Winter botanising

Any ideas.

Things I’ve done before include

  1. Following canals and railways to look for mural ferns on brickwork and stonework.
  2. Looking for wintergreen ferns in woodland (Polystichum and Dryopteris affinis are less easily overlooked when Dryopteris filix-mas has died back, and Asplenium scolopendrium may be more easily spotted as well with less ground flora around); but this is more suitable for late winter and early spring.
  3. Looking for snowdrops and crocuses; but again a late winter/early spring activity,
  4. I walked the western end of the Bridgewater Canal on the 2nd of January one year, ending up with a look at Daresbury Wood.

Lovely ideas. I would add: observing (and identifying) winter twigs - their forms are intriguing, and of course then you get caught up in the amazing lichens, and you spot wonders like Exidia glandulosa. I’m looking forward to it already! Not sure if all this counts as botanising…

I’d did try mosses one winter, with little success, which does count as botanising. Lichens don’t any more - I don’t think anyone thinks of mycology as a sub-field of botany any more.

There are winter annuals that are identifiable already - Saxifraga tridactylites, Ornithopus perpusillus. And any that you can’t identify, take a photo now and go back in a few months.

The gorses in flower now ought to be hybrids according to Stace but that was disputed a few years ago on iSpot.

I saw a paper a while back that said that Ulex europaeus has two phenological morphs, one of which flowers intensity around March and April, the other one flowering from September to May. (Stace says “flowering mainly winter-spring (autumn flowers with many bids), but often overlapping with the other two species in Sep.-Oct.”, I reckon on looking at fruit maturity to distinguish the Ulex europaeus and Ulex gallii phenologically when flowers are insufficient. (Ulex minor is absent from my neck of the woods.) Space has Ulex x breoganii flowering in autumn and winter, but that isn’t sufficient to distinguish it from Ulex europaeus. While glancing at Stace I see that both species have 3 cytotypes, so that another question raised. (If I recall correctly the paper says that the phenology is controlled by essentially a single locus. An abstract elsewhere says that only the diploid cytotype of Ulex gallii is known from Britain.)

I reckon on March and April for spring ephemerals, but Cochlearia danica is already visible and identifiable. You can’t track it across moterways and the like, but Irecorded it from 3 tetrads on the B road between Rugeley and Uttoxeter earlier in the month. It’s vegetative mimic, Ficaria verna, isn’t up yet, but I now recall looking for Ficaria verna and Rumex acetosa as wintergreen plants more easily spotted out of flower in winter.

This year I found Saxifraga tridactylites (rare but increasing locally) easier to spot in May than April.

Late flowering composites tend to hang on while the weather holds.

And this year it might still be worth looking at drawdown zones. I saw a news item about Ladybower being well down, so maybe the same holds for some more local reservoirs.

I’d be interested in seeing the paper on phenological morphs. Do you have the reference, please?

I didn’t keep the reference, but this looks like it. It looks as if I misremembered, and it doesn’t address the genetic basis. (Which leaves open the possibility of two cryptic species - “winter gorse” and “spring gorse” - with different cytotypes. (I didn’t find anything on Ulex europaeus cytotypes in Britain yesterday - I’ll have another look.)

This may be where I got the statement about genetic control from

(The pattern of inheritance looks consistent with open pollination and dominance of short flowering.)

Goodness! But thanks

Thanks, they are an interesting read. When I was choosing autumn and spring flowering bushes to sample, I didn’t check how long the autumn flowering ones carried on flowering but my memory is they had finished by the time the spring flowering ones began. I could check that this winter on the ones that have survived. I was looking for correlation between flowering time and flower morphology, to see if the autumn flowering ones should be considered hybrids. But as usual I collected the data then did nothing with them, partly because I don’t know how to put them through a multi-variate analysis. The French studies don’t mention the possibility of hybrids being involved. Both U. gallii and U. minor occur in Brittany.

More googling tells me that Ulex europaeus subsp. europaeus is an allopolyploid. Contrariwise it also tells me that diploid and tetraploid cytotypes are known, but only from northern Spain and western France. So you could probably separate Ulex gallii, Ulex europaeus and Ulex x breoganii by counting chromosomes or by flow cytometry (if you have a friendly university lab). (All the relevant papers appear to be paywalled.)

I was wondering about winter botany in terms of all the different perennial weed roots I dig up on the allotment, must photogrpah them at some stage as they are very different - field horsetail, ‘couch grass’ of several types, bindweed, dandilion, brambles, greater celandine (bright orange roots), horse raddish…Might be nice introduction to anyone new to allotmenteering.

The two grasses I have on my allotment with rhizomes are Elytrigia repens and Agrostis capillaris. The roots are quite different. With paving slabs round the edge, and trenches full of wood chippings to separate the beds I may be making process on getting rid of the couch. Not so much progress with Equisteum arvense.

I could add Rumex obtusifolius and Epilobium hirsutum to your list.

What I do: just carry on as though winter wasn’t happening - after a couple of winters you will find you still manage to ID c 80-90% of what is or might conceivably be present anyway, and only a very few species are completely and utterly invisible (horseradish from Christmas until late Feb), or unidentifiable (annual clovers being a case in point). You see things change, degrade, decay and new leaves, shoots etc sprouting and you learn to ID plants from vegetative features, hairs, and ultimately evolve your skills. You also don’t get that spring “I can’t remember the name of the sodding plant” thing!

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