Botany Group Meetings held in 2008

Field Cow-wheat working party – 13th January

Field Cow-wheat ©

Field Cow-wheat ©

After an unsettled week, the weather on Sunday morning was anxiously watched and when a report of favourable conditions on the Undercliff was reported by our on-the-spot volunteers, we went ahead with the meeting.

The bank was cleared thoroughly and a germinating seed was found. The reports of flowering from last summer had indicated a poor year. There was discussion as to whether the site was becoming shaded by the hedgerow, and this needs to be kept under review.

Anne Marston

Indoor meeting – 19th January

The indoor meeting gives the opportunity for the members of the group to make short presentations relating to botanical matters and to bring specimens and photographs for display.

Paul Stanley told us about the Flora of Brighstone Parish, which he and Margaret Burnhill are compiling. Much of the recording is complete and writing up is underway.

Dave Trevan gave a presentation on Cock’s-eggs (Salpichroa origanifolia), which has become established on the Undercliff near to his home. It was first recorded here in 1927. Anne Marston described the recent work on Wood Calamint, which several members of the section have been monitoring for a number of years. It grows mostly on the roadside edge where it is vulnerable to damage from passing traffic. Towards the end of last year, four small plants were transplanted (under licence from Natural England) to an area higher up the slope. Seed was also collected; some was scattered in the same area as the transplants and the remainder is being grown in pots. We hope to be able to plant out small plants in the autumn in the translocation area. The success of the experiment will be monitored and reported.

Andrew Marston from the University of Geneva gave an international flavour with a resume of his research into medicinal products from Field Gentian Gentianella campestris.

Colin Pope gave a presentation of the previous year’s botanical recording highlights which included the opportunity to look at some of the plant pictures in the Society’s photograph library. He also introduced the review of vascular plant species, which is required for the Island’s biodiversity action plan.

Finally teams applied their botanical knowledge in a ‘Happy botanical families’ picture quiz where points were awarded for correctly identifying the family of the central European plant pictured and naming its British relatives.

Anne Marston

Wood Calamint working party – 10th February

We had a good turn out for this meeting and were able to complete the clearance of both lay-bys and the section of slope between them. Last year some of the hazel on the slope was taken out creating a much larger open area. In December of last year four plants of Wood Calamint were transplanted to a level area above the first break of slope. We were pleased to see that three of the plants were still in evidence and had taken well. The site will be examined later to monitor progress. A visit to the site in May revealed a large swathe of nettles had developed in the upper parts of the slope and the lay-bys themselves had vigorous plant growth. Wood Calamint was visible and the situation will be observed periodically to decide on the best course of action.

Anne Marston

Fishbourne Copse – 12th April

Fishbourne Copse is an ancient woodland site (on the earliest maps and pre-dating 1600) between the Solent shore and Quarr Abbey. Our visit was timed to allow recording of the spring flora and the spring generation of gall causing organisms. We recorded 29 species of vascular plant that are associated with ancient woodlands including Narrow –leaved Lungwort (Pulmonaria longifolia) Sanicle (Sanicula europaea) and Tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum).

Of particular note was the ‘avenue’ of Butcher’s Broom (Ruscus aculeatus) bushes, each at least 1m high and similar diameter, which we found on the eastern edge of the wood. This plant was conspicuous throughout the wood, frequently below the branches of large oak trees. This observation gave rise to the suggestion that it was spread in the droppings of roosting birds.

Seven species of gall were recorded of which two were new records for the site. Both were rusts, one (Puccinia vincae) which produced galls on Greater Periwinkle (Vinca major) and the other (Puccinia distincta) caused galls on Daisy (Bellis perennis). In addition, six species of leaf miner were observed, all of them producing narrow ‘corridor’ mines on the leaves of their various host plants, and ten micro-fungi.

On our return to the abbey, we walked through the garden where there was a magnificent magnolia in full bloom.

Anne Marston

Jersey Camp to look for violet hybrids – 11th May

This visit presented us with an opportunity to record the spring flora of the rich, unimproved neutral meadows at Jersey Camp in hot sunny weather. Green-winged Orchids (Orchis morio) were at their best, a week before the public walk, but numbers were considerably down on previous years, measured in low hundreds rather than thousands, seemingly part of an ongoing trend. We found two patches of Adder’s-tongue Fern (Ophioglossum vulgatum), always local here, and Paul Stanley found Longbracted Sedge (Carex extensa) by the Clamerkin.

The principal objective of the visit was to assess the current status of the scarce Heath Dog Violet (Viola canina). A visit by the BSBI here in May 2004 had concluded that all he plants seen had hybridised with Common Dog Violet (Viola riviniana), and the true species was no longer present. On our visit, we scoured the meadows and found three populations, all of which we believed to be pure Viola canina. To our relief, this was subsequently confirmed by the BSBI referee, Mike Hardman. However, a population growing on one of the firing banks was considered to be a strong candidate for the hybrid, Viola x intersita, and these plants are being further investigated.

Colin Pope

Newtown Meadows – 31st May

As the masses assembled in the National Trust carpark in warm sunshine, Bill Shepard pointed out the strong population of Mousetail (Myosurus minimus) in the field gate opposite, growing with Hairy Buttercup (Ranunculus sardous). We then walked through the Harts Farm fields to a field that had been restored to grassland by the National Trust by clearing scrub and grazing with goats.

We passed through one field that had a rich meadow flora, recording species such as Adder’stongue Fern (Ophioglossum vulgatum), Quaking Grass (Briza media), Oval Sedge (Carex ovalis), Heath Grass (Danthonia decumbens) and Devil’s-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis). We then spent some time in the restoration field, splitting into groups and recording all the species we could find for the National Trust’s records. We were able to produce a good list, which comprised a mixture of meadow and woodland species. There was much debate regarding a number of possible hybrids in the field, the outcome of which is dependent upon further studies.

