Birthwort, a plant with a fascinating history 24 May 2021

After a little detective work I located a possible site for the rare Birthwort today. The most up to date info I had was that it was present here in 2004 so it was a little bit of a long shot. But having seen Breckland Birthwort yesterday it was worth a punt to get them both in consecutive days. The site is only a 15 minute drive from home and upon arrival I was amazed to find it growing in profusion! The plant has a very interesting history of medicinal use. In the Middle Ages and later it was used to aid childbirth but also as an aid to abortion in the early stages of pregnancy. Nuns typically acted as midwives back then so it was often planted in convent gardens. Rumour has it that it was also used to bring on abortion in wayward nuns who had dallied with equally wayward monks! Today it is known from only 15 UK sites as a relic of those days. 

Interestingly the Breckland Birthwort site is close to the ancient Icknield Way so may have links to trade as the plant was 'imported' from Europe.


Twitching urban weeds 'up Nodge', 24 May 2021

A quick and dirty dash into Norwich before the rush hour this morning for some urban botany in the fine city.

Two targets, Keeled-fruited Cornsalad (confirmed by examination of the seed capsules) and the impressive Woad were both found very easily thanks to some great directions from Louis Parkerson. The latter was a very impressive sight. While walking through the Catherdral Close I was photographing Common Whitebeam when a commotion above me revealed the 2 Peregrines mobbing a passing Red Kite. It was like a scene from medieval England! The walls of the Cathedral School were awash with Mexican Fleabane, Ivy-leaved Toadflax, Wallflowers and Pellitory of the Wall.

                                                                                                                          Keeled-fruited Cornsalad


Breckland botanical gems, 22 & 23 May 2021

Two different trips in a Brecks direction this past weekend.

On Saturday Belinda and I headed for the Suffolk Brecks for some walking but a call in at a site I'd been kindly given was in order first. The site itself has to remain under wraps but the small area held both my targets - the rare Small Alison and the very unobtrusive Fine-leaved Sandwort. The latter took some finding and I had to be extremely careful where I stood! In the same spot were other bits of interest too with several Henbit Dead Nettles in flower, Hairy Rock-cress, Common Fumitory, Wild Mignonette, Bur Chervil and Field Pansy of note. 

We moved on to do our walk in the King's Forest next and at the start of the walk 2 patches of Lily of the Valley were an unexpected bonus. Around the wood I had 4+ Willow Warblers, 2-3 Garden Warblers, a Tree Pipit singing on the edge of a large clearing and Nuthatch.

                                                                                                                                        Small Alison

                                                                                                                               Fine-leaved Sandwort

                                                                                                                                 Henbit Dead Nettle
                                                                                                                                           Small Nettle
                                                                                                                                     Lily of the Valley

On Sunday I was back in the area on my own to track down 2 species. The first was Sand Catchfly which has become a bit of a nemesis plant for me over the last couple of years. Not any more though as I found loads of plants on a roadside verge I'd been told about. Next up was another hush hush location for the frankly bizarre Breckland Birthwort. I found the tucked-away spot and the plants easily and spent a bit of time appreciating their strange otherworldliness. An area of open ground nearby held Thyme-leaved Sandwort and Narrow-leaved Vetch of note plus my first Brown Argus of the year when the sun came out for 2 minutes!

I then ventured to Barnhamcross Common and a rendezvous with Jeremy Gaskell. While waiting for him I managed to find several Breckland Pansies, Shepherd's Cress, Sheep's Sorrel, Thyme-leaved Speedwell, Wall Speedwell, Field Mouse-ear, Tower Mustard, Wild Mignonette, Buck's-horn Plantain and Sand Spurrey

I visit to Wortham Ling on the way home revealed the Knotted Clover now just coming in to flower and a calling Cuckoo on the far side of the common.

                                                                                                                                         Sand Catchfly

                                                                                                                                 Breckland Birthwort
                                                                                                                                        Breckland Pansy
                                                                                                                                     Brown Argus
                                                                                                                                        Sand Spurrey
                                                                                                                      Thyme-leaved Sandwort
                                                                                                                                     Knotted Clover

Slender Speedwell, 21 May 2021

After a morning painting for Mum and Dad I called in to Earlham Cemetry once again on the way home. It's becoming a bit of a habit! I had one particular target plant in mind and as I made my way to the correct section the noise of mowers and strimmers was sounding rather ominous. The area had been mowed but luckily Slender Speedwell is a small low-growing plant so the mowers had mainly gone over the top of them leaving them relatively unscathed. I spent a bit of time kneeling in the sodden grass getting some pictures before retreating to the dry. On the short walk back I noted several patches of Meadow Saxifrage


Here, there and everywhere! 13 - 16 May 2021

The last 4 days have seen me visit a number of widely-flung places. So this is a brief summary of what I've seen.

