Thursday, April 30, 2020

Lockdown Botany

The current pandemic has inevitably prevented us from carrying on as planned in recording the botany of Brecknock. Of course, this is of small importance in the scale of the suffering that Covid-19 is causing to many but what does a lockdown botanist do with his time?

In my case, I have plenty of the admin work that goes with being a recorder to get on with and a small garden to take much better care of than normal. However, there is always that itch to be out and seeing what is developing botanically in the countryside. Members of my loyal botany group are similarly restricted, and we are all lucky enough to be living in places where the permitted local exercise still offers opportunities to "see what is going on".

The scramble to record as widely and comprehensively as possible for the Atlas project that finished on 31st December did also lead to an "identify, tick the list and move on" botanical culture that we were looking forward to leaving behind this year. We would have taken things more slowly in any case and now we really must. An interesting young plant spotted on the walk can always be re-evaluated on a future occasion when there is better evidence to be sure exactly what it is. We can also observe and learn from almost daily observations of exactly how particular plants develop.

It has been an incredible spring with rain and heat alternating in the just the way many plants seem to like, and an abundance of choice species has been reported by many of the group. (We cover the county reasonably well - from Crickhowell and Hay via Brecon and Talybont down to Coelbren.)

Reports from all over the county say that it is a bumper year for this usually shy and retiring little plant:

Moschatel, Mwsglys or Adoxa moschatellina
by the Login Brook path, Hay

All these photographs below are by members of the Brecknock Botany Group in the last month.

Meadow Saxifrage, Tormaen y gweunydd or Saxifraga granulata
Early-purple Orchid, Tegeirian coch y gwanwyn or Orchis mascula
Herb-paris, Cwlwm cariad or Paris quadrifolia
(Actually near Monmouth)
Three-cornered Garlic, Garlleg trionglog or Allium triquetrum
Ramsons, Wild garlic, Craf y geifr or Allium ursinum
Water Horsetail, Marchrawnen y dŵr or Equisetum fluviatile
Fringecups, Clychau’r clawdd or Tellima grandiflora

Pavement gems

I have particularly been interested in the plants growing in the pavements (and walls) of Hay-on-Wye. The pavements are much less walked and several species are taking advantage.

Rue-leaved Saxifrage, Tormaen tribys or Saxifraga tridactylites

This is always to be found in small quantities in the spring on Hay pavements and on its walls but the abundance this year is unusual. It's even along Castle Street. Another place to see it in the county is high on the limestone rocks above Llangattock.

Brecknock Axiopytes

One thing we have got on with is producing a list of Axiophytes for the county. "Axiophyte" means "worthy plant" and these are the species that arouse interest and praise from people when they are seen. They are indicators of habitat that is considered important for conservation and, unlike rare plants, will all be reasonably likely to be found if you look in the right sort of place in the county.

We deliberated (online) over lists and argued about their relative merits and came up with a list of just over 200 plants.

Here is a gallery of just a few of the Brecknock Axiophytes we identified:

Green Spleenwort, Duegredynen werdd or Asplenium viride

Giant Bellflower, Clychlys mawr or Campanula latifolia

Marsh Horsetail, Marchrawnen y gors or Equisetum palustre

Three-nerved Sandwort, Tywodlys teirnerf or Moehringia trinervia

Lesser Skullcap, Cycyllog bach or Scutellaria minor

Early Dog-violet, Fioled y coed or Viola reichenbachiana



Saturday, March 28, 2020

A Busy Final Atlas Year for Brecknock

We’ve had a good year in 2019 – and, of course, we now have a very slow (recording wise) start to 2020. So here is a summary of our main finds last year. The very first new find was Crocus tommasinianus, Early Crocus, at Gilwern in February, reported by Heather Colls. Not a species I have encountered in the wild but familiar from my gardening days.

 Early Crocus, Saffrwm ar or Crocus tommasinianus
(picture not from Brecknock)

Glabrous Whitlowgrass, Llysiau’r-bystwn llyfn or Erophila glabrescens

We are now familiar with Erophila glabrescens, Glabrous Whitlowgrass and it is common in Hay-on-Wye pavements in March. No surprise then really that we saw it at Sennybridge when doing an early survey around the town and the edge of the Army Camp area.