Colin Pope

Knighton Down – 15th June

We began our survey on the west-facing slope, which we had not previously surveyed. This proved to have a number of plants characteristic of chalk grassland including Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor), Squinancywort (Asperula cynanchica), Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum), Wild Thyme (Thymus polytrichus) and Hoary Plantain (Plantago media) but it was not as herb-rich as the south-facing slope. On this slope, we found Bastard Toadflax (Thesium humifusum), Autumn Gentian (Gentianella amarella), Harebell (Campanula rotundifolium), Milkwort (Polygala vulgaris) and Rockrose (Helianthemum nummularium) among other species.

Pyramidal Orchid ©

Pyramidal Orchid ©

We identified seven different species of thistle, six of which were in flower, giving the opportunity to observe the differences between them: Welted Thistle (Carduus crispus), Musk Thistle (Carduus nutans), Slender Thistle (Carduus tenuiflorus), Spear Thistle (Cirsium vulgare), Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense), Dwarf Thistle (Cirsium acaule) and Carline Thistle (Carlina vulgaris).

Of additional interest, and proving very colourful, was the verge on the south side of the road, in particular the fine show of Pyramidal Orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis) and a Sweet Briar (Rosa rubiginosa) in full bloom.

Anne Marston

Kern Farm – 13th July

Kern Farm lies north of the village of Alverstone. The southern part is on sandy soils and stretches down to the Eastern Yar, and at the northern edge is Kern Down, which has a chalk flora and extensive views to the south. It rises steeply and, as it has not been cultivated, it has a good range of flowers. The Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis) was making a good show, as were Eyebright (Euphrasia agg), Squinancywort (Asperula cynachica) and Carline Thistle (Carlina vulgaris). Fiddle Dock (Rumex pulcher) a plant with distinctive leaves was found at the western end on the edge of a chalk pit. Its distribution on the Island is fairly localised, and this site fits the pattern of it occurring on dry south-facing banks.

During the course of the afternoon a rare shield bug Canthophorus impressus was found. It is about 6mm long, iridescent dark blue in colour, and feeds on bastard toadflax, a rare chalk grassland plant. It has also been seen on Tennyson Down and West High Down this year.

Bembridge Point – 9th August

There has recently been extensive clearance of Sea Buckthorn scrub on Bembridge Point and we were intending to record the flora that is re-establishing in the cleared areas. However the continuous drizzle, which had set in during the morning persisted and developed into heavier rain so our meeting was cut short. However under the guidance of Ann Campbell who has made a detailed study of the area this year we were able to look for some of the site’s specialities. Rough Dog’s-tail (Cynosurus echinatus) and Hare’s-tail (Lagurus ovata) are two distinctive grasses found there. Fragrant Evening-primrose (Oenothera stricta) and Sea Rocket (Cakile maritima) have both been particularly common this year, and the population of Tree Lupin (Lupinus arboreus) has increased. The striking blue-flowered Kangaroo-apple (Solanum laciniatum), an alien species, has also appeared this year.

St Helens Duver – 6th September

Our meeting at St Helens Point was punctuated by heavy showers, necessitating a retreat back to the cars at one stage. However we did manage to record about 40 species in total. Dwarf Mallow (Malva neglecta) and Common Stork’s-bill (Erodium cicutarium) were flowering well, but the Autumn Squill (Scilla autumnalis) was almost over. Plants of Bulbous Meadow-grass (Poa bulbosa) were recognisable by their swollen leaf bases, which break off the plant and enable it to spread. By the Old Mill Pond there were a range of saltmarsh plants, including Annual Seablite (Suaeda maritima), Sea Milkwort (Glaux maritima), Annual Glasswort (Salicornia europaea) and Sea Purslane (Atriplex portulacoides). Sea Wormwood (Seriphidium maritima), a plant that is known from only three locations on the Island, was re-found.

Fishbourne Copse – 11th October

A warm sunny afternoon was ideal for our second visit to the ancient woodland bordering the Solent shore to the north of Quarr Abbey. The meeting got off to an excellent start when we had a good view of two red squirrels chasing each other round one of the large trees near the buildings. The main purpose of our meeting was to record leaf miners, galls and microfungi. Progress around the wood, initially was slow as members of the group collected many specimens for David Biggs to identify either at the time, or in the following days. We were able to add considerably to our list from earlier in the year and in total added 27 new species to the list for this site of which 10 were galls, 8 were microfungi and 9 were leaf miners.

We found a total of 13 species using the English Oak (Quercus robur) as their host including some well-known galls caused by gall wasps such as oak apples (caused by Biorhiza pallida), marble galls (caused by Andricus kollari), knopper galls on acorns (caused by A. quercuscalicis) and silk button spangle galls on the leaves (caused by Neuroterus numismalis). Field Maple (Acer campestre) and Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) each supported a total of five species of gall causer, leaf miner or microfungi.

Trees in Shanklin – 26th October

The object of this meeting, the third in three successive years was to introduce a neglected area of our knowledge of the vegetation of the Island. Three collections of trees, Tower Cottage Garden, Rylstone Garden and Big Mead, all in close proximity provided a wealth of diversity, far too numerous to enumerate in this short account. Mention must be made of the Liquidambar, freestanding in the middle of the lawn in Rylstone Garden, dressed in autumn colours. For an excellent introduction to this fascinating area, follow the Histree Trail leaflet number 7 “Groves and Gardens”.

Reports by Anne Marston except for ‘Trees in Shanklin’ contributed by Bill Shepard