A nature reserve and SSSI is a pretty lovely place to work, and not just for the view out of the window. Lunchtime walks become much more than just a necessity to get out of the office. We talk a lot about wetland birds at Brandon Marsh, so I decided that it was time to focus on some of the flora that you can see here instead. Hearing all the rustlings of creatures living in the brambles is an added bonus – I would lean in to take a photo and hear mice scampering away and grass snakes slithering off on new travels. This is by no means extensive but gives a flavour of the variety that can be found in 20 minutes, and a few obscure facts that you might not know about flowers that you see all the time. Some of the pictures aren’t the best as I only had my phone, so please excuse the occasional blur.
Thanks to Richard, our Planning and Biodiversity Officer, for ID-ing the ones that I didn’t know. Richard, by the way, is running our Wildflower Taster sessions this year, the final one of which is on Saturday 5th July – the details are here. A bit of shameless event plugging for you there!!
Willowherb: Rosebay Willowherb (which is a more vivid pink in colour) is a favourite food of the Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar. Elephant Hawkmoths are the ultimate girly moth; the fashionista of the moth world. If you haven’t seen one before, they look like this:
They’re so pink as a defense mechanism of course, not just because they really liked Barbie as caterpillars.
Wood Avens: this one is munched by the caterpillars of the Grizzled Skipper Butterfly.
Red Campion: the female flowers of Red Campion produce a froth which effectively catches the pollen from the insects that visit.
Cleavers: somewhere in that photo is Cleavers, which until the other day I knew as “that sticky stuff that I used to throw at my brother”. It’s actually from the same family as coffee, and the fruits can be dried and roasted in the same way as coffee beans for a lower caffeine alternative. A bit different to foraging for crab apples! It’s also known as ‘goosegrass’ because it’s eaten by geese – clue’s in the name on that one.
Common Vetch: a member of the pea family, which can make its own nitrates. As nitrates are essential for healthy plant growth, Common Vetch is excellent as a soil-fertilising plant.
Creeping Buttercup: do you like butter? Another classic from childhood (I always liked butter!). Ironically, it’s thought that the name came from the belief that cows eating buttercups gave butter its golden colour, whereas in actual fact buttercups are poisonous to cattle and not eaten.
Forget-Me-Not: this is a good fact, proper pub quiz stuff: Henry IV used the Forget-Me-Not as his symbol during his exile in 1398, and retained it when he returned to England.
Hedge Woundwort: formerly known as ‘Allheal,’ Hedge Woundwort used to be commonly used to alleviate bleeding. Unfortunately it has a particularly unpleasant smell that comes across especially when the leaves are crushed, so it can’t have been a nice remedy to rub into your skin.
Garlic Mustard: used in cooking, with flavours of (yep, you guessed it) both garlic and mustard. It can grow to over a metre tall.
Herb Robert: another one that’s rubbed into the skin, this time to repel mosquitoes. However, this one also has a nasty smell, so you might end up repelling other people too!
Speckled Wood Butterfly: obviously not a plant, but still very lovely. They’re not often seen feeding on flowers because they feed on the honeydew in tree tops. They’re so named because they like sun-dappled woodland.
Azure Damselfly: the Azure Damselfly is on the wing from May until August, and being a damselfly rather than a dragonfly they’re don’t fly quite as strongly. Consequently they tend to lie in wait for prey before catching it mid-air. The females are green or pale blue, with black markings.
Last but not least, the humble stinging nettle:
Don’t knock the Stinging Nettle – they are an important foodplant for the caterpillars of Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Comma butterflies. Also well worth popping in your garden because they’re great as a compost activator. They should be cut back in late June so that there is new growth for a potential second brood of caterpillars. See, who knew they had so many uses! If you do like your garden neat, stick them in a pot (in a sunny spot so the butterflies will find them).
So there you go, a lunchtime walk better than most. Do send me pics on Twitter or Facebook of the reserves that you’ve been exploring. I’m off to see the Bee Orchids on the top meadow now, so I’m sure I’ll be blogging about flowers again soon.