The flora of Iris Brickfield Park

Iris Brickfield Park sits fairly close to our home in Heaton, Newcastle, and as such, has been a mainstay of our local walks during the pandemic. Fairly small, at least when compared to Newcastle’s other parks, and managed by Urban Green, it provides a lifeline to many people living in the local area: dog walkers, joggers, families and of course, naturalists stuck in the city.

This year, I have been making a concerted effort to record as many plants as possible growing in this small park, focusing on those growing in a wild or naturalised state. Plants that have clearly been planted have been ignored, though long-established street trees and hedgerow plants have been recorded per guidance from the BSBI. The aim of this being to create a somewhat comprehensive checklist for future visits, and for anyone else keen to know more about the flora of the park.

As very much a beginner botanist, the site list is will not capture everything found within the park. I know for a fact that I have missed some grasses, while I am not yet able to confidently identify the various willowherbs found here. If anything looks out of place, please do let me know.

All records will (or have already been) submitted to BSBI recorders through iRecord.

Species list

In total, I have recorded 159 plant species in the park this year. Not bad for such a small area! For the sake of simplicity, I have not broken this down into grid squares but instead, have broken it down based on the three key areas present: the park, its pond and the nearby Iris Brickfield Allotments. The wider park contained the greatest diversity owing to a mix of both woodland and meadow habitats, though the pond too was surprisingly diverse. The exterior of the allotments held a few interesting species, including several escapes ‘tossed over the fence’.

The full species list can be viewed below.

Trees and shrubs

The trees and shrubs of Iris Brickfield are fairly diverse. Common species such as Ash (Fraxinus excelsior), Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) and English Oak (Quercus robur) are abundant, interspersed with a small number of Field Maple (Acer campestre), Bird Cherry (Prunus padus) and Scot’s Pine (Pinus sylvestris).

Small areas of White Poplar (Populus alba) and Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) are present and Aspen (Populus tremula) appears to be spreading quickly in certain areas. Single trees and anomalies include False Acacia (Robina pseudoacacia) and Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus).

Shrubs are not particularly diverse, though the Western boundary of the site includes Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurpcerasus), Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) and plenty of Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea). To the North, Cherry Plum (Prunus cerasifera) is plentiful and elsewhere Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) grows in abundance.

Wildflowers

Wooded areas of the park hold several species commonly associated with mature woodland and whether these were once planted remains to be seen. Wood Anemone (Anemonoides nemorosa), Ramsons (Allium ursinum) and English Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) can be found, and while scarce, one small patch of Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna) can be found. The non-native Spanish Bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) can be seen too, albeit in small numbers.

Grassy areas away from the playing fields and other mown areas hold a nice mix of typical ‘meadow’ species. Here, Common Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) and Hairy Tare (Vicia hirsuta) are conspicuous and Creeping Cinquefoil (Potentilla reptans) plentiful. Also present are Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis), Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) and Goat’s-beard (Tragopogon pratensis). Both Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) and Oxford Ragwort (Senecio squalidus) also pop up sporadically.

Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris), Sweet Violet (Viola odorata), Sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica) and Wild Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) are less common here but exist in small patches scattered across the site.

Other highlights include scattered patches of Stinking Iris (Iris foetidissima), one of only two native iris species in Britain, and Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) which occasionally appears in unusual places.

Non-natives and adventives

Sweet Alison (Lobularia maritima) can sometimes be seen growing by path sides and befitting the park’s urban surroundings, Butterfly Bush (Buddleja Davidii) has a habit of springing up in odd places. Likely an escape from the nearby allotments, Borage (Borago officinalis) occurs but seldom persists long and occasionally, Purple Toadflax (Linaria purpurea) will take hold in a crevice or crack.

Slightly more troubling, Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) has begun colonising and the small pond is blanketed with New Zealand Pigmyweed (Crassula helmsii).

Wetland area

The small pond in Iris Brickfield makes for an interesting pitstop throughout the year. Despite facing problems from the aforementioned pygmyweed, and the rampant spread of Common Reed (Phragmites australis), Sweet Reed Grass (Glyceria maxima) and Bulrush (Typha latifolia), a few interesting species can be found tucked away in nooks and crannies. The most colourful of these being Flag Iris (Iris pseudacorus), Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris) and Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris).

Gypsywort (Lycopus europaeus) was observed for the first time in 2021, and the margins hold a healthy population of Water Mint (Mentha aquatica) and Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria). Bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) and Water Horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile) persist here too.

A little less showy than the aforementioned flowers, a good variety of rushes and sedges can be found here too including Jointed Rush (Juncus articulatus), Lesser Pond Sedge (Carex acutiformis), Soft Rush (Juncus effusus) and Common Spike-rush (Eleocharis palustris). The alien-looking seedheads of Branched Bur-Reed (Sparganium erectum) are also interesting.

Whilst not numerous, Northern Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza purpurella) can also be found in the surrounding damp grassland.

Allotments

Whilst the allotments at Iris Brickfield are private and access is not permitted (or possible), a poke about the margins of the area can reveal some interesting plants. Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum) is notable here in Summer and in spring, Three-cornered Garlic (Allium triquetrum) can be seen. 

The hedges that screen the site are comprised mainly of ornamentals such as Firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea), Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum), though native species such as Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra) have found their way in too. Perhaps the oddest occurrence here is that of a sprawling Grapevine (Vitis vinifera) which appears to have escaped cultivation to colonise the hedge. 

Notable and unusual

Two plants in Iris Brickfield stand out as notable. The first, Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum), is a peculiar one. With two small plants found in the grassland this year, I was optimistic about seeing these flower. Alas, they now appear to have been trodden to death…

The occurrence of Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis) close to the pond was most unexpected and represented a notable vice-county record. An escape from cultivation at some point in time, its large, pink flowers stand out like a sore thumb at the height of summer.

And there we have it. I’ve certainly found it interesting getting to grips with the flora of my local patch this year and will endeavour to keep similar lists for other sites I frequent in the future. I hope someone may find this type of post interesting and it goes without saying, if you notice any errors or ‘unusual’ records, please let me know.

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