Italian Lords-and-Ladies, Pidyn-y-gog Eidalaidd or Arum italicum

Arum italicum, Italian Lords-and-Ladies seems to be extending its range in the county and we saw it by the Wye just south of Newbridge early in the year.

Whorled Coralroot or Cardamine quinquefolia
(Bob Gibbons / Alamy)

It’s always welcome to get a report from a neighbouring county about something I have missed near our borders and it helps when they are used to the “new to Brecknock” plant already. This was the case for Cardamine quinquefolia, Whorled Coralroot at Llangattock reported by Steph Tyler in April. Quite a few of our new species take the A40 route into the county from the east. This is a garden escape originating in Eastern Europe but is well established in the wild in Monmouthshire.

 Corncockle, Bulwg yr ŷd or Agrostemma githago

We saw some dead material from obviously Campion Family plants on a rich road verge in Pontsticill late in 2018 and, returning there in June I was surprised to find Agrostemma githago, Corncockle. It must be introduced but is well established. I had been hoping for White Campion!

Coastal Redwood, Cochwydden Califfornia or Sequoia sempervirens

Coastal Redwood was a surprise find in a woodland near Talybont. Certainly planted (in a row) by a past landowner. The picture shows it doing its party trick of regrowing from a fallen trunk.

Pyrenean Lily, Lili ddrewllyd or Lilium pyrenaicum

Pyrenean Lily was reported to me a week before we were going to the location so we certainly checked it out – on a difficult bend on the A40 just east of Halfway. This will certainly be introduced here.

Bifid Hemp-nettle, Y benboeth hollt or Galeopsis bifida

I didn’t mind stepping into a boggy patch up to my thigh at Gors Llyn near Coelbren as it brought me face to face with Galeopsis bifida, Bifid Hemp-nettle, in late July. This was a first for the hectad.

Lesser Skullcap, Cycyllog bach or Scutellaria minor

By August some members of my regular group had decided to go out on their own account in between our planned meetings. Their trip to the recently drained Neuadd Reservoir behind Pen y Fan was miserable in weather terms but very productive (the monads they did were practically unrecorded) and Scutellaria minor, Lesser Skullcap was one of the finds which was new for the hectad. No doubt it had been inhabiting the shores of the reservoir for years.

Tasteless Water-pepper, Y dinboeth ddi-flas or Persicaria mitis

Sometimes it is good to take a break from Atlas recording and I did exactly that when taking a walk out of Hay-on-Wye along the river with my wife one Sunday in August. There was plenty of Persicaria hydropiper, Water-pepper (mental note to record it when back) but what was that rather different one in the long grass? Closer examination showed long whiskers on the ochrae which I had a vague idea was significant, so I tasted a leaf and after the usual wait – nothing. A sample went home and it did seem, after consulting the books, that I had Persicaria mitis, Tasteless Water-pepper. This wasn’t quite a first for the county as A E Wade had recorded it down in the far south west of the county in 1927 – with no records since. I went back over the next few days and found more plants near the original site – which was just as well as the original plant in long grass was gone. (I had only taken a small sample!) Seeds from these plants confirmed the identification.

Small Water-pepper, Y dinboeth fach or Persicaria minor

It neatly rounds off the Persicaria history of my time in the county as Paul Green had found Persicaria minor, Small Water-pepper near Llangorse Lake soon after I started being recorder. He thought at first it was P. mitis (a very rare mis-step!) but was soon emailing me to say it must be P. minor and asking me to check seeds. This was again a second-ever record (same location 1975) and more populations were found in the county of the next two years (mainly by Paul).

I’ve walked the path by the P. mitis site near Hay several times every year since living here – this is an elusive species and our record is the highest ever up the Wye (there is plenty much lower down in Monmouthshire), but I suspect there may be populations higher up that sent seed down to our site.

