Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Atlas recording in Sutton

After a pretty ordinary Atlas recording session a fortnight ago, on Sunday we had a return of luck and the big lists of earlier in the season. Expecting again ordinary countryside around Sutton (SP40D), we were rewarded with over 320 taxa, a list that included many interesting native plants but that of course was boosted significantly by garden escapes and other aliens. As last time, I will single out the native look-alike shrubs in the hope that this will generate more records and demonstrate that these things are ubiquitous (last time we were far away in SP42F). Maybe I should put together a key to these things — if you'd find this useful or interesting then leave a comment below and I might consider it!

If you look in the floras and the literature about native look-alikes, you'll see that there is an alien taxon for just about every native hedgerow and woodland shrub in Oxon, and some, like the dogwoods I blogged about last time, have several. This meeting it was the turn of the guelder roses, a commonly planted hedgerow shrub (entirely inappropriately, the native Viburnum opulus being largely a plant of damp woods) and of which Sell and Murrell describe two non-native forms of the native species and two similar alien species. My practice had been to lazily assume that planted things were at least the native species, if perhaps cultivars, but confronted with strange-looking plants in the Sutton area I had to revisit this assumption. The native guelder rose is an elegant plant with quite thin yellow-green small and neatly toothed leaves — if you see anything with thicker or darker or larger leaves with strange shapes then consider V. sargentii (Asian guleder-rose) and V. trilobum (American guelder-rose). I think we had both on Sunday, new to the county but doubtless overlooked elsewhere. V. trilobum has odd-looking thick-stalked glands on the petioles (I had never even noticed that guelder roses had glands!) and the leaves on the upper parts of branches have the middle lobes longer than wide. V. sargentii is similar to V. opulus with sessile glands and the middle leaf lobes as long as wide or less, but the leaves are thicker and darker and less toothed (some other differences are also described in Stace and Sell and Murrell).

Continuing with aliens, but aliens we botanists are prepared to tolerate and even admire, we also had a good variety of arable weeds. A fallow field sported no fewer than five species of Chenopodium, with the common C. album (fat-hen) and C. polyspermum (many-seeded goosefoot), the less common C. rubrum (red goosefoot) and the quite scarce C. ficifolium (fig-leaved goosefoot) and C. hybridum (maple-leaved goosefoot). We also had Euphorbia exigua (dwarf spurge), both species of Kickia (fluellens) and the fairly rare Polygonum rurivagum (cornfield knotgrass). I wouldn't be surprised if the latter were a little under-recorded — look out for its eye-catching dark pink tepals and narrow leaves (sorry for not taking a photo).

We did quite well for aquatic plants too. A new pond had Potamogeton crispus (curled pondweed) and P. berchtoldii (small pondweed), and the aquatic liverwort Riccia fluitans which I had never seen in Oxon. Other waterbodies turned up Zannichelia palustris (horned pondweed) and four species of Lemna (duckweeds).

I can't touch on aquatic plants without announcing Judy Webb's excellent pondweed find last year, and which I visited last week because I couldn't quite believe it. I shall deliberately not reveal the exact location of the site, but it would be hard to believe that just about any location in Oxfordshire would be suitable for Potamogeton polygonifolius (bog pondweed) these days. A plant of acid waterbodies and wetlands, it was known once-upon-a-time from Shotover Hill and a small number of other sites with the acid geology that is rare in the county, but had not been seen for decades. Yet there it was, growing in a former limestone quarry with plants of mineral-rich wetlands, like Schoenoplectus tabernaemontanii (grey clubrush) and the moss Campylium stellatum. The national pondweed referee Chris Preston was sensibly circumspect in not confirming the identification from my photographs, but I am happy to announce it now and possibly be proven wrong!

All of the above shows how dynamic our flora is, perhaps a theme of many of my posts on this blog. With people constantly disturbing and changing the environment and many plants good at dispersal and able to take advantage of this (naturally or because we find them attractive or otherwise useful), it is important and fascinating to record these changes and underscores the value of projects like Atlas 2020. So, please keep those records coming!