As spring shifts towards autumn, so the pace of first flowerings begins to slow down, which makes me think it probably makes sense to do another list to keep us occupied for at least the next fortnight. First of all, here are the three species we’re carrying over from Week 15:
As well as the above, it would be worth keeping an eye out for species already recorded by one or two of us, but which should be coming into flower more widely very soon, e.g. Common Fleabane, Pulicaria dysenterica,Burnet-saxifrage, Pimpinella saxifraga, Western Gorse, Ulex gallii, Hawkweed Oxtongue, Picris hieracioides, and Devil’s-bit Scabious, Succisa pratensis.
Do let me know each week—by 3 p.m. on 8th and/or 15th July would be ideal—if you see any of these (or other) spp coming into flower over the next two weeks, preferably by email to email@example.com.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint.” Admittedly, that statement was being used in relation to our slow emergence from the Covid-19 pandemic, and to highlight the need to remain vigilant as the lockdown eases. But it could equally well apply to first flowerings. In the last two weeks we’ve slipped beyond the summer solstice. Tim Dee would declare this to be the time when things start to unravel and fall apart; when the surge of spring that’s been carrying us forward suddenly seems to dissipate, and we’re left to face the long trudge toward autumn. Well, I’m as prone to ‘PSD’ (post-solstice doldrums) as anyone, but I’m not prepared to give up on spring just yet. The pace may have slowed, but there are ‘comings’ still to be had amid all the ‘goings’. As the politician said: a marathon, not a sprint.
So, we’ve reached that point in the year when (in a parallel universe) our thoughts would turn to Wimbledon and Glastonbury and Lord’s. Roger Federer, Kaiser Chiefs, Jonathan Agnew… The weather has had a distinctly summery edge to it: hard to pin down or predict with any certainty, frequently wet, sometimes windy, and occasionally hot and humid. Just enough rain, probably, to turn Worthy Farm into a steaming mud bath. We had a particularly drenching day on the 18th, when it rained from start to finish, then on the 25th we endured the hottest-yet day of the year (32°C in Taunton); when UV levels were supposedly the highest ever recorded in the UK, and when too many of us decided to head out for a day at the seaside. Some roads were gridlocked, car parks and beaches were packed. Throughout lockdown many have struggled with the concept of ‘two metres’, but we’re now expected to re-calibrate to a new measurement called one-metre plus—which, once the pubs open and the summer holidays begin, could very quickly come to mean ‘no distance at all’. If we can avoid a second wave it’ll be a miracle.
In the last update, I got so carried away with Captain Roe’s index cards that I forgot to report on non-botanical matters. These included first ‘hearings’ of Meadow Grasshoppers Chorthippus parallelus and Field Grasshoppers, C. brunneus, on the 14th—at Longrun Meadow in the south, and Long Dole Meadow in the north. Also on the 14th there were Small Skippers, Thymelicus sylvestris, and Six-spot Burnets, Zygaena filipendulae. In Weeks 14 and 15 the ‘buzz’ of high summer continued with Ringlets, Aphantopus hyperantus, from the 22nd, while Ro had her first Humming-bird Hawk-moth, Macroglossum stellatarum, nectaring on Red Valerian, Centranthus ruber,on the 26th. Several of you have commented on the exceptional numbers of Meadow Browns, Maniola jurtina, and Marbled Whites, Melanargia galathea. Apparently this is the second good summer on the trot for Marbled Whites; anyone living in Taunton would normally expect to have to head into the Blackdowns to guarantee seeing this butterfly, but in the last few weeks they’ve been popping up all across the town—in Vivary Park, Goodlands Gardens, between Obridge and Creech Castle, Longrun Meadow and Roughmoor. Since mid-June there’s also been a flurry of records of ‘summer brood’ Commas, Polygonia c-album, perhaps a couple of weeks earlier than usual. These are the offspring of over-wintering butterflies that emerged in early spring.
The dog’s ears are a good barometer of the changing seasons, too. Gilly is a cocker spaniel, and once past the summer solstice her ears start to become tangled with burrs. A walk of one hour can lead to a de-burring session at least as long. At the moment it’s mainly the burrs of Wood Avens, Geum urbanum, but within a week or two it’ll be Goosegrass, Galium aparine, soon to be followed by Agrimony, Agrimonia eupatoria, Enchanter’s-nightshade, Circaea lutetiana, and Burdock, Arctium spp. Each burr to its own season.
You’ve sent in many more records of Convolvulus arvensis colour forms in the last fortnight, and the scores are beginning to look less like football and more like rugby. So, here’s an update, this time headed up by Exeter Chiefs’ crucial game against Sarracens that lifted them to the top of the Premier League back in December. As before, teams wearing ‘unticked’ strips are on the left, those with ‘ticks’ on the right.
Field Bindweed, scores up to end of Week 15
Clearly, teams lacking ‘tick’ marks continue to outscore their ‘ticked’ counterparts, with a combined score of 64 records for ‘non-ticked’ colour forms and just 10 for ‘ticked’. In the latter group, only f. notatus and f. pallidinotatus are at all frequent, while those displaying five- or ten-point stars seem to be invariably tick-free. But maybe that will change as the season progresses…
Now for our first flowerings from the last fortnight. Many thanks, as usual, for your records. This time we had 21 target species to search for, of which (amazingly) we saw all but three.
‘A’. Our target list was awash with ‘A’s, and we saw all bar Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris. Chris had first-flowering Wild Angelica, Angelica sylvestris, on the 29th at Langford Heathfield. In Taunton, the two Burdocks had been stubbornly in bud for about two weeks, but the mini-heatwave produced a suddening ‘opening’ of Greater Burdock, Arctium lappa, on the 27th and Lesser Burdock, A. minusagg., on the 29th. Meanwhile, Andrew reported first flowers on Spear-leaved Orache, Atriplex prostrata, at Burnham-on-Sea on the 21st. It was seen flowering in Taunton, too, but not until the 29th. Amongst other ‘A’s, there was a second record of Water-plantain, Alisma plantago-aquatica, this time from the pond at Roughmoor, on the 26th, to add to the Great Water Dock, Rumex hydrolapathum, which began flowering there on the 18th. And another ‘A’, Alastair, spotted first flowers on Sea Aster, Aster tripolium, at Wall Common on the 25th. (Watson’s date for Sea Aster was 24th July…)
‘B’. Hairy-brome, Bromopsis ramosa, is another grass that can be hard to judge the flowering of. It has such graceful, dangling inflorescences, but at what point, exactly, do you decide it’s flowering rather than merely about to flower? It’s certainly up and showing well, as Linda reported on the 28th, and I’ve seen it close to flowering at Thurlbear on the 29th, and again earlier today, but I’m not convinced yet. Andrew, however, had it flowering at Hollow Marsh on the 30th, so that’s great, and we can expect more records of it in the coming days. Flowering-rush, Butomus umbellatus, seems particularly shy this year, but I finally found a clump of it in flower on the Tone at Obridge on the 27th. Not an especially early date for it. Watson’s average FFD for Butomus was 7th July; Roe’s earliest in the 1950s was 2nd July. All much of a muchness, then.
‘C’. Just the one target species this week, given that Many-seeded Goosefoot is now Lipandra rather than Chenopodium. Fig-leaved Goosefoot, C. ficifolium, was seen first by Linda on the 23rd, in Wellington, then by me on a rare trip to the Levels, near Burrowbridge, on the 26th. Otherwise, ‘C’ is for ‘catch-up’, including my own first Greater Knapweed, Centaurea scabiosa, and Common Centaury, Centaurium erythraea, on the 22nd, Wild Basil, Clinopodium vulgare, on the 28th, and Stemless Thistle, Cirsium acaule, on 1st July. All of them at Thurlbear. Traveller’s-joy, Clematis vitalba, was flowering at Clevedon on the 18th (Dee), and at Sandford on the 25th (Ann Burman). And Pat, at Nettlecombe, had her first Spear Thistle, Cirsium vulgare, on the 28th, and Rose-bay Willowherb, Chamaenerion angustifolium, on the 30th, continuing the pattern of slightly later first-flowering in that area. These dates are very much in line with what Watson would have expected in the Taunton area in the 1920s/30s, his FFD for the former being 26th June, and for the latter 8th July. All very interesting…
‘D’ is for Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum, with Ro delighted to spot her first “blue cummerbund” on the morning of the 20th. Later the same day, Andrew had it beginning to flower at Highbridge, followed by records in Taunton on the 22nd and Linda’s in Wellington on the 23rd. Among other ‘D’s was Common Sundew, Drosera rotundifolia, reported by Andrew from Westhay on the 23rd. I’ve no idea whether this is early or not, but I see that Watson’s date for it was 3rd July. Unfortunately, Roe’s dates from the 1950s all seem to be from locations outside Somerset.