Thursday 13 May

After finishing a work job at lunchtime I headed out to Target Hill near Mendham. This is a steep sandy hill overlooking the Waveney Valley and I wanted to see what sand-loving plants I might find there. I found Colour-changing Forget-me-not, Wall Speedwell, Thyme-leaved Speedwell (including some pure white plants which I'd not encountered before), Germander Speedwell, Common Vetch, some very low-growing Broom, Spring Beauty, Small Mouse-ear, Meadow Saxifrage and Sheep's Sorrel plus a new fungi for me Petticoat Mottlegill. In a marshy area by a ditch at the bottom of the hill I found Fools Parsley, Celery-leaved Buttercup and Reed Sweet Grass while the lane back towards the car the verges were quite productive with Hoary Cress, Cut-leaved Cranesbill and Hedge Mustard of note. 4 Lesser Whitethroats were singing in the area and a pair of Mistle Thrushes flew over the hill.

Friday 14 May

A day walking with Belinda. First stop was Chippenhall Green where the Green-winged Orchids were putting on a show and I found another new plants for me - the unassuming Blinks. A pond was full of Water Crowfoot but best of all was a singing Turtle Dove found when I'd done the whole perimeter looking! It showed beautifully in a bare tree even allowing me to fetch Belinda from the car for a look. Several Yellowhammers were also around the common. A circular walk around Laxfield produced a surprise Bloody Cranesbill and some Goldilocks Buttercups before we moved on to Framlingham. Here a Brindled Beauty moth was on a shop window sill and it was pleasing to see a good number of Wallflowers growing on the old castle walls. We finished with a visit to Huttons Butchers and Deli in Earl Soham (highly recommended!) for a coffee and then a walk nearby. The highlights were plenty of Cut-leaved Dead Nettle on the edge of an arable field plus Fiddleneck, Cut-leaved Cranesbill, Spotted Medick and Black Medick.

Saturday 15 May

A day doing chores in Norwich and visiting parents but with a slink out to Houghen Plantation at Horsford squeezed in! It was here, in some very marshy Birch woodland that James Emerson had kindly given me directions to a rather special fungus. It took me a little while to find them but then I spotted a marshy pond that held 80+ Bog Beacons. These really are a superb little fungus growing on aquatic debris and emerging from the water in glowing orange fingers. The walk had another highlight - 17 Crossbills showing very nicely, quite often in a bare tree allowing me to get an accurate count.

Sunday 16 May

We were up a bit earlier than usual on a Sunday because I had a date with a beauty in our local Tyrrels Wood. Jane Ferguson had found a pure white 'alba' Early Purple Orchid there the day before. After a merry dance around the wood looking I eventually found a really nice group of c150 Early Purple Orchids away from my usual spot and the white one was easy to pick out. This has been a quest of mine for a number of years and I finally get to see one so close to home! Serching the wood had it's other benefits as I found several Sanicle plants which was a new one for me plus a good number of Yellow Archangel. After returning home for breakfast we headed off out again for our main walk - at Gorleston. Along the undercliff here I found Sea Sandwort, Oxford Ragwort, Buckshorn Plantain and Tree Lupins plus 2 colonies of Sand Martins. Along Warren Lane on the return Annual Mercury was new. We just got back to the car as the heavens opened! Next port of call was Ness Point where we bumped into Jeremy Gaskell. He and I examined the urban 'weeds' alng th seawall finding Common Scurvygrass, Spear-leaved Orache and a strange naturalised shrub tentatively id'd as the US species  Winterfat but looking and smelling very similar to the Curryplant I have in my herb garden at home! We finished our busy few days with a walk around North Cove NR on the way home. Here the Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage was still very obvious and numerous. 

                                                                                                                                    Hedge Mustard
                                                                                                    Thyme-leaved Speedwell (white form)

                                                                                                                Colour-changing Forget-me-not
                                                                                                                                   Petticoat Mottlegill

                                                                                                                                Cut-leaved Cranesbill

                                                                                                                                 Water Crowfoot
                                                                                                            Green-winged Orchid (almost alba)
                                                                                                                           Cut-leaved Dead Nettle
                                                                                                                             Cut-leaved Cranesbill

                                                                                                                                  Bog Beacon


                                                                                              Early Purple Orchids incl the magical 'alba'!
                                                                                                                                   Sea Sandwort
                                                                                                                           Buckshorn Plantain
                                                                                                                                  Annual Mercury
                                                                                                                          Spear-leaved Orache
                                                                                                                             Common Scurvygrass