Following a warm, sunny week Sunday 25th was a dry day - perfect for the walk to look at the wildflowers around the reserve. A group of around 12 met on the causeway. I talked briefly about the type of plants to expect to see growing on unimproved, neutral soil, and that the smaller the plant, the more quickly it is likely to disappear. Species diversity is inversely proportionate to infertility of the soil.
This year I had compiled a check-list of many of the plants we could expect to see as we walked around the reserve. Each plant could be ticked off by each participant as it was spotted. On the causeway we saw: Dittander, (an in-comer, usually preferring habitats with brackish water) Common Speedwell, Creeping Cinquefoil, Mugwort (not yet flowering) Hedgerow Crane’s Bill, Creeping Buttercups, Greater and Ribwort Plantain, White clover, Smooth Sow-thistle, Perforated St. John’s-wort, Daisies and Comfrey.
Dense colonies of Comfrey often cover large stretches of river banks and lake sides, adding brightness and colour to the landscape. The stout plant grows up to 4’ high, displaying a thick foliage composed of large, wavy-edged, lance- shaped leaves, and tough, bristly stem which is exceedingly resilient. Comfrey has bell-shaped flowers which begin to bloom in mid-May and last until early July. Their colour varies greatly, being either reddish-purple, dull violet, creamy-yellow, dirty white or a mixture of all four. Petals form a long tube which ensures that small bees pollinate the plant as they crawl up the corolla in search of nectarines located at the base. However, the flower receives the attention of larger bumble-bees which, restricted by their size, are unable to crawl up the thin petal tube, and so cut short the operation by biting a hole near the stem to reach the plant’s hidden nectar supply via a quicker route, directly through the sepal. The leaves were once used as a cure for external wounds. A poultice prepared from the prominently veined leaves was anciently credited with the power to mend bones, it being the medieval herbalists’ favourite bone-setter. Thus, the alleged cure gave rise to the plant’s common country name: ‘knit-bone’.
There were also plenty of Creeping Thistles and Nettles, which can quickly overwhelm the smaller species.
The meadow near the Heronry was lush with grasses: Yorkshire Fog, Cock’s Foot and False Oat grass. Here, amongst the grasses and Sedges, we saw Meadow Crane’s-bill, the yellow flowers of Meadow vetchling, Fleabane, Creeping cinquefoil Silver weed, more clover and buttercups; Hemp Agrimony, Nipplewort, Herb Robert, Ox-eyed Daisies, Hedge Bedstraw, Lesser Stitchwort, various Docks, Cleavers, Red Bartsia, Ragwort as well as Greater Willowherb.
Alongside the river we found Hemp Agrimony, Hedge Woundwort, Wood Avens, Hedgerow Crane’s-bill, Mugwort, Herb-Robert, more Nipplewort and several clumps of Water Figwort. Here also were Tufted Vetch, Hedge Woundwort, more Hedgerow Crane’s-bill, Hemlock, Water-dropwort Pendulous Sedge and Red Campion as well as more Comfrey,
Other plants seen on the walk were: Knapweed, Broadleaved Helleborine, (not yet in bloom) Yellow Flags and Water Lilies, Water Forget-me-not, Spear Thistle, Dove’s Foot Crane’s-bill, Common Ragwort, Self-heal, Goat’s Beard, Goat’s Rue, (despised by many for its invasive habit) Hogweed, Hemlock Water-dropwort, Tufted Vetch, Rough Chervil, Wild Angelica, Butter Bur, Black Briony, Germander Speedwell, Convolvulus, Black Medick, Bird’s -Foot-trefoil, Agrimony, Horse-tail, Perennial and Smooth Sow-thistle, Burdock, Brambles, Enchanter’s Nightshade, Upright Hedge Parsley, Ox-eyed Daisy, Hogweed and Ground Ivy.
The group managed to tick-off all the plants on their check-lists, as well as adding others by the end of the walk. These lists enabled me to focus upon certain plants to explain to the group how to differentiate between certain varieties within a species. E.g. Common/Germander Speedwell or Creeping /Meadow/Bulbous Buttercup.
It was a long session, but I hope that everyone who took the time to come enjoyed their walk and learned some hints about identifying plants.