How can we skirt past ‘E’ without mention of Andrew’s Marsh Helleborine, Epipactis palustris, at Berrow on the 24th? The plants were small of stature, so the flowers were hidden in the herbage and hard to spot. Well worth the search though, and another one, like the sundew, for which the only FFDs we have to go on are those of Watson’s—his date for it was 11th July.
‘G’ and ‘H’. Just the one record so far of Marsh Cudweed, Gnaphalium uliginosum, seen flowering with Lipandra polysperma on a muddy field margin near Roughmoor on the 26th. (Also with lots of Bulbous Canary-grass, Phalaris aquatica—a new hectad record for this game-cover alien.)And, just in passing, I need to note further sightings of Hoary Mustard, Hirschfeldia incana, in the Taunton area. Is this a recent colonist, or have I been overlooking it? A couple of plants of it are in full flower on the A3038 dual carriageway between Wickes roundabout and the Shell garage, while there are great thickets of it alongside the railway line between Staplegrove Road and Silk Mills. The petals are a more delicate, slightly paler yellow than those of Black Mustard, Brassica nigra, with which it sometimes grows, while the little club-shaped fruits and greyish leaves help to distinguish it too. It seems to be more widespread in VC6 than in VC5; in The Atlas Flora of Somerset, the Green twins note that it’s “an increasing species in the county, especially in the Bridgwater area.”
Two other surprising ‘H’s to report: Frogbit, Hydrocharis morsus-ranae, on the 23rd on Mark Moor (Andrew), and the 26th at Burrowbridge (me); and, also on the 23rd, Helena and Fred had Marsh Pennywort, Hydrocotylevulgaris, at Tyning Wood, near Gare Hill—not just flowering, but a first record for the hectad this century! Watson didn’t mention Frogbit in his paper on FFDs, which seemed odd; but a quick look at the BSBI Database revealed that there were only four records of this species for Somerset before 1930. It appears that Frogbit has become widespread across the Levels only since about 1950. I’d always presumed it to be a long-established native species in Somerset, but maybe that’s not the case?
‘L’. Many-seeded Goosefoot, Lipandra polysperma, had just started flowering out at Roughmoor on the 18th, in the pouring rain, with Marsh Cudweed following suit a few days later. Gypsywort, Lycopus europaeus, was also flowering there, beside the pond, on the 26th, as it was on the Huntspill River (Andrew). Another noteworthy ‘L’ in the last week was Common Sea-lavender, Limonium vulgare, seen by Alastair at Wall Common on the 25th.
‘M’. Just the one target: Purple Moor-grass, Molinia caerulea, which was seen by Andrew at Westhay on the 23rd. But a special mention, also, for Alastair’s White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare, at Wall Common on the 20th.
‘O’ for Oenanthe. Andrew saw Parsley Water-dropwort, Oenanthe lachenalii, on the 24th at Berrow; but Tubular Water-dropwort, O. fistulosa, still eludes us. A few catch-ups of my own too, with Common Restharrow, Ononis repens,on the 22nd and Marjoram, Origanum vulgare, on the 23rd. Plus, to add a dramatic twist, a large colony of Common Broomrape, Orobanche minor, in Taunton, in the Frieze Hill community orchard between Roughmoor and the Staplegrove Road allotments. A scarce species in Somerset, and a real rarity in Taunton, so a real treat to see 200+ flowering spikes of it emerging amongst the apple trees.
‘P’. Common Fleabane, Pulicaria dysenterica, was spotted by Linda and Chris at Milverton on the 27th. Also a ‘P’ that used to be an ‘S’: Rock Stonecrop, formerly Sedum but now Petrosedum forsterianum, was found by Alastair at Greenaleigh on the 14th.
‘S’. Just the one target, Marsh Woundwort, Stachys palustris, which was finally spotted in Taunton on the 20th (me), Minehead on the 23rd (Alastair), and Huntspill River on the 26th (Andrew).Even Watson would have been only mildly surprised by these dates, his FFD for it being 5th July. Three other first-flowering ‘S’s deserve a mention, all of them Andrew’s: Common Skullcap, Scutellaria galericulata, at Westhay on the 23rd, and Floating Bur-reed, Sparganium emersum, and Arrowhead, Sagittaria sagittifolia, both on the Huntspill River on the 26th.
A couple of ‘T’s: Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare, was seen just beginning to flower by Andrew on the 30th at Highbridge, while I had Strawberry Clover, Trifolium fragiferum, at Upper Holway, Taunton, on the 29th.
And lastly, no ‘V’s this week, but a first-flowering ‘U’ instead when Helena had Western Gorse, Ulex gallii, at Stockhill on the 27th.
Apologies to anyone whose records I’ve overlooked. It’s been a distracting week, with too much going on, and it seems that one drawback to the lockdown being eased is the way in which normal life starts to intrude again.
I can feel ‘busyness’ returning, and I’m not sure I like it…
Plus there are many species, e.g. Wild Parsnip, Pastinaca sativa, Hawkweed Oxtongue, Picris hieracioides, Marjoram, Origanum vulgare, Stemless Thistle, Cirsium acaule, Wild Basil, Clinopodium vulgare, and Devil’s-bit Scabious, Succisa pratensis, for which we’ve so far only had one or two early or ‘precocious’ records, but which should soon be starting to flower more widely.
Do let me know—by 3 p.m. on Wednesday 1st July would be ideal—if you see any of these (or other) spp coming into flower over the next fortnight, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. But please don’t feel you have to save up your records until the 1st. I may be taking a week off, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear from you. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The air today is thick and humid, and there are distant—and then not-so-distant—rumbles of thunder. For the last ten minutes a peregrine has been lazily circling overhead, calling and pulling in a mob of agitated gulls. An absence of swifts, and the rumbling’s getting louder: the sky is dark to the west, darker still to the north-west. It’s dry here, for now, but it’s probably pelting on the Quantocks. Today’s brewing storm feels like it might be a reprise of yesterday’s cloudburst, with rain drops like gobbets the size of garden snails, or liquid marbles, each one producing its own miniature puddle as it hit the ground. Within a minute, down-pipes full to bursting, drains in the street bubbling up from below; and our blackbird dumb-struck and marooned in the depths of his holly tree.
Yet now, I notice, the rumbling has gone away, the air has cleared, the sun is shining again and next door’s plastic roof gutters are clicking in the heat. And that, really, sums up the week, a mixed bag of weather that each of us would probably describe quite differently; a week when it feels unsafe to generalise, when one person’s moment in the sun doubtless coincided with another person’s drenching. The only settled days, in Taunton at least, were on the 14th and 15th. Otherwise, we had rain here each day, with two days, the 11th and 12th, also quite windy. Daytime temperatures in the upper teens, peaking stickily yesterday at 24°C. Nights have been warm too, actually warmer than during earlier ‘heatwaves’, presumably due to the frequent overnight blanket of cloud.
Yesterday I was scanning the bookshelves for Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife. Ben used to have the boxed set, but only the first of the ‘Dark Materials’ trilogy—Northern Lights—is in the box, the other two have disappeared. Searching for something is always an opportunity to find something else that you weren’t really looking for, that maybe you’d forgotten you ever had… The Subtle Knife was proving elusive, but instead I came across something far more interesting: an old card index box, with pull-out drawer and covering of imitation snake skin. The box, I now remember, came to me on loan from Helena a few years ago. It had previously belonged to Captain Robert G.B. O’Neil Roe, BSBI’s Vice-county Recorder for VC6 1965-1993, and VC5 1978-1993. Roe, like Walter Watson before him, had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the flora of Somerset and was an assiduous keeper of records. The two men, luckily for us, also shared a particular interest in first flowering dates. But while Watson’s dates were eventually published (at least in summary form) Roe’s remained hidden away in this card index box. There are hundreds of 5” x 3” index cards, one for each species, and each one listing FFDs—with locations—for the period 1951-61. He had the neatest writing, and the smallest too. His records aren’t always straightforward to interpret, not least because in some years they were as likely to relate to places in Cornwall, or Wiltshire, as they were to Somerset. Also, his own ‘local patch’ was around Bath, whereas Watson’s was Taunton; and, as we’ve seen in our own records this year, dates are liable to vary considerably from one part of the county to another. But Roe’s record-cards nevertheless provide a rich seam of data that would merit much closer examination.
