365 Days of Botany: Week 7

An update from week seven of 365 Days of Botany now with a new batch plant species unearthed on my weekend ventures.

Ever educational, the challenge this week yielded three species new to me at the time of discovery. Looking downwards to focus on plantlife this year is proving eye-opening: the diversity of life, vibrant colours and an eclectic mix of shapes and textures providing continued interest, wherever I go; whether that be an urban car park or idyllic stretch of coastline.

When seeking a daily dose of nature, plants are a great place to start.

Day 44: Shining Cranesbill (Geranium lucidum)

Shining Cranesbill, Geranium lucidumA relative of Herb Robert, a species already featured as part of 365DaysofBotany, G. lucidum is an attractive member of the geranium family with five-lobed, rounded leaves, flushed with red. Growing in shaded areas, including under hedgerows and walls, it’s flowers are pink, with ovular petals.

Shining Cranesbill is native to a broad swath of Eurasia, from the UK in the West to the Himilaya’s in the East. Grown as an ornamental species in the United States, it has since naturalised in the Pacific Northwest and is now classed as a noxious weed.

Where? Found growing on disturbed ground at the base of a wall in central Newcastle.

Fun fact: G.lucidum boasts the uncanny ability to move up slopes and to exploit crevices in walls that are higher than the parent plant. This is due to the explosive manner in which the plant disperses its seeds.

Day 45: Italian Arum (Arum italicum)

Italian Arum, Arum italicumA close relative of Lords and Ladies, A. italicum is an aroid native to the Mediterranian region. Outside of its natural range, it has naturalised in the UK, the Azores, the Canary Islands and at many other locations.

Forming dense clumps of leaves similar to A. maculatum, two subspecies of this plant might be encountered in the UK. One, italicum, has distinct dark veins on its leaves – as displayed in the images alongside. Subspecies neglectum has much paler leaves, lacking the vivid pattern.

Much like the more familiar Lords and Ladies, A. italicum is toxic. This is particularly true for its berries, although these are said to taste so repulsive that it would be difficult to chew them long enough to ingest the toxins.

Where? Growing amid a pile of fly-tipped garden waste in deepest Northumberland

Fun fact: The tubers of Arum can be dried, heated and ground into a fine substance historically known as Portland Powder. This was once used as a treatment for gout.

Day 46: Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber)

Red Valerian, Centranthus ruberA plant familiar to many, C. ruber  sports clusters of deep pink flowers, widely known to be incredibly attractive to pollinators. Native to the Mediterranian region, this plant was introduced to UK in the 1600s and now, grows widely across a range of barren, depleted and rocky habitats including coastal cliffs, stone walls and roadsides.

Where? Growing rampant between pavement slabs in a small town on the Northumberland coast.

Fun fact: the rumoured medicinal properties of this plant are thought to be misplaced and instead, are thought to stem from confusion with Common Valerian (Valeriana officinalis).

Day 47: Red Campion (Silene dioica)

Red Campion, Silene dioicaAn ever-popular plant for day 47 of #365DaysofBotany and one whose distinctive pink-red flowers never fail to earn a smile. Look for Red Campion in shaded areas in woodlands and along hedgerows where its five-petaled flowers can be seen atop downy stems adorned with hairy leaves growing opposite one another in pairs.

A species boasting a long association with folklore and myth, campion flowers are said to stand guard over the honey stores of bees and to protect fairies from being seen by humans. Back in the real world, traditional medicines deploy red campion as a treatment for snakebites.

Where? Blooming beneath an overgrown Hawthorn hedge at the end of my street.

Fun fact: The word Silene derives from the Greek word ÔÇśsialonÔÇÖ meaning means saliva. This is thought to be a reference to the gummy substance the plant secretes on the stem.

Day 48: Great Forget-me-not (Brunnera macrophylla)

Great Forget-me-not, Brunnera macrophyllaA striking, unusual flower observed recently as a casual escape from cultivation. Otherwise known as Siberian Bugloss, this is a rhizomatous, clump-forming, perennial growing up to 60cm in height. It’s clustered blue flowers, superficially similar to those of true forget-me-nots, appear in spring and last for up to eight weeks.

This species is most often encountered near human habitation where conditions fulfil its needs, it can persist and spread. It remains a popular garden plant and various cultivars are known to exist, including a variegated form known as ‘Jack Frost’.

Where? Growing beside a path in central Newcastle, having spread from flowerbeds located some 50m away.

Fun fact: this plant has been known from the wild in Britain since 1920.

Day 49: Hairy Bitter-cress (Cardamine hirsuta)

Hairy Bitter-cress, Cardamine hirsutaA somewhat pesky plant that needs very little introduction – doubtless familiar to readers of this blog as a garden ‘weed’ and tenacious urban botanical. The leaves of C. hirsuta are small, green and rounded, growing in opposite pairs along the leaf stem with a single, larger leaf positioned at the end. It’s delicate white flowers are four-petaled and grow in clumps atop a short stem.

Found in a range of habitats, usually where conditions are somewhat damp, bitter-cress is native to Eurasia but has been widely introduced across the world, including but not limited to Argentina, Australia, Canada and China.

Where? Observed growing in the small crack that separates the pavement from our garden wall.

Fun fact: The word ‘Cardamine’ derives from the Greek word for ‘cress’ while hirsuta is a┬ádiminutive of ‘hirsutus’ meaning ‘somewhat hairy’.

Day 50:  Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)

Wild Carrot, Daucus carotaLast but not least for this weeks summary, it’s the wild ancestor of the domestic carrot. Known by a variety of names including Queen Anne’s Lace and Bird’s Nest, this umbellifer is native to Europe and Asia. Growing to between 30cm and 60cm in height, its dull white flowers are clustered into umbels – similar in appearance to a great many British plants. However, the presence of a purple flower in the centre of the umbel is a great way to tell this species apart from the crowd. It is thought this evolved as a way of attracting pollinating insects.

D. carota is used widely by humans as a ‘beneficial weed’ and is said to lure pollinators towards valuable crops; while various parts of the plant are known to be edible. Albeit in small quantities.

Where? Found growing on the Durham coast, bucking the trend to bloom in late-Winter.

Fun fact: The carrot was first officially described by Carl Linnaeus in his 1753 work Species Plantarum.

 

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