Sunday, 11 August 2019

Abington Meadow, with postscript

Abington Meadow is quite a large area of River Nene floodplain on the southern perimeter of Northampton. Today it was the venue for a 'Bioblitz' - a meeting to which all recorders are invited in order to build up a comprehensive list of species present. Currently the list stands at 938 and given a reasonable day our combined efforts should see this total comfortably pass the 1000 mark.


I was only able to stay for a couple of hours and, shortly after leaving I ran into very heavy rain near Weedon. If this weather has affected the Abington area that will have put the kibosh on most recording.


Mints and their relatives were in full bloom and acted as a magnet for many insects. Unsurprisingly the commonest mint present was Water Mint, Mentha aquatica.

Water Mint was abundant in the flood plain. Abington Meadows,
11 August, 2019
It is common in  suitable habitats throughout Northants and was certainly familiar to John Clare: 

                   The brook resumes her summer dresses,
                   Purling* 'neath her grass and water-cresses,
                   And mint and flag-leaf swording high
                   Their blossom to the unheading sky.   

                                            Clare's Shepherd's Calendar, 1827 


Rather more interesting was Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium. This site is one of only a handful of sites in Northants for this species. Nationally it is listed in the Red Data Book as 'Endangered' and prior to its discovery at Abington Meadows it was thought to be extinct in the county.

Pennyroyal is now flourishing at Abington Meadows

It has a very pungent odour when trodden on and once had a reputation as an abortifacient. Pennyroyal may be a corruption of puliol royal, the Norman name for the plant (after the Latin pulegium , a flea deterrent).

The Gipsywort, Lycopus europaeus, could easily be mistaken for a mint, and indeed is a close relative. It too favours wet areas and, along with mints, it was described by G.C.Druce as 'paludal' (Ref. 1). It is still quite common though perhaps less so than in Druce's day. It was once believed to be used by gipsies to further darken their skin and so pass as Africans, but there seems little evidence that this was really the case. (Ref. 2)

Gipsywort was common beside the river at Abington Meadows.
11 August, 2019
Despite being mint-like its jagged leaves seem to be odourless, unusual in a family, the Lamiaceae, which also includes lavender, sage, thyme, hyssop, horehound, marjoram and rosemary.

'What of insects?' I hear you cry. The large and handsome hornet mimic, Volucella zonaria, was present (and is a new record for the site) but for the rest it will require a spot of microscopy, meticulousness and midnight oil to sort them out.

* The word 'purling' in Northamptonshire dialect means 'tumbling'. My grandmother, if she saw someone fall to the ground, would say 'Whoops, she's gone a purler.'

Postscript  After going through specimens later I found that my efforts had added twelve more species to the list.


References

1.  Druce, G. Claridge (1930) The Flora of Northamptonshire. Arbroath, T. Buncle & Co

2.  Mabey, Richard (1996) Flora Britannica. Chatto & Windus

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