New Year Plant Hunt 2018

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!

I’ve walked the same New Year Plant Hunt route at the beginning of each month since January 2017 and thought it would be interesting to view the results of the January 2018 hunt in the context of the year passed.

I would caveat this by saying it is very sketchy data to base any assumptions on so this should be considered ‘observations and possible trends’ rather than anything more robust. It is a single transect, over a single year in a single geographic location. It is  also along a route which is incidentally prone to the machinations of land owners and council contractors being focused on streets, parks and carparks. This means that species which I know to have been in flower can disappear from the record because somebody has tidied up the only place in my transect where they grow. This could account for gaps in particular species which does not actually have any reflection on their ecology! Furthermore, these records may relate to a single individual with a single flower being found on the transect – it has nothing to do with abundance or dominance. I found one tatty cow parsley in flower in January 2018 but there were swathes of them flowering in  April 2017 – presence may relate to exceptions and outliers rather than reflecting standard flowering ecology.

The Constants

There are a number of species I picked up on the 2018 New Year Plant Hunt which I had found in flower every month of previous year along the same transect route. In all, 50% of the flowers I found in January 2018 had been recorded flowering along the transect in 9 or more months during the previous year.

The species recorded in every single month were daisy, ivy-leaved toadflax, white deadnettle and shepherd’s purse. Alongside these were a number of species where I had only missed them in either one or two months in the previous year – these included annual meadowgrass, sun spurge, oxford ragwort, common chickweed, snapdragon (naturalised), yarrow, Guernsey fleabane and petty spurge.

constants
The ‘Constants’ – these were from photographs taken throughout the year and not taken on the day – the dark start and lunchtime rain made photography difficult!

Interestingly, the missing months when I hadn’t found these individual species in flower were clustered around March/April time but in all cases, they had been consistently in flower since September. This could indicate a flowering season which is all year round, or could represent a long flowering season which begins in the late spring and continues to early spring depending on the winter weather for duration. It could also represent an anthropogenic phenomena I noticed which was that winter ‘weeds’ were often ignored in January to March but a colony was often wiped out when the weather warmed up and people turned their attention to de-greening the edges of pavements!

Long-season species

Those species found flowering in only nine months in 2017 continue the distribution trend noticed in the near-constants – feverfew and hedge mustard were found in January 2017 and 2018 but disappeared between February and April 2017 to then reappear and remain for the rest of the year. Hedgerow cranesbill and wall barley similarly disappeared between February and May and have been constant since.

Species with a lower number of records, perhaps considered more late-season than long-season, appeared in later-summer/autumn 2017 and persisted through the winter to January including bramble, blue fleabane and Canadian fleabane.

long season.jpg
The long- or late-season specialists – these were from photographs taken throughout the year and not taken on the day – the dark start and lunchtime rain made photography difficult!

These would accord with previous interpretations by BSBI scientists who concluded that most of the New Year Plant Hunt finds in 2017 were hangers-on from the last season rather than early arrivals from the new season. Late flowering and long flowering species might be expected to be particularly prone to this.

Winter/Spring Specialists

Several species recorded showed a markedly winter flowering period – winter heliotrope being the key example but alder and oragan grape also according with this pattern. Naturalised wood spurge and greater periwinkle also fit into this category, though their season seemed longer.

Cow parsley and  bittercress both showed a predominantly spring flowering pattern, but with sporadic flowering during the winter months as well.

Red dead nettle showed an interesting distribution – it went missing in the middle of the year between June and September but remained fairly constant otherwise. This almost indicates a winter-flowering strategy but with a much longer timeframe than things like alder which appear in flower only for a month or two. It could however be due to management removing the regular plants on my transect, resulting in an apparent gap in what is actually a constant species. Repeating the transects in 2018 would help clarify this!

spring1.jpg
The winter or spring flowering specialists – these were from photographs taken throughout the year and not taken on the day – the dark start and lunchtime rain made photography difficult!

 

Conclusion

Accounting for the various caveats in the data, there do appear to be three key categories to which the species flowering on my 2018 New Year Plant Hunt accord. Those which flower almost year-round; those which have a late flowering distribution which hangs on into winter; and those which are winter or early-spring flowering specialists.

I totted up 31 species on the regular transect of the New Year Plant Hunt, which is just under 20% of the total number of species I recorded across the year. What is missing from the transect in January is a host of spring flowers which will not appear for another month or two (such as violets, naturalised spring bulbs and woodland species such as ramsons); the vast majority of the trees and grasses; and the dominant summer species which flowered between May and July (such as hedge parsley, meadowsweet and black knapweed). Also missing are some of the autumn specialists with shorter flowering seasons (including ivy, Russian vine and Michaelmas daisy).