Interestingly, many of his FFDs seem to be as late, or later, than those recorded by Watson in the 1920s/30s. To take a random example: Tutsan, Hypericum androsaemum, was said by Watson to flower between June and August, with an average FFD of 26th June, whereas even Roe’s earliest FFD in the 1950s was 1st July. Sometimes he didn’t see it flowering until August, and his average FFD was 8th August, so about six weeks later than Watson’s. As a comparison, my own average FFD for the period 2008-17 was 6th June, while our earliest FFD for Tutsan this year was 18th May, three days earlier than even the earliest FFD during the period 2008-17. Watson would have been amazed, but Roe would have been flabbergasted!Anyway, be prepared, from this week onwards, for our own records to be cross-referenced occasionally with Roe’s as well as Watson’s dates.
Now, as you’ll be aware, the premiership football season gets underway again today, with some matches even being shown on terrestrial TV. In celebration of this long-awaited shift towards normality, I’ll start this week’s botanical summary by giving you the latest ‘state of play’ on Convolvulus arvensis colour forms. Assume that there are five matches, then, and that each match is being played between a ‘non-ticked’ colour form (on the left in the Table below) and its ‘ticked’ counterpart (on the right). So, for these purposes, you have to imagine that f. arvensis (all-white strip, without ‘ticks’) is playing against f. notatus (similar strip but with a rather smart ring of purple ‘ticks’ around the neck)…
Field Bindweed, interim scores up to end of Week 13
You can see from the above that all those teams sporting ‘tick’ marks (apart from Sheffield United) are consistently being thrashed by their ‘unticked’ rivals, giving a combined score of 35 records for ‘non-ticked’ colour forms against just seven for ‘ticked’. Oh yes, and while I think of it, to add to last week’s notes about how to distinguish between f. arvensis and f. pallidiroseus, it’s also worth stressing that the first has white anthers while the second has purplish anthers. This also holds good for the ‘ticked’ variants f. notatus (corolla and anthers white) and f. pallidinotatus (corolla ‘flushed’ palest pink, anthers purple).
Now for our sightings from the last week: scientific names of target species emboldened, other notables mentioned as and when, and, as usual, the whole lot in alphabetical order-ish. Between us, we saw ten of the 19 target species…
‘A’ is for Bent. On our target list we had Creeping Bent, A. stolonifera, seen on the 15th in Taunton, and reported by Andrew on the 16th fromLots SWT reserve—the latter along with flowering Common Bent, A. capillaris and Velvet Bent, A. canina. Amongst other ‘A’s, Andrew recorded the first few flowers on Water-plantain, Alisma plantago-aquatica at Brent Knoll village on the 14th. Pat, out at Nettlecombe, picked up Agrimony, Agrimonia eupatoria, on the 17th, amongst another really interesting batch of relatively late FFDs. Other species of note included Alastair’s Babington’s Leek, Allium ampeloprasum var. babingtonii, at Porlock Marsh on the 8th, a second record of Bog Pimpernel, Anagallis tenella, this one at Lots on the 16th, and Meadow Oat-grass, Avenula pratensis, another one of Andrew’s records, at Priddy Mineries on the 12th.
‘B’. Betony, Betonica officinalis, has now begun its ‘proper’ flowering season, with records from GB Gruffy on the 9th (Andrew), Ashton Court meadows on the 14th (David H), and at Long Dole Meadow, also on the 14th (Helena and Fred). Still no sign of it, though, at Thurlbear or Orchard Wood. One other ‘B’ of note was Rye Brome, Bromus secalinus, on the 17th, on a road verge in Taunton rather than in its usual arable habitat.
It was a week of ‘C’s, with four on the target list and all of them seen by at least one of us. Lesser Centaury, Centaurium pulchellum, was actually seen by Jeanne on the 7th (so in Week 12), at Blue Anchor; Stemless Thistle, Cirsium acaule, had begun to flower at Observatory Hill—so just in VC34—when David H visited on the 16th; first-flowering Traveller’s-joy, Clematis vitalba, clambering over a low shrub-border on the edge of Tesco’s car park off Wellington Road, Taunton, on the 14th; and Ro had Wild Basil, Clinopodium vulgare, at Lilstock, also on the 14th. Other noteworthy ‘C’s included Steve’s Whorl-grass, Catabrosa aquatica, near North Newton, on the 13th, and my own (very early) Fat-hen, Chenopodium album, near Creech St Michael on the 12th. Just for the record, Watson’s average FFD for Fat-hen was 8th July, while Roe’s earliest FFD in the 1950s was 9th July.
‘D’. Two reports of first-flowering Tufted Hair-grass, Deschampsia cespitosa, this week: GB Gruffy on the 9th (so actually Week 12), courtesy of Andrew, and North Newton on the 13th, with thanks to Steve. Another grass seen flowering for the first time this week was Heath-grass, Danthonia decumbens, at Thurlbear on the 15th and at Lots on the 16th. Also at GB Gruffy on the 9th was Wavy Hair-grass, Deschampsia flexuosa, which is now flowering well at several heathland sites on the Blackdown Hills, along with a couple of ‘E’s, Bell Heather, Erica cinerea, and Cross-leaved Heath, E. tetralix.
‘H’. This has definitely been the week for Square-stalked St John’s-wort, Hypericum tetrapterum, with records from Old Cleeve on the 9th (Jeanne), Creech St Michael on the 12th (me), The Quants on the 15th (Linda), and Langford Heathfield on the 17th (Chris). Another ‘H’ of possibly only ‘niche’ interest, was the discovery earlier today of a large roadside/waste ground population of (flowering) Hoary Mustard, Hirschfeldia incana, on Trenchard Way, close to the bridge across Station Road. This seems to be the first record of Hoary Mustard for the ST22 and the Taunton area since the turn of the century.
‘L’. First records this week for: Prickly Lettuce, Lactuca serriola, on the 17th on waste ground near the A38 at Creech Castle, Taunton; Yellow Loosestrife, Lysimachia vulgaris, on the 12th at Postlebury (Gill); and Water-purslane, Lythrum portula, on the 15th at Blackdown and Sampford Common—just over the border in Devon, I admit, but always considered, by me at least, to be part of ‘Greater Somerset’. Well, the parking place is in Somerset…
‘M’, ‘N’, ‘O’… Just the one target species: Marjoram, Origanum vulgare, which, like the Water-purslane fell just outside the county’s borders—this time at Observatory Hill, Bristol, where it was seen by David H on the 16th. Other than that, a motley collection including reported first-flowerings of Creeping Forget-me-not, Myosotis secunda, Water Chickweed, Myosoton aquaticum (Stellaria aquatica in Stace 4), Mat-grass, Nardus stricta, Bog Asphodel, Narthecium ossifragum, and Spiny Restharrow, Ononis spinosa.
‘P’. Included this week are sightings of two ‘P’s that would have been on later lists: Hawkweed Oxtongue, Picris hieracioides, on the 17th on waste ground and verge of the A38 at Creech Castle, Taunton; and Burnet-saxifrage, Pimpinella saxifraga, on the 12th at Priddy Mineries (Andrew). Linda found flowering Pale Butterwort, Pinguicula lusitanica, at Ring Down on the 13th, while there were also two records of Annual Beard-grass, Polypogon monspeliensis, from Stock Moor on the 14th (Steve), and on waste ground at Firepool Weir, Taunton on the 15th. The latter is an attractive and eye-catching grass that seems to be spreading, at least in parts of VC5.
‘S’. Our target was Autumn Hawkbit, Scorzoneroides autmnalis, which was seen by three of us: Helena in Paulton on the 14th, me in Taunton, also on the 14th, and Andrew at Crook Peak on the 17th. This is exactly a month earlier than Watson’s average FFD of 15th July, and 3-4 weeks earlier than Roe’s dates in the 1950s. Its English name really ought to be Summer Hawkbit. Some really lovely ‘S’s tagging along too, such as Chris’s Lesser Skullcap, Scutellaria minor, at Langford Heathfield on the 14th, Helena and Fred’s Devil’s-bit Scabious, Succisa pratensis, at Long Dole Meadow on the 14th (a very early date), and—less lovely, but still noteworthy—my own Sand Spurrey, Spergularia rubra, on Blackdown and Sampford Common where it was growing alongside the Water-purslane. The only Marsh Woundwort, Stachys palustris, was in Surrey (!), so that one stays on the list for another week I’m afraid.
