting married! Our lovely churchyard friends gave us a card and some lovely presents during break time. Here's a couple of photos:
The happy couple

One of the lovely presents they gave us to celebrate our getting married. Thanks team :)
Well, that's it until next time. There won't be a practical session report for June as I'm visiting family and celebrating my niece's 10th Birthday. Sue, will be recording the plants in flower, so I'll update the spreadsheet with her findings. The next post will be of the 2014 Wiltshire Living Churchyard Seminar at Chilmark.

Mabey, Richard. Flora Britannica. 1st edition. London: Chatto & Windus / Sinclair Stevenson, 1996.
Mabey, Richard. Food for Free. London: Collins, 2012.
Rose, Francis, and Clare O’Reilly. The Wild Flower Key. Rev Ed edition. London: Warne, 2006.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Practical Session Report - April 2014

This month the plants have sprung into life with us recording 20 species in flower, compared to 11 last year. One species that has been out for the last three Aprils is the ever-lovely cowslip.

Interestingly the botanical name for the cowslip, Primula veris, means first flowering (Primula) and spring or flowering in spring (veris). The cow slip has a range of old common names from hey-flower, peggles, paigles and cowslip balls. The cowslip used to be abundant, but went into decline between the 1950s and 1980s due to the change in farming practices.

Churchyards, like ours at St Giles, are important places for many reasons. In this case, because churchyards are relatively untouched (both by ploughing and by herbicides), species such as the cowslip have continued to flourish. Luckily since the 1990s the cowslips have begun to recover, especially on the chalky soils of England and Wales, providing a splash of welcome colour each springtime.

Another welcome sight was the field wood-rush (Luzula campestris). Part of the botanical name for the field wood-rush is Campestris, which means of fields or open plains. Another common name for the field wood-rush is Good Friday grass as it tends to appear quite early in the year and apparently always in time for Easter - although while looking very much like a grass isn't actually a grass.

This year, I'm making the effort to get better acquainted with the grasses and rushes of the churchyard. This rush has grass-like leaves that are hairy with a knob at the end of each leaf tip. It's quite a low growing rush, which doesn't seem to grow taller than around 15 cm tall. In rushes, the perianth (collective term for petals and sepals) has 6 segments, which in this species are brown. If you have a look at the close up below, you will be able to see the 6 bright yellow anthers surrounding the green ovary. The ovary has a style with 3 fuzzy and twisted thread-like stigmas projecting out of it. .

I'm really looking forward to our next session. If you want to join us or have any questions; feel free to leave a comment or use the contact form to the right to get in touch.

Francis Rose, 1999. Colour Identification Guide to the Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns of the British Isles and North-Western Europe. Edition. Penguin UK.
Lorraine Harrison . Royal Horticultural Society, 2012. RHS Latin for Gardeners: Over 3,000 Plant Names Explained and Explored. Edition. Mitchell Beazley.
Richard Mabey, 1997. Flora Britannica. First Edition Edition. Sinclair Stevenson.