City Streets, 8th May 2020

City streets are not generally thought of as habitats, but a walk down almost any one of them in Edinburgh will produce an impressive list of plant species.

This morning I went for a morning walk, before breakfast, in the street where I live. I met joggers, dog-walkers and elderly people out for COVID-19 exercise. There is a certain kinship between those who rise early, and almost everyone said a cheery ‘Good Morning’. My eyes were focused on the kerbside, that angular strip which accumulates dust and debris, but in normal times is kept clean by frequent sweeps by a motorised vehicle with a fearsome rotary scouring brush, and regular doses of herbicide. I also took a close look at the parallel strip where the pavement (which Edinburgh council have renamed ‘walkway’) joins the stone wall, and the wall itself.

Of course, one finds plenty of dandelions, bittercresses and Thale Cress. Most are in full flower but some have already formed seed. My attention was taken by a pale green plant  looking like a very large version of flat-leaved parsley. On close inspection, and after tasting it, I was sure it was Lovage, Levisticum officinale, the strong-tasting garden plant that some people use to flavour stews, and which is good in marmite sandwiches. The image shows the roadside habitat: in between the yellow line and the railing there are several species. This Lovage isn’t to be confused with Levisticum scoticum, which grows on Scottish coasts. Further up the road I found single plants of Dill (Anethum graveolens) and Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus). I wonder, how did these culinary species get there?

What else was there? I have many times seen depauperate examples of Wall Speedwell, Veronica arvensis, usually spattered with mud and dust, and often not flowering. It is a very common native plant, though overlooked by most people. Now, perhaps because of the lack of traffic during lockdown, and the fine weather we’ve been having, it is flowering profusely. Young plants of Welsh poppy, Mecanopsis cambrica are frequent (not flowering yet), as are the leaves of Wood Avens (Herb Bennett) Geum urbanum and both species of bellflower Campanula portenschlagiana and C. poscharskyana growing on walls. I saw a stiff-looking grass which looks distinctly out-of-place on the roadside. I’m fairly sure it is pampas grass, Cortaderia selloana. The BSBI distribution map shows that it is a fairly frequent species in Scotland, having escaped from gardens and municipal parks. The reason I think I can be sure of its identity without flowers, is that last year we saw all stages together in the churchyard of St Michael’s church in Dumfries, around the Robert Burns mausoleum.

I will make a species list of this road (Craiglea Drive) and the parallel Comiston Drive. I did so last year, but this year looks altogether more promising and I will have the opportunity of making several lists over the course of the year.  

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