‘T’. Amongst her batch of ‘late’ FFDs, Pat also had our earliest FFD for Wood Sage, Teucrium scorodonia, on the 15th. Also, we had two more reports of Wild Thyme, Thymus drucei, both in Week 12: one from ‘near Watchet’ on the 8th (Alastair), the other, also on the 8th, from Purn Hill (Andrew).
‘V’. A strange absence of ‘V’s this week, apart from Gill’s Vervain, Verbena officinalis, at Truddoxhill, and my own Tufted Vetch, Vicia cracca, which has at last begun to flower in the Taunton area.
The end of another week, each one now seeming a little more ‘normal’ than the last, despite the need for endless discussions about what’s acceptable and what’s not, how one defines a ‘bubble’, whether to wear a mask, which is the best hand sanitizer… not to mention daily amazement at some people’s interpretation of what is meant, exactly, by the term ‘two metres’!
Yet amid all the uncertainty and understandable worry, it’s good to see that a few of us are beginning to meet up with friends again for the occasional socially distanced botanical foray; and good, too, that the number of sites being visited seems to be increasing each week. A sure sign that we are returning—slowly, tentatively—to some of our old haunts and old ways.
Do keep the Convolvulus arvensis records coming in, by the way. It seems that f. arvensis may be destined to win the League—much like Liverpool—and that ‘non-ticks’ will ultimately hold sway over ‘ticks’. But, as football commentators always say following a late goal against the run of play: “it’s never over ‘til it’s over”…
Creeping Bent, Agrostis stolonifera;Tufted Hair-grass, Deschampsia cespitosa; Hairy-brome, Bromopsis ramosa; Stemless Thistle, Cirsium acaule; Lesser Burdock, Arctium minus agg; Wild Basil, Clinopodium vulgare; Autumn Hawkbit, Scorzoneroides autumnalis; Lesser Centaury, Centaurium pulchellum; Marjoram, Origanum vulgare; Greater Burdock, Arctium lappa; Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris; Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum; Square-stalked St John’s-wort, Hypericum tetrapterum; and, lastly, for anyone who happens to be on the Levels, what about Tubular Water-dropwort, Oenanthe fistulosa?Or, if you’re near the coast, Parsley Water-dropwort, Oenanthe lachenalii?
Plus there are many species, e.g. Wild Thyme, Thymus drucei,Upright hedge-parsley, Torilis japonica, Betony, Betonica officinalis, and Common Centaury, Centaurium erythraea, for which we’ve so far only had one or two anomalous/exceptionally early records, but which should soon be starting to flower more widely.
As always, do let me know—by 3 p.m. next Wednesday would be ideal—if you see any of these (or other) spp coming into flower over the next week, by email to email@example.com.
Good wishes for the coming week. Stay safe and stay dry.
It’s raining again. This time, a soft crackle on the tiles sounding like the sizzling tick and patter of an old vinyl record. An indifferent week, weather-wise—which, given what’s gone before, is surely noteworthy—often breezy, sometimes wet, not especially hot, and generally a fairly unpredictable mixture of cloud and sunshine. Which has given us new things to ponder, like whether it might be sensible to wear a coat of some sort. Or maybe take a brolly, just in case?
This week I’ve been reading Madeline Miller’s Circe,a (quote) ‘bold and subversive’ retelling of Homer’s Odyssey,writtenfrom the point of view of the goddess-witch Circe, the much-maligned daughter of Helios, God of the Sun. And, would you believe it? One minute she was giving birth to her son, Telegonus, via what appeared to be self-administered Caesarean section; the next, on the back path, I came across first-flowering Enchanter’s-nightshade, Circaea lutetiana. The link between the witch and the plant had never really occurred to me before, but is well summarised in Geoffrey Grigson’s Dictionary of English Plant Names. To quote: “The Flemish botanist Mathias de l’Obel (1538-1616) equated the Greek plant kirkaia, Latin circaea, used in charms, [at] first with Solanum dulcamara, the Woody Nightshade, then [later] with Circaea lutetiana. Kirkaia was taken to mean the plant of the witch or enchantress Kirke, or Circe…” Or, more simply, as noted on the Woodland Trust’s website: “Circaea relates to Circe, an enchantress sometimes depicted as the Greek goddess of magic, who was known for her knowledge of herbs.” Strange, anyway, that two such disparate worlds—of Greek myths and first flowerings—should collide in this way.
And Tim Dee’s two seasons of spring and autumn seem to be colliding too, which means that (despite this week’s weather) it’s really starting to feel like summer… And, as if to prove the point, Georgina reported her first Dark Green Fritillary on the 5th, at Blackmoor. There have been further sightings of Marbled Whites and Large Skippers, Ro’s had a Green Hairstreak, and suddenly Meadow Browns seem to be everywhere. Amongst other ‘miscellaneous records’, Helena and Val spotted a Swollen-thighed Beetle, Oedemeria nobilis, in Great Breach Wood on the 9th, while Andrew, on the same day, saw Chimney Sweeper moths, Odezia atrata, at GB Gruffy. And Ro reports that she has tigers in her polytunnel, although in this case, thankfully, Scarlet Tigers, Callimorpha dominula.
In the next couple of weeks, if you find yourself tramping through rough grassland, listen out for the first stridulating grasshoppers and bush-crickets; Meadow Grasshoppers, Chorthippus parallelus, and Field Grasshoppers, C. brunneus, are the two commonest species in the county, and they’re also often the first to reach adulthood and make themselves heard. You’ll probably tell me now that you’re hearing them already…
On the botanical front it’s been a more straightforward week, with a shorter list of target species, and many of them big and blousy, so quite easy to spot, even at a distance. The rain has helped, too, to push things on a bit, and we’ve managed to record all but five of the 18 spp on our list. Another interesting week, too, for late first flowerings, particularly so for Pat over at Nettlecombe. She’s been noticing how delayed some of her FFDs are in comparison with those from coastal or more lowland areas to the east. Tutsan, Hypericum androsaemum, for example, came into flower at Nettlecombe on 7th June (cf. 18th May in Taunton). But, don’t forget, Pat also had the earliest FFD in the county for Creeping Thistle, Cirsium arvense, which shows that it’s never safe to generalise. I’ve had my own catching up to do this week, with one of my best finds being on the 4th, an extraordinarily late FFD for White Bryony, Bryonia dioica—five weeks after Linda’s FFD for it at Nynehead. Even Watson would have found my date unremarkable; his FFD for it was 2nd June. Being five weeks behind Linda is bad enough, but two days behind Watson? I’m beginning to understand how Pat and ‘ice-scraping’ Ellen must feel… But, anyway, it’s not a competition. Is it?
Here’s a summary of what we’ve all found this week. A bit shorter than usual, partly because there are less species to cover, but mainly because I’m hoping for an early night. Usual rules apply: scientific names emboldened, other notables mentioned as and when, and the whole lot in alphabetical order, more or less…
An Absence of ‘A’s. Well, not quite, but nothing from the target list other than more sightings of Agrimony, Agrimonia eupatoria, at East Quantoxhead on the 3rd (David H), and Stoke Hill, Stoke St Mary, on the 6th (me). David H also reported having seen Pyramidal Orchid, Anacamptis pyramidalis, flowering at St George’s Flower Bank on 25th May, the same day as Andrew’s at Yarley. Potentially the most interesting ‘A’—although at this point there will doubtless be shouts of ‘L’ for Lysimachia—was Chris’s Bog Pimpernel, Anagallis tenella, at Langford Heathfield on the 9th. This isn’t one I usually record, but Watson’s date for it was 23rd June.
‘B’ for Brachypodium. Two reports of Tor-grass, Brachypodium rupestre/pinnatum, both in Week 11, and both from Crook Peak: David H on the 28th, and Andrew on the 31st. But Week 12 was certainly the week for Wood False-brome, Brachypodium sylvaticum. The first report of it was from Wellington on the 5th (Linda), which provoked an email discussion about when, exactly, a grass like this can be said to be flowering. Grasses are difficult, we decided; and while some are quick to reveal their sexual parts, others, including this one, can be decidedly coy about it. (Wall Barley, Hordeum murinum, is another.) Anyway, following Linda’s slightly optimistic record there was a flurry of sightings: David H in Leigh Woods on the 7th, Andrew at Purn Hill on the 8th, and then on the 9th there were records from Helena and Val at Great Breach Wood, Pat at Nettlecombe, and me at Thurlbear. The first flowering Butterfly-bush, Buddleja davidii, in Taunton, incidentally, was on the 5th.
