New Year Plant Hunt – Grantham 2017

The first few days of New Year can be a little underwhelming – Christmas is over and it’s a long old drag until springtime. But there’s still colour and life out there and the BSBI‘s annual New Year Plant Hunt is a great way to experience this, as well as contribute your data to a national recording scheme. Everybody is welcome to get involved – even if this is just spotting a daisy on the lawn or gorse flowering by the roadside on your way to work!

Last year I found 44 species flowering in Grantham so I thought I’d cover a similar patch this year and see what I could find!

I started just before sunrise on a Bank Holiday Monday – thinking this would be a good time to explore the roads and walls around the centre without too many funny looks! It was just below zero and as slippery as an ice-rink when I started but the road down from the Railway Station was a very fruitful location with yarrow and daisy visible before I even got out of the car! A total of nine species were flowering here against the wall including two non-natives – Oxford ragwort and Guernsey fleabane. The sun strikes this wall first thing in the morning which might explain why this spot was good for flowers persisting through the winter.

Around Grantham town itself, I found a few more species including feverfew, smooth sow-thistle and common chickweed. A wander around the Sainsbury’s carpark also provided me with a flowering grass – annual meadowgrass.

Down by the River Witham, the earliest blackthorn I know was in flower – just a couple of individual flowers amongst the bare branches – along with frosted white deadnettle and the winter heliotrope.

Onwards through St Wulfrum’s churchyard, I picked up shepherd’s purse flowering in the sunshine against the stone archway of the South Entrance. Sun spurge was another species growing next to a pedestrian crossing – this is a species whose flowers look so much like leaves that you really do need to know to lean close and check in order to realise they’re in bloom!

A few naturalised species were added to the list as I continued around Grantham. These were not growing in gardens but were self-set, often finding little niches in walls or at the edges of pavements. Such species flourish in urban settings, where there are plenty of gardens to escape from and little niches of soil and warmth in which seeds can germinate and bloom. This collection includes yellow corydalis, greater periwinkle and Michaelmas daisy.

One advantage of carrying out a Plant Hunt on your home-turf is visiting locations where you have seen species flowering in the lead-up to Christmas. In this case, a carpark towards the north of the town had a colony of gallant soldier – a member of the daisy family with large yellow centres and white petals. Red deadnettle and ox-eye daisy were also flowering on the walls here, along with a stalwart of the NY Plant Hunt – the beautiful ivy-leaved toadflax.

I walked up to the Hills and Hollows above Grantham to finish – picking up a few individual dogwood flowers amongst the unopened buds, along with red campion and, of course, gorse to finish. The saying goes ‘when gorse is out of flower, kissing is out of fashion‘ and this held as true as always with several bunches of yellow flowers brightening the spiky shrubs.

Nine kilometers and three hours later, my total count this year was 30 species – not too bad but lower than any of my counts from last year. The beginning of 2016 was preceded by unusually mild weather and many late-season species were still hanging on. This year by contrast, we have had a few good frosts which I know have finished off a few plants which were in flower up until that point including yellow toadflax and common mallow. This trend for lower numbers seems to be mirrored by others who have completed counts across the midlands and east, but we will need to await the full results to fully understand the picture for this year.

A new feature of the hunt this year is the excellent New Year Plant Hunt App which you can download here – this is so easy to use on a smartphone when you’re out hunting, or equally easy to enter the data into when you get back home. I uploaded all of my data onto the app and even popped back on to edit a record the next morning, when I realised I had made an error in the ID of one species. It works off the back of the iRecord system and is a good introduction to an excellent tool for keeping and submitting biological records when you’re out and about.

Linked in with the app, is a brilliant Results website which updates the records on the fly, showing the locations where hunts have been completed and tallying up the most commonly recorded species to date. So far, daisy is in the lead with groundsel running a close second, but with a day to go yet, there’s all to play for! Get out and see what you can find – Happy Hunting!

A montage of all the flowers found and photographed for the New Year Plant Hunt around Grantham in 2017

4 thoughts on “New Year Plant Hunt – Grantham 2017

  1. Malcolm January 5, 2017 / 2:02 pm

    I see that you have changed Canadian Fleabane to Guernsey Fleabane after a discussion on Twitter. I have found both Canadian and Guernsey Fleabane scattered in Grantham town centre. In Castlegate both species grow quite close together. To separate the two I have tended to use another characteristic as well. The hairs on the leaf margin of Canadian Fleabane are more or less straight in the proximal region but curved forward on the rest of the margin. The marginal hairs on the leaves of Guernsey Fleabane are all curved forward. The Key in Stace, Third Edition, is very useful.

    It seems that Guernsey Fleabane flowers for a longer time than Canadian Fleabane. I have found this to be so with the plants I have observed in Grantham. In November the Canadian Fleabane in Castlegate had shed its seed but the Guernsey Fleabane was still tight in bud. However, it is an observation that needs further investigation.

    • Grantham Ecology January 5, 2017 / 7:03 pm

      Hi Malcolm,

      Thanks for the tip – an extra useful characteristic! I did switch the species as Martin was quite right that the photograph showed Guernsey – the slightly annoying thing is that the plant I photographed was one in the sunshine later on, rather than the one I inspected and checked against the key earlier so I might have had both Canadian and Guernsey – however as I can only be confident on the Guernsey then I’ll stick with that one! I’ve spotted the Canadian around Grantham in the past too, so they’re certainly both out there! I’ll check out the Castlegate plants next time I’m in town and see if any are in flower!

      • Malcolm January 7, 2017 / 3:38 pm

        For my own use I have adapted the Key from ‘Stace’, 3rd. Edition. I take this with me to remind me of the features to look for to determine the species. However, the identification may need to be checked against a detailed description of the species as can be found in ‘Sell and Murrell’. Unfortunately, ‘Sell and Murrell’ use a different classification.

        You may find this of use.

        (a) Yellowish green
        (b) Glabrous to sparsely hairy
        (a) Base of leaves with hairs more or less at right angles to the edge
        (b) Hairs on rest of leaf edge pointing forward and almost parallel to it

        Conyza canadensis
        Conyza floribunda

        (a)Ligules of outermost ray florets overtopping phyllaries = Conyza canadensis
        (b)Ligules of outermost ray florets not overtopping phyllaries = Conyza floribunda (Conyza bilbaoana)

        (a) Greyish green
        (b) Hairy to densely hairy
        (a) Entire margin with forward pointing, more or less appressed hairs

        Conyza sumatrensis
        Conyza bonariensis

        (a) Ligules of outermost ray florets present and not overtopping the phyllaries which may be minutely red-tipped = Conyza sumatrensis
        (b) Ray florets have no ligules. Phyllaries often conspicuously red-tipped = Conyza bonariensis

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