Week 12 Roundup

Week 12 Roundup : 10th June

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.