‘C’. Two of you have seen Greater Knapweed, Centaurea scabiosa, both records were on the 3rd, so actually in Week 11. In our far-eastern enclave, Fred had it flowering nicely while he was investigating broomrapes near Whitchurch, and the same day David H saw it at East Quantoxhead. As already mentioned, first records this week also for Enchanter’s-nightshade, Circaea lutetiana: Taunton on the 4th, Leigh Woods on the 7th (David H), and Paulton on the 9th (Helena).
‘C’ is also for Convolvulus. Several of you have been sending in records of the various colour forms of Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis. Early indications are that f. arvensis (white) and f. pentarrhabdotus (5-pointed star) are the most frequent, while those having ‘tick’ marks round the yellow throat are the least frequent. The scores at the moment are: f. arvensis = 8 records; f. pentarrhabdotus = 8; f. perroseus = 4; f. pallidiroseus = 3; f. decarrhabdotus = 3; f. pallidinotatus = 2; f. notatus = 1; f. decemvulnerus = 1; f. pentastictus = 1; f. quinquevulnerus = 0. Needless to say, these ten forms can seem like points along a continuum of variation, with the pink of some flowers being very pale, and tick marks faint, while others are much more strongly marked. The f. perroseus is particularly striking, the flower usually being a very pretty deep pink with contrasting white ‘star’ in its centre. The f. pallidiroseus can be hard to separate from f. arvensis, the pink ‘flushing’ often being very pale; yet, put one of these barely-flushed flowers next to a pure white f. arvensis and you can immediately see the difference: f. arvensis is the colour of an ‘ice white’ polo shirt, whereas f. pallidiroseus is like the same polo shirt after it’s been through the wash with a pair of red socks. Also, I do wonder whether f. arvensis flowers tend to be slightly smaller than pallidiroseus?
‘D’ is for Carrot. Lots of records of Wild Carrot, Daucus carota, now, including Dee in her garden on the 1st, then at Clevedon Pill on the 7th, David H at East Quantoxhead on the 3rd, and Andrew at West Huntspill on the 5th.
‘E’. Hemp-agrimony, Eupatorium cannabinum, earlier today, on the bank of the river Tone beside Goodlands Gardens. I’d been watching it all week as it was ‘pinking up’, but only this morning did the first flowers begin to open. Also, following last week’s rain, Hoary Willowherb, Epilobium parviflorum, has finally begun to flower in Taunton; and a second record of Great Willowherb, E. hirsutum, this time in Brent Knoll village (Andrew). Oh yes, and a ‘first’, too, from Chris who has reported having seen Cross-leaved Heath, Erica tetralix, at Langford Heathfield on 26th May—so actually in Week 10. Very early! (Watson’s date for it was 23rd June.)
‘F’. Meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria, popping up everywhere now—even at Nettlecombe where first flowers were seen on the 10th.
‘G’. Galiums galore this week, with lots more records for verum, album, palustre and saxatile. Reed Sweet-grass, Glyceria maxima, like Brachypodium sylvaticum a rather ‘shy’ grass when it comes to exposing its anthers, is now beginning to flower along the canal in Taunton, near Firepool Weir. Panicles are nicely expanded, anyway.
‘H’. It’s also been quite a week for St John’s-worts. Plenty more Hairy, H. hirsutum, and Perforate, H. perforatum; plus lots of first-flowering Slender, Hypericum pulchrum, including Georgina on the 5th at Blackmoor, Pat on the 7th at Greencombe, Linda on the 8th at Wivvy, and Chris at Langford Heathfield on the 9th.
‘I’. An early FFD for Ploughman’s-spikenard, Inula conyzae, was Andrew’s from Purn Hill on the 8th. The yellow variant of Stinking Iris, Iris foetidissima var. citrina, has also been spotted again, this time by Helena and Val at Great Breach Wood: “Interestingly, we first started seeing yellow ones on the slope above the former Monocot Nursery … but there was quite a bit on New Hill, further along the slope, mixed in with blue ones.” Which leaves me still wondering to what extent this variety might have been preferentially taken into cultivation, from where it has then got back out into the wild as a garden escape or throw-out.
‘J’. Not a first-flowerer, but we can’t pass this point in the alphabet without a nod to David H’s discovery in Leigh Woods on the 7th of Janetiella lemeei, a midge causing little wart-like galls on Wych Elm, Ulmus glabra. This appears to be a new county record of a species for which there is only a handful of GB records on the NBN. (With thanks to Simon Haarder, a Danish cecidologist/dipterist, and Keith Harris for confirming its identity.) David also had a couple of nice midge galls on Lime, Tilia sp., Contarinia tiliarum and Didymomyia tiliacea, the latter also, possibly, a ‘first’ for the county.
‘K’. Field Scabious, Knautia arvensis, was on our target list, but probably shouldn’t have been, since David H had seen it flowering at St George’s Flower Bank on 21st May (at start of Week 10), and Chris saw it in Langford Budville on 28th May (at start of Week 11). My own FFD, in Taunton, was on 5th June.
‘L’. One species that’s begun to spread in these parts recently is Great Lettuce, Lactuca virosa. Previously a real rarity in VC5, the first record for the Taunton area was Graham’s on the day of our ‘last week hunt’ at the end of October 2018, in the Silk Mills park-and-ride car park. In 2019 we found it to be quite abundant on road verges near the Somerset Heritage Centre. And this week, to my astonishment, I’ve seen it in two new roadside sites on Obridge Road, and close to the junction of Priorswood Road and Lyngford Road. The plants were flowering well, but more than anything it was the height of the plants that really impressed: they were massive, with the tallest attaining a height in excess of 3 metres. A plant with real chutzpah! (For Bog Pimpernel, Lysimachia tenella, you’ll have to go back to ‘A’.)
‘M’. Two targets this week: Water Forget-me-not, Mysosotis scorpioides, which was found to be flowering well in the canal near Firepool Weir, Taunton, on the 4th; and Musk Mallow, Malva moschata, which started blooming with great synchrony this week, in Taunton on the 4th, Wivvy on the 8th (Linda), and Clevedon also on the 8th (Dee), to list but three. Lucerne, Medicago sativa subsp sativa, was also seen this week, like the Malva, in Taunton and Wivvy.
‘P’, ‘R’, ‘S’. One of each. Timothy, Phleum pratense, at last, was seen by Andrew on the 6th, at Highbridge. Wild Madder, Rubia peregrina, was picked up by David H on his highly productive visit to East Quantoxhead on the 3rd (Week 11), while I had it in a wood-border hedgerow at Thurlbear on the 8th. The only ‘S’ was Perennial Sowthistle, Sonchus arvensis, which was seen on the 6th in a road verge beside a bridge over the M5 between Stoke St Mary and Taunton. Marsh Woundwort, Stachys palustris, though, we’ll have to roll over to Week 13…
‘T’. Three extra-curricular ‘T’s this week: Hare’s-foot Clover, Trifolium arvense, in flower on Berrow golf course on the 7th (Andrew); Bulrush, Typha latifolia, in Taunton on the 9th;and, with thanks to David H’s father, a record of Common Meadow-rue, Thalictrum flavum, on Weston Moor on the 5th.
And, as ever, our ‘V’s of the week, and both Week 12 targets: Great Mullein, Verbascum thapsus, on 30th May in Wivvy (Linda), on the 6th at Highbridge (Andrew), and on the 8th in Taunton; and Vervain, Verbena officinalis, in Brent Knoll village on the 4th (Andrew).
Am I the only one to find that a good way to remain sane while in a traffic jam is to engage in roadside botany? Well, it paid off handsomely on the 8th, with my own first-flowering Verbena officinalis being the high point—along with Greater Quaking-grass, Briza maxima, and Wall Bedstraw, Galium parisiense—of an hour spent queuing to get into Priorswood Recycling Centre.
Plus there are lots of species, e.g. Common Centaury, Centaurium erythraea, Wild Carrot, Daucus carota, Branched Bur-reed, Sparganium erectum, and Betony, Betonica officinalis, for which we’ve had one or two anomalous/exceptionally early records, but which should soon be starting to flower more widely.
