Plants of the Week That Was – January 1st- 8th 2022- New Year Flower Hunting

Let me start this first blog of 2022 by saying ‘Happy New Year to all our readers’. We hope you will continue to find interesting stories and images on these pages – we will our best to keep them coming.

A few of us took cameras and notebooks on our gentle New Year Walks. You never know what you might see. Most wild plants have died back but quite a few are still managing to show bloom although looking thoroughly miserable. It always amazes me that a few species continue to thrive despite freezing conditions – the most remarkable being three of the commonest species in the British Isles: Groundsel Senecio vulgaris, Red Dead Nettle Lamium purpureum and Annual Meadow-grass Poa annua. All three are producing new flowers and fresh leaves. How do they do it, how do they cope with ice in their tissues, how do they manage to transport water and nutrients when the outside temperature falls below zero? One day I might write a blog about that, but not today.

Leith Community Croft in January – a good hunting ground for wild flowers. Photo: John Grace.

Most of our walks were around Edinburgh, but we have added a few reports from further afield (Ayrshire and Easter Ross). I haven’t tried to edit the records that came to me, I’ve simply combined the spreadsheets and sorted alphabetically. We have some images too, although conditions were not very favourable for flower photography (a combination of wind, winter light and general wetness – sometimes sleet and snow). Here are the first 35 records. Many species were recorded by more than one of us. Daisy and Ivy-leaved Toadflax are hard to avoid whilst walking along parks and streets of the Capital. One of us went to the Community Croft in Leith, where Canadian Fleabane (common in England, scarce in Scotland) has become established as a regular weed and still has a few flowers.

Now for the second set of 35 records. This includes Ivy, Hedera helix. I looked long and hard for flowering specimens. Most plants have long finished flowering and now bear fruits at various stages of ripening. However, at Midmar Allotments I did manage to find a plant still in flower – and it was being visited by Honey Bees (there are hives only 100 metres away). A Brussel Sprout field at Inveresk proved to be an unlikely hunting ground for Giant Hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum, spotted therein, still flowering. The Yellow Corydalis Pseudofumaria lutea has become a very common site on limey walls, but it’s a thermophilic species and its flowers are only just hanging on – a ‘last gasp’.

The fast-spreading alien grass Polypogon viridis (Water Bent or sometimes Beard Grass) is now well-established in Edinburgh and loves to grow in the crack where pavement joins wall. It isn’t hard to find flowering specimens.

Now the final set of records. Two more very common species appear, the Smooth Sow-thistle Sonchus oleraceus and Chickweed Stellaria media. Rabbits like munching on sow-thistles and I like chickweed sandwiches (with marmite).

It sometimes be hard to be sure of species identifications when flowers are withered and soggy, and a few have been excluded as ‘uncertain’. We have not attempted to identify the dandelions to the level of species. Some authorities reckon there are over 50 micro-species and the time to identify them is spring, not now.

The Small Nettle (Urtica urens) appears in the list. It is ‘a spring-germinating annual of well-tilled arable land, especially fields of broad-leaved crops, and also allotments, gardens, farmyards and waste ground’. I suspect it is often overlooked, being mistaken for U. dioica Common Nettle.

Gorse is usually in flower for every month of the year, as you may read in an earlier article on this blog https://botsocscot.wordpress.com/2020/11/22/plant-of-the-week-23-november-ulex-europaeus/.

Altogether we’ve found 64 species of wild plants in flower. Last year we found 60 species with roughly the same amount of recording effort. We are beginners: for over a decade at a national level the Botanical Society of the British Isles has been recording flowering species on a much larger scale. Most of their records are from England, and they found 906 species this year. You may view their top 20 species here https://nyph.bsbi.org/results.php. All except for two of their top 20 are in our lists above.

Cliffs ablaze with Gorse (Ulex europeaeus) Hilton, Easter Ross. Photo: Brian Ballinger.

compiled by John Grace, with contributions from several others.

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