Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Advent Botany at Bix

Large shuttlecocks of Dryopteris affinis growing toward the bottom of a wooded valley on the Nettlebed Estate
Atlas 2020 recording stops for nothing! The first weekend of December saw local botanists taking up their clipboards and setting out into the mist to record vascular plants around Bix (SU78H) in the Chilterns. There wasn't exactly a throng of us, just myself and an extremely keen companion, but we covered a lot of ground, getting together a list of over 220 taxa. Winter can be surprisingly rewarding if you've never looked for plants outside of what is usually considered 'the season' — one just has to be prepared to identify things vegetatively and from dead stuff ('dead-getatively' I call it). Some of the plants usually considered vernal species, such as Erophila verna (common whitlowgrass) or Ficaria verna (lesser celandine) actually start to reappear in autumn and early winter if you know what to look for (the forked hairs on the tiny leaf rosettes of the former are quite lovely!), so you needn't wait until spring!

The Bix area is similar to much of the rest of the Oxfordshire Chilterns, in that woodlands figure prominently and it is under-recorded. One of the things I find interesting in the Chilterns is the mix of geology, with acid clay-with-flints capping the chalk, allowing calcicolous and calcifugous species to grow right next to one another. The woods also often support particularly interesting assemblages of ferns (who cares about the helleborines!), and would be just the right habitat to re-find Oreopteris limbosperma (lemon-scented fern), not seen in Oxon for many decades. As it was, we didn't find it but spent quite a lot of time examining ferns belonging to the Dryopteris affinis aggregate (scaly male ferns), some of which were impressively enormous.