As always, do let me know—by 3 p.m. next Wednesday would be ideal—if you see any of these (or other) spp coming into flower over the next week, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Blackbird isn’t singing. He was broadcasting from the TV aerial first thing this morning, but now the rain’s clattering on the roof and he’s made for cover. Eerily quiet, then, and a day quite different from every other day since the middle of March: overcast, wet, and much warmer indoors than out. Somerset should have been playing a T20 today against Sussex at Hove, but it would almost certainly have been rained off anyway—a consoling thought. So we’ve given Hove a miss, and instead Ben and I have been walking the dog up at Staple Hill and Mount Fancy where, apart from a good crop of first-flowerers, I was particularly pleased to witness another excellent show of Stinkhorn fungi, Phallus impudicus, in the same place we saw them as a group almost exactly a year ago.
Taking the fortnight as a whole, today’s rain has been an aberration at the end of another prolonged period of dry, sunny, warm weather. You’ll have heard on the TV News that it’s been the sunniest spring on record (since 1929); and in Taunton, at least, ten of the last 14 days have recorded temperatures of 25°C or above. The lack of rain this spring has also been noteworthy. Effects on first-flowerings can be strange and unpredictable: while drought stress might cause one species to ‘stall’, another—sensing impending doom, perhaps—decides to flower as quickly as it can, resulting in a mixture of responses. Even a single species can behave quite differently in different places, blooming precociously early on a dry, sheltered, sunny, south-facing slope while remaining stubbornly in bud everywhere else.
This also means that different people can have wildly differing perceptions of how first flowering dates (FFDs) are progressing. So, while some of us have had rich pickings in the last fortnight, others have been complaining that they’ve found next to nothing. Today’s rain, especially if it’s the start of a period of more changeable weather, may even things up a bit. Expect the barrenness of recent days, if that’s been your experience, to be followed by a great flourish of new records in the next week or two…
Turning to what we’ve seen in the last fortnight, let’s start, as usual, with things other than plants. At home—where, despite all this talk of ‘easing’, I still seem to spend much of my time—I’ve been mainly distracted by bees and blackbirds. In Week 10, continuing the ‘b’ theme, it was beetles. The first, appearing like a mislaid brooch on the doormat, was a Rose Chafer, Cetonia aurata, to be swiftly followed, in the back garden, by an equally iridescent and jewel-like Thick-legged or Swollen-thighed Beetle, Oedemera nobilis. They’re not thighs of course—beetles don’t have thighs, do they?—but the first segments of the male’s back legs (the ‘hind femora’, to give them their proper name) are noticeably swollen, making it instantly recognisable: a beetle that looks like it’s been seriously ‘working out’ at the gym. I’m sure I’ve been shown them on SRPG or SANHS field meetings, but this is the first time we’ve spotted one in the garden. It’s a ‘southern’ species, with a distribution centred on the Mediterranean region and southern Europe. In the UK, at its north-western limit, it used to occur only very locally in southern-most counties of England, but since the 1990s, presumably as a result of climate change, it’s undergone a rapid expansion of range. Now common across England and Wales as far north as a line running from the Mersey to the Wash, there are even scattered records into northern England, and (most recently) the extreme south of Scotland. Definitely one to keep an eye out for in your flower borders.
It’s been a good fortnight for butterflies. Georgina saw her first Small Blues and Large Skippers on the 25th at Stoke Camp, and first Marbled Whites and Meadow Browns on the 30th at Draycott Sleights. My own first Meadow Brown, at Orchard Wood, was on the 25th, followed by several at Thurlbear on the 27th. Keith Gould had Meadow Browns and Large Skippers at Longrun Meadow, Taunton, on 1st June. He also saw his first Emperor Dragonfly, Anax imperator, there on the 1st. On the 2nd, down by the river Tone at Obridge, we found there had been an overnight/early morning mass emergence of Banded Demoiselles, Calopteryx splendens. What a gorgeous insect this is! We walked between Obridge and Creech Castle and counted dozens and dozens and dozens (easily more than 50) where the previous afternoon we hadn’t seen a single one. The description in Cyril Hammond’s field guide is spot on: “females have a feeble fluttering flight … [but] males are much more active and engage in chasing one another and sometimes more than half-a-dozen may be seen involved in the chase which can last many minutes. Courtship is pretty to watch, the male vibrating his wings rapidly in front of or above the female before flying with her in tandem.” Their slow, bobbing, butterfly-like flight is distinctive, as are the broad bands on the wings of the males, which seem, like their bodies, to have been brushed with blue-black ‘Quink’.
On the botanical front it’s been a busy two weeks, with 19 of you sending in a total of 225 records covering goodness-knows-how-many species. As already hinted, while some of you found target species elusive, others (including me) were having a field day. In all, we saw all but five of our 28 target species. The following gives you an idea of what we’ve all been up to, and what we’ve seen; as usual, target species have their scientific names emboldened, other notables are mentioned along the way, and the whole lot is stitched together in an order that’s vaguely alphabetical, except when it isn’t….
‘A’s abounding! Two reports of Agrimony, Agrimonia eupatoria, first seen by Kate Jeffreys at Stolford on the 23rd, and then by Andrew (another ‘A’) at Crook Peak on the 30th. Pyramidal Orchids, Anacamptis pyramidalis, are beginning to flower all over the place, with many of you noticing how the first blooms open towards the base of the spike, even while the top of the pyramid is still tightly closed. The first was Andrew’s, at Yarley on the 25th, then me at Orchard Wood on the 27th, followed by Steve in Bridgwater on the 29th—right next to a courting couple, apparently! Keith Gould photographed a Pyramidal Orchid on the 1st in grassland out near the Silk Mills park-and-ride, which is currently being used as a coronavirus testing station. I had my first bulbil-laden head of Wild Onion, Allium vineale, in a Taunton roadside flower-bed on the 2nd. Also we’ve had two records of the much prettier Rosy Garlic, A. roseum, one in Taunton on the 24th, the other from Alastair in Minehead, actually on the 14th (Week 9). Fool’s Watercress, Apium nodiflorum, is one of the species that seems to have ‘stalled’ in the last week or two, but I did see it in flower on the 2nd in Taunton. Other noteworthy ‘A’s included: Fool’s Parsley, Aethusa cynapium, on the 31st in Bridgwater (Steve); Marsh Foxtail, Alopecurus geniculatus, on the 25th in Bridgwater (Steve) and 2nd June at Postlebury (Gill); and more Kidney-vetch, Anthyllis vulneraria, this time at Stoke Camp, Mendip, on the 25th (Georgina).
A paucity of ‘B’s. We had two to search for, and only struck lucky with one of them: Black Horehound, Ballota nigra, was starting to flower at Obridge, Taunton, on the 23rd, while Andrew had it at Berrow on the 3rd. Flowering Rush, Butomus umbellatus, we’ll have to carry over to Week 12… Amongst other ‘B’s, we’ve had first sightings of flowering Yellow-wort, Blackstonia perfoliata, in ‘proper’ habitat, i.e. NOT beside a railway line. Georgina had it at Draycott Sleights on the 30th, while the next day Andrew saw it on Crook Peak; for the record, it’s still only ‘in bud’ at Thurlbear. A couple of sightings of Borage, Borago officinalis, this week, from Steve and Linda, and also a surprisingly early record of Butterfly-bush, Buddleja davidii, on the 31st in Bridgwater (Steve).
‘C’ is for Convolvulus. I’ll spare you the details, except to say that Andrew is leading the pack when it comes to colour-forms of Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis, with a score of 7/10. Looking at everyone’s records so far, f. arvensis and f. pentarrhabdotus seem to be the most frequent, followed by f. decarrhabdotus and f. pallidiroseus. Colour forms with tick marks round the throat seem to be scarcer than those without. Or maybe they just start to flower slightly later? Thanks to Andrew, Jeanne, Ro and Linda, in particular, for their records, many of them with accompanying photographic evidence. (Sorry, I said I’d spare you the details, then couldn’t resist giving you them anyway…)
Still on ‘C’s, and still on bindweeds, there have been several records of Large Bindweed, Calystegia silvatica, from Highbridge (Andrew), Wiveliscombe (Linda) and Taunton. I’ve been playing catch-up with my own ‘C’s, with Spear Thistle, Cirsium vulgare, on the 24th, and Basil Thyme, Clinopodium acinos, on the 30th, the latter in its usual spot on Thurlbear Quarrylands. Of our targets, Rosebay Willowherb, Chamaenerion angustifolium, showed its first flowers in Taunton on the 2nd (on our back path) but Enchanter’s-nightshade, Circaea lutetiana, (also on our back path) is yet to show itself. ‘C’ of the week, though, must surely be Steve’s Bermuda-grass, Cynodon dactylon, at Bridgwater docks on the 24th. Only the second record of this grass in VC5.