I do however hope to continue the transects through 2018 and build a more robust dataset over time as I think the context it adds to the new year plant hunt is quite an interesting one!

Find out more about the BSBI’s 2018 New Year Plant Hunt results on their website here!

Bonsai botany

Chalk grasslands on downland are often case of bonsai botany – the low nutrient status due to the chalky substrate, combined with grazing by sheep or cows favours low creeping species, or those willing to operate in miniature.

Squinancy wort - Asperula cynanchica
Squinancy wort – Asperula cynanchica

Squinancywort is a small, mauve-lilac flowered member of the bedstraw family, of which the strong, scrambling sticky-weed or cleavers is perhaps the most commonly known example.

Ladies bedstraw - Galium verum
Ladies bedstraw – Galium verum

Ladies bedstraw is another member of the bedstraw family – the four-petalled flowers are common to all members of the bedstraws although the majority are white – ladies bedstraw is one of two yellow flowered members of the genus.

Beaked Hawk's-beard - Crepis vesicaria
Beaked Hawk’s-beard – Crepis vesicaria

Beaked hawk’s beard is usually a more robust plant, but here it was growing in a low, creeping habit. The red-flecked undersides to the petals however make it distinctive.

Common restharrow - Ononis repens
Common restharrow – Ononis repens

Common restharrow is a low-growing member of the pea family with beautiful, striated foxglove-purple flowers.

Bird's foot trefoil - Lotus spp.
Bird’s foot trefoil – Lotus spp.

Birds-foot trefoil is another member of the pea family with sunshine-yellow flowers. It is quite a common sight, often included in wildflower mixes and a big hit with many of the butteflies such as the skippers and the blues.

Kidney vetch - Anthyllis vulneraria
Kidney vetch – Anthyllis vulneraria

Kidney vetch is a third member of the pea family – the flower heads contain clusters of the small pea-flowers – just as the bird’s-foot trefoil but multiple and in miniature.

Small scabious - Scabiosa columbaria
Small scabious – Scabiosa columbaria

Small scabious is a a soft lilac coloured flower with open heads which attract a wide range of pollinators including solitary bees, bumblebees and butterflies.

Round-headed rampion - Phyteuma orbiculare
Round-headed rampion – Phyteuma orbiculare

Round-headed rampion is something of a rarity nationally, but was quite common in patches of the grassland on the south downs. It is the County Flower of Sussex and quite a striking blue up close. It seemed to be a particular favourite of the six-spot burnet moths which had just emerged, judging by the empty pupae cases lining the dry grass stems.

The downs have a particular character of their own, but many of the species above (with the exception of the rampion) can be seen much closer to home in the Midlands – there are a number of excellent calcareous grassland sites around Grantham, the finest of which has to be Barnack Hills and Holes NNR just down the A1 near Stamford but a number of other Lincolnshire and Leicestershire Wildlife Trust sites also boast an exciting range of calcareous meadow species – use the Nature Finder app to see what is closest to you.

New Year Plant Hunt

The Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) runs an annual ‘New Years Plant Hunt’ which invites people to record species in flower between 1st and 4th of January. The aim is to find as many species in flower as you can within a 3 hour period. This is partly for fun but will also provide a dataset which could be used to compare trends between years and potentially geographical differences too.

My effort was a little poor as I only had a lunch break to hunt in but I managed to find 9 species in flower on the edge of Grantham. Surprisingly, the majority of records were from amenity grassland (lawns) and roadsides rather than the more species rich habitats at the Hills and Hollows to the south-east of the town.

My list was as follows:

  • Daisy (Bellis perennis)
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale agg.)
  • Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
  • Field speedwell (Veronica persica)
  • Gorse (Ulex europaeus)
  • Annual meadow grass (Poa annua)
  • Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)
  • Common chickweed (Stellaria media)
  • White dead-nettle (Lamium album)
White dead-nettle (Lamium album)
White dead-nettle (Lamium album)

All of the species were long-flowering rather than early specialists. A long flowering species can be found throughout the year such as dandelions, daisy and gorse – the old saying goes that ‘when gorse is out of flower, kissing is out of fashion’.

Gorse (Ulex europaeus)
Gorse (Ulex europaeus)

There are a range of species which selectively flower early in the year and can be found flowering as early as January – this includes species such as winter aconite, winter heliotrope and dog’s mercury. None of the species I spotted fell into this category.

Flower colour is a project I am exploring this year and it seems a good opportunity to consider the distribution of flower colours in January. Three of the species I found were white, four species are yellow, one species is green and one species is blue. This well reflects the colours of January flowers where white and yellow dominate; followed by green and blue; with pink and purple trailing at the back. For more information on this project, follow the Caratinoid&Betalain twitter feed or take a look at the Flower Colour UK blog.

Jan Colours