365 Days of Botany: Week 2

365 days, 365 plants, what could be hard about that? He says, racked by botanically induced panic.

When I set out to document a different plant species for each day of the current year, I knew the winter months would be the most difficult. I also knew that I wanted to keep a ‘stockpile’ of easy, go-to species to share when pickings were slim. Not wanting to resort to daisies, dandelions and other easy species just yet, I have cheated somewhat in week two of 365 Days of Botany, including both a cultivar and a hybrid. That said, both have been included for a reason: each teaching me something new about the leafy-green world that resides outside my front door.

This botanical challenge was intended as an exercise in self-education and, this week, whether we’re talking previously unknown hybrids or intriguing facts about common species, I have definitely picked up a thing or two.

Day 8: Highclare Holly (Ilex altaclerensis)

Highclere holly, Ilex × altaclerensis

A hybrid (I think) between Common Holly and one of many other Ilex species, this is an ornamental plant common in parks, gardens and urban areas. It does naturalise in Britain, despite my specimens being found in the somewhat less wild setting of a city park. Albeit an old, unkempt one. I include it here for its educational value – this is something that before 365 Days of Botany, I did not know existed.

Highclare Holly comes in many forms but can be easily identified by a lack of spines. Where they are present (usually near the base of the plant) they face forward, unlike the spines of Common Holly which face outward in a radial fashion.

Variegated forms of this plant (such as those pictured) are common in cultivation.

Not so fun fact: the berries of all holly species are poisonous, with symptoms of ingestion known to include vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration, and drowsiness.

Day 9: Greater Snowdrop (Galanthus elwesii)

Greater Snowdrop, Galanthus elwesiiGiven the time of year, it was inevitable that a snowdrop would feature on this list at some stage. Otherwise known as Elwes’s Snowdrop, G. elwesii was identified by botanist Henery John Elwes on a trip to Turkey in 1874.

A slightly bulkier plant that the Common Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, it sports broader leaves, the outer of which wraps around and embraces the interior leaf. A fact learnt by this inexperienced botanist while perusing BSBI’s great guide to Spring Snowdrop Identification. I confess, until last week, I had no idea that the British countryside harboured more than one species of snowdrop!

Like other species, this Snowdrop readily escapes cultivation but, in the wider countryside, is much scarcer than the G. nivalis.

Fun fact: the greek word ‘Galanthus‘ translates as ‘the milk flower’ – not overly surprising, it must be said!

Day 10: Garden Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon subsp. argentatum)

Garden Yellow Archangel, Lamium galeobdolon subsp. argentatumUnlike our native Yellow Archangel, this is an invasive non-plant species. Once this plant establishes in the wild – which is frequently does due to the garden plant trade – it quickly blankets the floor to the exclusion of other species. A mere fragment of this plant, boasting only one pair of leaves, can quickly form a new colony – ease of propagation helping establish the species a true problem for woodlands and other shaded areas across Britain.

Despite the problems it poses to the ecosystem, Garden Yellow Archangel is a rather attractive member of the dead-nettle family, boasting distinct silver variegation on its leaves. It is relatively unmistakable, even for amateurs such as I.

Not so fun fact: This species is listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act in England and it is an offence to facilitate its spread into the wild.

Day 11:  Hart’s-tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium)

Hart's Tongue, Asplenium scolopendriumFinally, something native!

Perhaps the easiest fern to get to grips with, A. scolopendrium boasts long, tongue-shaped fronds; pale green and ending in a pointed tip. It is widespread in woodland and hedgerows and readily takes to walls and other man-made structures – this one was encountered on my walk to work, growing in the stonework at the end of my street.

Fun fact: spores are produced in the elongated marks on the underside of the leaves. These are said to be [tenuously] reminiscent of centipede legs, hence its name – scolopendrium means centipede in Latin.

Day 12: English Ivy (Hedera helix)

English Ivy, Hedera helixA plant which warrants very little introduction but forms a cornerstone of the native British ecosystem, providing food and cover to a diverse range of wildlife. Ivy is rampant to a fault, its creeping tendrils getting everywhere. So much so that it is often lambasted for causing (or at least concealing) damage to stonework, and has been listed as a noxious weed in many countries outside its natural range. Still, its alien-looking blooms, plump berries and incredibly variable lead shape make it an interesting species to scrutinise.

Fun fact: to this day, an extract made from ivy is used in cough medicines. In the past, its leaves and berries were taken orally as a cure for bronchitis.

Day 13: Hedgehog Holly (Ilex aquifolium Ferox)

Hedgehog Holly, Ilex aquifolium 'Ferox'Okay, I am definitely cheating a little bit including another holly on this list, but Ilex is proving to be quite educational in week two of the challenge.

A cultivar of Common Holly, this form has been selectively bred to have more spines than its natural counterpart. These spines often cover the entirety of the leaf surface, rendering the leaves reminiscent of, you guessed it, a hedgehog. As if holly needed to be engineered to appear any more ferocious?

I was surprised to encounter this plant amid a stand of regular Holly a short walk from my house. Doubtless planted there at some point during this particular parks illustrious history. It has been recorded in a naturalised state a handful of times in Britain.

Day 14: Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata)

Ribwort Plantain, Plantago lanceolataA very common plant familiar to many and sporting distinct brown flowerheads perched atop thin, wispy stems. It boasts spear-shaped leaves which form a rosette at the base and can be found in a diverse range of grassland habitats, including gardens, roadsides and field edges.

I was surprised to learn that like Buck’s-horn Plantain featured in a previous blog, this species is edible. The leaves are said to taste intolerably bitter but the buds have are mushroom-like in flavour.

Fun fact: said to be an antihistamine, the leaves of P. lanceloata are an effective treatment for nettle stings and insect bites. They are far more effective than the traditionally used leaves of dock which act purely as a placebo.

And that’s a wrap for week two. Check out my week one summary to see what botanicals were unearthed during the first week of 365 Days of Botany.

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