‘D’ is for Ellen’s exceptionally late FFD for Common Spotted-orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii. It was the same with her nettles, which you’ll remember were also very late. Rumour has it she’s still having to scrape ice off her windscreen each morning. For sheer classiness amongst the ‘D’s, though, what about Georgina’s Cheddar Pink, Dianthus gratianopolitanus, seen flowering in the Gorge on the 30th?
‘E’. I had thought Steve’s Viper’s-bugloss, Echium vulgare, on the 24th was a first for the year, until I looked back at Alastair’s records and discovered that he’d seen this species flowering at Dunster on 18thApril. So that one shouldn’t have been on the list, really. Other than that, we’ve had our first Couch-grass, Elymus repens, in Taunton on the 29th and Highbridge on the 30th (Andrew), Great Willowherb, Epilobium hirsutum, in Taunton on the 30th, and Pale Willowherb, E. roseum, also in Taunton, also on the 29th. But still, amazingly, only a single record of Hoary Willowherb, E. parviflorum, which seems to have been badly affected by the prolonged dry spell. A couple of records of Caper Spurge, Euphorbia lathyris, on the 28th in Taunton and the 31st in Bridgwater (Steve). And, finally, a vaguely autumnal ‘E’ in the shape of Bell Heather, Erica cinerea, seen today at Staple Hill. This is usually the first of the ‘heathers’ to flower—even Walter Watson’s FFD for it was mid-June—but should soon be followed by Cross-leaved heath, E. tetralix, and then Heather, Calluna vulgaris. If you’re out looking for any of these, keep an eye out also for the first Western Gorse, Ulex gallii. Oh, and Slender St John’s-wort, Hypericum pulchrum, too…
‘F’. Just the one target this week, Meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria, which three of us have seen—me on the 24th in Taunton (in the same ditch as the Apium a week later), Andrew at Binham Moor, near Mark, on the 28th, and Steve in Bridgwater on the 31st. Others have commented on how it seems to have got ‘stuck’ in bud. Have another look in the next couple of days and you may find today’s rain has worked its magic…
One other ‘F’ in passing: a plant of the not-so-common Common Cudweed, Filago vulgaris, flowering in bare ground off Canal Road, Taunton, on the 1st. We’ve had records of it in previous years from road verges near the railway station, but this is the first in Taunton away from that area. It’s quite a scarce plant in Somerset, and ‘Near Threatened’ on the England Red List, so a nice one to have whether flowering or not!
‘G’. Three species of bedstraw, Galium spp, were on our target list for the fortnight, and Andrew managed to twitch them all! On the 30th he found Lady’s Bedstraw, G. verum, on Brent Knoll; the next day he had Hedge Bedstraw, G. album, on Crook Peak; and the day after that he picked up Marsh Bedstraw, G. palustre, at Wick Lane, Brent Knoll. And, not wanting to miss out completely on this sudden rash of bedstraws, I can also report seeing Fen Bedstraw, G. uliginosum, flowering nicely today at Mount Fancy, Staple Hill. To put these dates into some kind of perspective, Walter Watson’s FFDs for verum and album were 25th June, palustre 10th June, and uliginosum 3rd August.
Our only other target ‘G’ was Dyer’s Greenweed, Genista tinctoria, flowering at Thurlbear on the 26th and at Ellen’s place ‘up north’ on the 28th. Amongst other ‘G’s, there were records of Goat’s-rue, Galega officinalis, in Minehead on the 25th (Alastair),
Gallant-soldier, Galinsoga parviflora, in Bridgwater on the 31st (Steve), Yellow Horned-Poppy, Glaucium flavum, at Dunster beach on the 25th (Alastair), and Corn Marigold, Glebionis segetum, near Nynehead on the 23rd (Linda). There were also three records for flowering French Oat-grass, Gaudinia fragilis, from Yarley, Brent Knoll and a field near Thurlbear. The last was in a new monad, in a field through which I’ve walked, probably every week, for the last 25 years. I’d like to think it must be a recent arrival, or else I’ve been extremely good at overlooking it all these years. I suspect the latter.
‘G’ is also for (botanical) Graffiti. Several of you have been in touch about the #morethanweeds campaign, becoming popular during lockdown, to chalk up the names of ‘weeds’ (sic) growing in urban streets, in pavement cracks and on roadside walls and verges. It’s simple really, you just head out with some coloured chalks, then write on the pavement or wall the English and scientific names of the plants you find. The hope is that people walking by will be encouraged to notice these street plants, and their names, and maybe come to value them more as a result. I mean to start my own campaign of pavement-scribbling soon, as well as posting a few pictures on our recently-formed neighbourhood WhatsApp group—Mexican Fleabane, Water Bent, Adria Bellflower, Ivy-leaved Toadflax, Argentinian Fleabane, Musk Stork’s-bill, etc, etc… And the odd dandelion too. But it turns out someone’s already on the case, as I’ve just come across an ‘annotated’ Herb Robert growing against a wall in Eastbourne Terrace. That’s got to be my plant of the week. And it was flowering too.
‘H’. Three target ‘H’s, and all of them picked up by somebody in Week 11. Bristly Ox-tongue, Helminthotheca echioides, was seen in Taunton on the 28th, and at Lilstock on the 2nd (Ro). Hairy St John’s-wort, Hypericum hirsutum, was on Crook Peak on the 31st (Andrew), and at Thurlbear on the 1st, while Perforate St John’s-wort, H. perforatum, was seen on waste ground in Taunton on the 1st, and in Langford Budville on the 2nd (Chris). We’ve also had records this week for Meadow Barley, Hordeum secalinum, in Bridgwater and Taunton. ‘H’ of the week, though, has to be Andrew’s Lizard Orchid, Himantoglossum hircinum, at Berrow on the 22nd.
‘H’ is also for Helena, who’s beaten her personal best so often in the last fortnight it’s making me dizzy just thinking about it.
‘I’. The normal colour variety of Stinking Iris, Iris foetidissima, is now flowering quite widely, following an early first sighting at Lilstock on the 19th (Ro), then Thurlbear and Orchard Wood on the 23rd (me) and Brent Knoll on the 29th (Andrew). Ro’s experience is worth sharing, since it shows the lengths to which we’re prepared to go when plant hunting: “I had one of those walks that just turns out horrid. An arable field edge … had become choked with tangled Alexanders and blackthorn suckers … and Brambles, so I had a hellish struggle to get round … I managed to collect two ticks and get stung and prickled.” But it was worth it, in the end, as she also picked up her first flowers of Stinking Iris—or Gladdon as she and several others have called it. This name is derived, apparently, from the Latin Gladiolus, and was formerly applied also to Yellow Flag, I. pseudacorus, when early botanists knew it as ‘water gladiolus.’ (With thanks to Geoffrey Grigson.)
‘J’. A rush of rushes this week, with first-flowerings noted for Hard, J. inflexus, on the 23rd (Kate), Soft, J. effusus, and Compact, J. conglomeratus, on the 26th at Thurlbear, and a trio of Toad, bufonius, Bulbous, J. bulbosus, and Jointed, J. articulatus all flowering up at Mount Fancy earlier today. Watson would have expected these to be coming into flower in the last ten days of June, except for J. bulbosus for which his FFD was the 16th. So they’re all jolly early, basically. Has the dry weather sped them up, I wonder?
‘L’. Grass-leaved Vetchling, Lathyrus nissolia, and Meadow vetchling, L. pratensis, are both flowering well now, while there have been further records for Fairy Flax, Linum catharticum (me, at Thurlbear), Honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum (Gill and Liz, at North Wootton) and Purple Toadflax, Linaria purpurea (Dee, Clevedon). The first flowering Purple Loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria, was beside the river Tone on the 2nd.