Apple-of-Peru, Afal Periw or Nicandra physalodes (Nicandra physaloides)

If anything significant appears really near to where I live it often takes someone else to point it out. Last year it was Nicandra physalodes, Apple-of-Peru in a car park that I pass every day, reported by Mark Atkinson in early August. 

Fewflower Jacob's-ladder, or Polemonium pauciflorum

Andy Shaw found a plant that’s not even in my books in mid-August. Polemonium pauciflorum, Fewflower Jacob's-ladder was growing as a weed at a Holiday Park near Builth. There were many plants growing on bare ground underneath a cypress tree. No likely source was found in the local area of the holiday park which is dominated by mown grass.

Musk Thistle, Ysgallen Siarl or Carduus nutans in December at some altitude...

One quirky find was Carduus nutans, Musk Thistle found under Hay Bluff in December. It’s not new for hectad as it has been seen before in Herefordshire but it is Atlas significant and new for the county in that hectad. We were looking for Carlina vulgaris, Carline Thistle and identified a suitable looking habitat in the distance (an area of disturbance probably from quarrying). Such was my determination to find the Carline for the Atlas that I at first was trying to make the rather stunted out-of-season plant fit that mould. This was obviously wrong (and pointed out to me by companions as such). So, we never found the Carline but found something new instead! 

Carline Thistle, Ysgallen Siarl or Carlina vulgaris that we were looking for...

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Year End and the New Year Plant Hunt

Our only outing since the last entry saw two of us braving the cold at Twmpath near Erwood. It's certainly an interesting area (geologically as well as botanically) to revisit later on and we did manage a new record for the Atlas of Callitriche brutia under ice in a pool at a high point on the common. This is obviously worthy of further examination in warm weather as the pond's unlikely position is due to it being spring fed.

The rocks near the road (various Silurian beds) had abundant ferns including Black Spleenwort in some profusion. I photographed a small plant in good condition:
Black Spleenwort, Duegredynen goesddu or Asplenium adiantum-nigrum

Meanwhile some last minute submissions of records have been coming in for the atlas deadline including this welcome one for the Black Mountains spotted by Andy Cross near the summit of Pen Carreg-calch in May 2019.
Mountain Pansy, Trilliw y mynydd or Viola lutea

This plant must be reasonably frequent in the area but the only other sighting since 2000 was by myself on a family walk under Twmpa near Hay on 2001. We see them reasonably frequently on the less-grazed Epynt range.

Hirwaun Two Monad Hunt with Fish and Chips 19

We started the 2020 campaign by taking part in this BSBI challenge at Hirwaun. It wasn't long after I proposed the site (not recorded significantly in the Vice County) that I was informed that we would "have to" have Fish and Chips at Penaluna's. This was great advice and this award winning Fish Cafe deserves to be better known.

 The New Year Plant Hunt Group

In the picture we are proudly standing by a very dead Fragrant Agrimony plant - a good find for the whole 10 km square and only slightly offset by the discovery that Barry had already found the population on his side of the border in Glamorgan Vice County (in 2015). The river that forms the boundary here is underground (due to human activity) but my grid reference put us firmly on our side of the border for this record. There wasn't a lot in flower and we "enhanced" our count by recording flowering plants in two 1km squares. The overall list of species we managed by examining a lot of dead stuff was good however.

Our previous hunts:

Builth 2015 (19 flowering)
Llangorse 2016 (19 again)
Ystradgynlais 2017 (18)
Crickhowell 2018 (53 - we will probably never surpass this!)
Pontsticill 2019 (18)
Hirwaun 2020 19 flowering in two monads (with duplicates!)

There have been nine altogether since the event started and "we" have participated in six. (Myself in five.)

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Last Minute Finds

We thought it was all over (the BSBI Atlas project I mean) but an attempt to find a Charophyte up near Hay Bluff led to two Atlas-significant vascular finds (but no Chara I could see or get onto my grapnel).

