Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Parson's Spinney - SP505527

The stream forms the spine of
Parson's Spinney. 2 December, 2013
Byfield Pool has been created by blocking a little stream which otherwise would run straight into Boddington Reservoir. This stream appears to have no name, yet I regard it as quite important, not just for supplying Byfield Pool with water but for having carved out a small yet interesting valley. The sides of the valley are clothed with trees, whilst the wet valley bottom has a limited but luxuriant carpet of plants and a rich moss flora, flourishing in the humid conditions. These trees, and their associated flora, form Parson's Spinney.

The trunk of Wild Cherry or Gean,
showing the distinctive bark. Parson's
Spinney, 2 December, 2013

Beech trunk at Parson's Spinney,
2 December, 2013
The majority of the trees are Ash, and there are several strong-growing oaks plus a handful of Beech trees. But the most interesting by far are several Wild Cherry trees (Prunus avium), creating a lovely sight in late spring - one which would have gladdened the heart of A.E.Housman. Even in the winter, though most of their leaves have fallen, they are easily picked out by their distinctive trunks, the bark of which peels off in annular strips. The beeches are easily recognised too, with their grey, rather smooth bark. In some cases the beech trunks are strongly tinted green due to the presence of microscopic algae such as Pleurococcus. As my photograph shows, the lovely golden-brown leaves of Beech often cling on long after those of other deciduous trees have fallen. The cherries are undoubtedly native to our county; the status of beeches is far less certain but, even if they are a long-standing introduction going back many centuries, they are now well established and grow readily from seed.

Elder Whitewash, Hyphodontia sambuci.
Parson's Spinney. 2 December, 2013

The beeches and cherries cling to the higher parts of the valley, where the well-drained conditions suit them. The wetter valley floor hosts willow trees in abundance and, whereas the trunks of the cherries and beeches support few mosses, the willows and elder are often covered to such an extent that only small patches of bark show through. Fungi too are common, such as this appropriately named Elder Whitewash, Hyphodontia sambuci, here clothing a dead branch.

Unsurprisingly,  ferns flourish too. with several fine specimens of Broad Buckler-fern (Dryopteris dilatata) to be seen. An interesting anthomyid fly, Chirosia betuleti, occurs on this fern but I searched for its presence (it forms a gall, giving a mop-headed ending to the fronds) in vain. My examination of the fern flora was rather perfunctory and I must go back for another look. 

Broad Buckler Fern.
Parson's Spinney, 2 December, 2013

As I have already mentioned, mosses were abundant, in quantity if not in variety of species. I did not anticipate finding anything out of the ordinary and my pessimism proved to be justified. Forming extensive patches on the woodland floor was the Hart's-tongue Thyme-moss, Plagiomnium undulatum. One older name for this moss is the Palm-tree Moss. 

Plagiomnium undulatum at Parson's Spinney.
2 December, 2013

Plagiomnium undulatum, here
justifying its old name of Palm-Tree Moss.
 2 December, 2013

This name may not seem appropriate but if a plant is teased out from the tangled mass the reason becomes obvious. 

I will not bore my readers with further details of what are generally regarded as bits of "green fuzzy stuff" as Peter Creed and Tom Haynes put it*, but I hope to continue investigating Parson's Spinney in order to produce as extensive a moss flora of the site as possible.

* Creed and Haynes (2013) A Guide to finding Mosses in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. 

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