Wednesday, 16 April 2014

At the foot of a wall...

Wayside weeds, so often ignored, are inevitably of interest ecologically. To cope with the unnatural conditions with which they live requires a rather special kind of toughness and adaptability. The late Sir Edward Salisbury made these plants his life's work and his classic book "Weeds and Aliens" still occupies an important place among my books even though it was published (in the famous Collins "New Naturalist" series) fifty years ago.

Even in towns and cities these tough characters may be found - in guttering, quiet side alleys and at the foot of walls. In a village like Byfield they are prolific and often very colorful.

Common Corn Salad. Bell Lane, Byfield, 14 April, 2014
Common Corn Salad, Valerianella locusta, was once a rather scarce plant in Northants but has become far more widespread in recent years and is frequent at the foot of walls in Byfield. At a quick glance it could easily be mistaken for a Forget-me-not but a closer look shows numerous differences. It was once gathered from cornfields and used as a salad plant. An alternative name is Lamb's Lettuce.

A closer look reveals dainty five-petalled flowers. As mentioned in an earlier blog, this member of the Valerianaceae is not often eaten nowadays, despite being easy to grow, but contains high levels of Vitamin C and iron.

Forget-me-nots (Myosotis species) occur in the village at the base of walls on the A361.

Myosotis sylvatica at the base of a wall in Byfield.
15 April, 2014

In this case the species is Wood Forget-me-not and here it is a garden escape. It is widely naturalised across the county and wider afield.

Procumbent Yellow-sorrel. Bell Lane, Byfield.
14 April, 2014

The Corn Salad was photographed at the foot of a wall in Bell Lane, Byfield, and only a metre or so away was another plant of interest. With its pretty yellow flowers the Procumbent Yellow-sorrel, Oxalis corniculata. is very attractive. Do not introduce it into your garden! It seeds prolifically and has become a real nuisance in borders, rock gardens and so on.

Greater Celandine, Chelidonium majus.
Bell Lane, Byfield. 14 April, 2014
Greater Celandine, the subject of a previous blog (2 May, 2013), is now in bloom. This is a member of the Poppy Family (and thus only distantly related to the common Lesser Celandine); it is common around Byfield but generally in a multi-petalled form as distinct from the four-petalled "wild" form. Pretty though the flowers are it is hardly a garden-worthy plant. It is one of those plant which has oily seeds, dispersed by ants.

As is quite clear, the base of walls provides a congenial  home for many plant species. Many are annuals, often seeding prolifically. A case in point is the Shining Crane's-bill. Geranium lucidum.

Shining Crane's-bill beside the A361.
Byfield, 15 April, 2014

With its shiny leaves (often red-tinged), reddish stems and neat pink flowers it is easily recognised. In Byfield it grows prolifically where New Terrace meets the A361, but is common generally.

Various members of the Mint Family are also to be found in a similar situation. Three are all closely related: Lamium album, Lamium purpureum and Lamium maculatum. This genus gives its name to the family, the Lamiaceae.

White Dead-nettle, Church Street, Byfield.
16 April, 2014
This close-up of White Dead-nettle, Lamium album, shows the characteristic structure of the flowers. Each flower has bilateral symmetry (botanists use the term zygomorphic) and is designed for pollination by bees. Although found in many natural-looking habitats it is generally regarded as an archaeophyte - a plant probably introduced by man but many centuries ago.

Red Dead-nettle at the foot of a wall.
Byfield, 16 April, 2014 

Red Dead-nettle, Lamium purpureum, is also an archaeophyte and I cannot recall ever seeing it in anything other than obviously man-made sites.  Like virtually all members of the Lamiaceae its leaves have a pungent odour when rubbed. (Lavender, sage and thyme are all in this large family.) Both this and the previous species may be found flowering in the depths of winter.

Lamium maculatum near Holy Cross Church.
Byfield, 16 April, 2014

The Spotted Dead-nettle, Lamium maculatum, is a neophyte, and is a garden escape not recorded in Northants prior to 1905. The common name is hardly appropriate as the leaves are generally striped rather than spotted. This native of central and southern Europe is very frequently seen in gardens but sometimes becomes a problem, spreading only too freely.

It will be noted that, with the exception of Shining Crane's-bill, all these plants are introductions, either from the distant past - when they may have been introduced by neolithic farmers as grain impurities - or relatively recent times. To quote Sir Edward Salisbury: "...many, and indeed perhaps most, weeds are either known to be introductions or are under suspicion of having been such."  Two obvious exceptions to this rule are Perennial Stinging Nettle and Blackberry Brambles, native plants which are thugs if not ruthlessly controlled. However, as they are not often found at the foot of walls they are of only parenthetic interest.

I have picked out just a handful of the more colorful weeds of Byfield's byways. In my self-indulgent way I may be moved to deal with more 'in the fullness of time'.

No comments:

Post a Comment