It seems Dove's-foot Cranesbill isn't common in the hectad and not yet seen after 2000 so we were pleased to find it on a raised area that looked like it had been quarried in the distant past:

Dove's-foot Crane's-bill, Pig yr aran or Geranium molle

Nearby was this thistle which confused us at first but turned out to be one that hasn't yet been recorded for the hectad at all in the county and only before 2000 over the border in England (Herefordshire) - unless records are in the pipeline there, of course.

Musk Thistle, Ysgallen Siarl or Carduus nutans 

Apparently well behind in development this season but there were many rosettes for next year around. 

And we found plenty of Pillwort - this must be one of the country's strongholds for this decreasing and rare fern. The ephemeral pools in the area were very deep resulting in very long fronds at quite a depth.
Pillwort, Pelenllys gronynnog or Pilularia globulifera 

Here is a close up of the unusual plant:
Temporarily beached in Radnorshire in 2011.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Winter sets in

Since I last wrote...

A revisit to complete the survey near Coelbren led to some good extra records including many of these in wet fields:
Marsh Lousewort, Melog y waun or Pedicularis palustris

Then I was off for a mostly non-botanical break in South West Cork but did photograph these and other plants of note:
Bell Heather, Grug y mêl, Fraoch Cloigíneach or Erica cinerea

This was on the site of Drombeg Stone Circle (near Glandore) which also has the remains of a Fullacht Fia and Hut circle (foreground).

And then on the very top of the old Martello Tower at Garinish Island, Glengarriff this (which had me puzzled for a while).
Fairy Foxglove, Clychau’r tylwyth teg, Méirín sí or Erinus alpinus

Right by the water's edge I was puzzled by these leaves until I spotted the lone and paltry flower:
Kidney Vetch, Plucen felen, Méara Muire or Anthyllis vulneraria

Back in Brecknock the group went to an unrecorded square near Beulah and recorded quite a long list of plants together with several fungi such as:
Parasol Mushroom

And just a few days ago an unsuccessful attempt to find Polypodium cambricum led us through these magical woods at the head of the Dyffryn Crawnon Valley..

The group in good spirits after a difficult time climbing up through woods on a path that had become very overgrown / blocked by fallen trees. We are at an old Limekiln.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Another Summary

A round up for the last month. The end of August saw us exploring a small valley above Talybont on Usk and we came across this.
Bifid Hemp-nettle, Y benboeth hollt or Galeopsis bifida

You have to look at the flowers carefully when you find Hemp-nettle as every now and then it is this slightly smaller-flowered species with different marking and a small notch at the bottom of the flower. (When the plant isn't flowering it has to be recorded as one of the two species.)

We only seem to see this on road verges - or gardens as a weed. I spotted these driving from Brecon to Hay near Felin Fach. Only just in time to catch before the major verge-mowing.
Wild Carrot, Moronen or Daucus carota subsp. carota
The fruiting head always wraps itself up like this.

Steph confirmed this species that we had seen earlier in the year at Dolymynach reservoir (Elan Valley).
Floating Bur-reed, Cleddlys arnofiol or Sparganium angustifolium

And this was reported very near where I live in hay in a car park - not a common casual in Brecknock.
Apple-of-Peru, Afal Periw or Nicandra physalodes

Even more unlikely but firmly established as a casual alien was this, which isn't even in our standard (UK) books, but Andy, the rare plant expert, knew what it was. Found near Builth.
Fewflower Jacob's-ladder, Ychydig Blodyn Ysgol Jacob or Polemonium pauciflorum

Steph did some exploration of the moorland near the Elan reservoirs and found this gem in damp ground.
Ivy-leaved Bellflower, Clychlys dail eiddew or Wahlenbergia hederacea

The peat in the area was rather eroded though. Hopefully restoration work is to come.

And Anne did the BIS "previously unrecorded" square, finding the end stage of this:
Broad-leaved Helleborine, Y galdrist lydanddail or Epipactis helleborine

On a day I was unable to accompany my faithful team they carried on regardless and explored on the Epynt in hi-vis mode.

And finally last week we were in lanes and paths near Llanbedr in the south east of the county finding several interesting species including this that we don't see at all often:
Long-stalked Crane's-bill, Pig-yr-aran hirgoes or Geranium columbinum