Week 14 & 15 Roundup

Weeks 14 & 15 Roundup : 1st July

“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

Exeter Chiefs14v.Sarracens7  
f. arvensis20v.f. notatus3  
f. pallidiroseus9v.f. pallidinotatus5  
f. pentarrhabdotus17v.f. pentastictus1  
f. decarrhabdotus7v.f. decemvulnerus1  
f. perroseus11v.f. quinquevulnerus0  

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, Hydrocotyle vulgaris, 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…