‘M’. Tufted Forget-me-not, Myosotis laxa,this week, but still no Water Forget-me-not, M. scorpioides. Alastair, by the way, had Bastard Balm, Melittis melissophyllum, at Sully on the 20th. (Helena had some in her garden, but that probably shouldn’t count. Lovely picture though.) We’ve also had further records for Dwarf Mallow, Malva neglecta, Wall Lettuce, Mycelis muralis, both in Bridgwater, andCommon Cow-wheat, Melampyrum pratense, in both the Blackdowns and the Quantocks. The Thurlbear plants could well be subsp. commutatum, which is the subspecies that tends to occur on calcareous soils. It needs checking though, so there’s a specimen in the press for Fred to examine later…
‘O’. More records for Corky-fruited Water Dropwort, Oenanthe pimpinelloides, including near Castle Cary on the 24th (David Reid) and Bridgwater on the 25th (Steve). Several records of Bee Orchid, Ophrys apifera, too: Orchard Wood (me) and Yarley (Andrew), both on the 25th; Fiona’s lawn (no idea where she lives, maybe near Street?), on the 26th; and Chantry, on the 1st (Gill). And then, to cap it all, there was Jeanne and Tim’s Fly Orchids, Ophrys insectifera, on the 26th. And Andrew has just reported seeing first-flowering Common Restharrow, Ononis repens, at Berrow golf course. This would have been on next week’s list, had he managed not to see it. But he did, so it isn’t!
‘P’. We saw three of the four ‘P’s on offer: Canary Reed-grass, Phalaris arundinacea,was flowering well beside the river Tone at Obridge on the 29th; Selfheal, Prunella vulgaris, had just started flowering at Yarley on the 25th (Andrew) and at Orchard Wood on the 27th; and Greater Plantain, Plantago major, flowering (if you can call it that) on a road verge in Taunton on the 30th. Which just leaves Timothy, Phleum pratense, to carry over to Week 12.
‘R’. Interesting to note how much later-flowering Field Rose, Rosa arvensis, is than Dog-rose, R. canina. That was the case in Watson’s day, too. Whereas our first R. canina, was on 28th April (Watson’s = 22nd May), our first R. arvensis wasn’t until 28th May when Linda had it at Langford Heathfield (Watson’s = 7th June). The next day, on the 29th, Gill saw it at Truddoxhill, while my own first for it was on the 30th in Taunton.
‘S’. Firsts this last fortnight for Small Scabious, Scabiosa columbaria, on the 30th (Georgina, Draycott Sleights), Pepper-saxifrage, Silaum silaus, on the 23rd (Kate, Stolford), and Wood Club-rush, Scirpus sylvaticus, on the 29th (me, river Tone at Obridge). Nothing much else of note, although good to see that Ragged Robin, Silene flos-cuculi, now being widely reported, as also Common Figwort, Scrophularia nodosa, and Water Figwort, S. auriculata.
‘T’. A third record for Hop Trefoil, this one from Linda on the 30th in Wivvy. More significant, though, was Georgina’s discovery, on the same day, of Wild Thyme, Thymus drucei aka praecox aka polytrichus, just starting to flower on Draycott Sleights.
‘V’. And, as usual, ending with our ‘V’ of the week… This time, Andrew’s patch of Tufted Vetch, Vicia cracca, at Wick Lane, Brent Knoll.
Many thanks, as always, for your records over the last fortnight, and apologies for any that didn’t get a mention.
We’ve been recording first flowering dates (FFDs) for ten weeks now, and with lockdown beginning to be eased—and with me taking a one-week sabbatical over the Whit half-term week—this seems like as good a moment as any to look back and take stock.
I think we all feel that this year’s march of spring has, so far, been an exceptionally rapid and early one. But is this perception borne out by the data we’ve been collecting?
In Somerset we have two datasets against which we can usefully compare this year’s FFDs.
• The first is a Table of ‘average flowering times’ produced by eminent local botanist Walter Watson in the first half of the last century. This includes both FFDs and flowering period. So, for example, the average FFD for Bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, he calculated to be 12th April, while the flowering period was noted as usually being April-May, but with occasional early starts in March and late finishes in June. His Table, which runs to eighteen-and-a-half pages and more than 800 species, was published in the Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society (SANHS) for 1947. To anyone even vaguely interested in flowering times, Watson’s ‘Big Table’ is like gold dust. His dates were, for the most part, based on at least ten years’ observations. Much of his fieldwork was carried out in the Taunton area.
• The second dataset, modest in comparison, is from my own survey—again based mainly on observations in the Taunton area—beginning in 2008. My initial aim was to emulate Watson’s earlier survey by recording at least a decade’s-worth of FFDs for each species. By 2017 this had been achieved for 339 species, along with a further 216 species more patchily recorded. 2008-17 average FFDs for the first group—the 339—were calculated, and similarities and differences between these and Watson’s dates were summarised in the SANHS Proceedings for 2019. For all species combined, FFDs for the decade 2008-17 were found to be, on average, about two weeks earlier than in Watson’s day.
So, how do FFDs for the spring of 2020 compare with Watson’s dates, and with my own 2008-17 average FFDs? It would be astonishing if this year’s FFDs weren’t early at least by Watson’s standards, but are they really much different to those of other, more recent, springs?
Comparing our ‘combined’ FFDs with Watson’s dates
First, let’s look at this year’s SRPG records against Watson’s dates. Of the 339 target species, we have already recorded FFDs for 266 of them. (Note this includes my own dates for species coming into flower between the start of January and mid-March, before our lockdown project began.) In Fig. 1 each point is a species, and its location is determined by Watson’s date (along the x axis) and our date (up the y). The numbers along each axis refer to Day Number, with Day 1 being 1st Jan., Day 32 being 1st Feb., etc, etc. The diagonal red line marks the line along which the data-points would lie if this year’s FFDs were identical to those recorded by Watson. Above the line, the 2020 FFD is later than Watson’s date, below the line is earlier.
I’m no statistician—never have been, never will be—but I think any sane person would be forced to conclude from Fig. 1 that FFDs in 2020 have (so far) been exceptionally early in comparison with Watson’s dates almost a century ago; indeed, many of our dates are more than a month earlier. Only two species, Blackgrass, Alopecurus myosuroides, and Gooseberry, Ribes uva-crispa, had later dates than Watson’s.
Comparing our ‘combined’ FFDs with the 2008-17 average FFDs for the Taunton area
How do our dates compare with FFDs from my 2008-17 survey centred on the Taunton area? Fig. 2 is constructed in the same way as Fig. 1, but for each species the value along the x axis is the average FFD for the period 2008-17 rather than Watson’s date. The red line marks the line along which the data-points would lie if our FFDs this year were identical to the 2008-17 average FFDs – above the line is later than the decadal average, below the line is earlier.
There are, once again, very few species above the red line, although the gap between the mass of points below the red line and the red line itself is perhaps not quite as large as that in Fig. 1.
One reasonable objection to the above comparisons is that both Watson’s dates and my own 2008-17 FFDs are based on the observations of one pair of eyes operating across a fairly restricted geographical area, whereas our ‘combined’ first-flowering records for 2020 have had the benefit of many pairs of eyes and much wider geographical scope. One might expect the latter to produce an earlier crop of dates than the former. So, just to make sure, let’s make one more comparison…
Comparing my own 2020 FFDs with 2008-17 average FFDs
Another graph, then, but this time comparing like with like: i.e. one person’s observations in 2020 against that same person’s observations between 2008 and 2017. And still you’ll notice that the data-points are, for the most part, below the line, indicating that my own FFDs this year are generally early in comparison with dates from the period 2008-2019—and this, despite the logistical and geographical constraints imposed by lockdown.
One further observation, and then I’ll shut up. As already noted, of the 339 species for which we have 2008-17 average FFDs, we have, between us, so far spotted 266 in flower. This spring, 94 of these—so more than one-third of the total—have had their earliest FFD on record, i.e. since 2008. Even within my own records, 55 species (so far) have had their ‘earliest ever’ FFDs. That’s a higher figure, at this stage in the year, than in any other year of the study. And yet the flip side to this statistic is also true, that for the vast majority of species the ‘earliest ever’ FFD wasn’t in 2020.
Many thanks to everyone for their records so far. It has been the strangest of springs, in ways both botanical and not-so-botanical, but it’s not over yet! We still have many species to search for, so it would be good to keep going a little longer if we can. Is it too fanciful to imagine that when we spot our first blossoming Ivy, Hedera helix—in the first week of September (ish)—we could be together, as a group, rather than each of us still isolated on our own patch?