New Year Plant Hunt

This New Year was the sixth time the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland organised a plant hunt. Its objective is to record any (non-planted) species in flower around and just after 1 January. This has proved to be considerably interesting since it has provided a stark indication that many more plants are flowering in the depths of winter than ever was the case a generation or more ago. Indeed, if you look at any of the standard field guides the flowering periods detailed in them for any particular species are now likely to be considerably out of date. This isn’t just a small-scale phenomenon either, last year 653 species were recorded in bloom between 1-4 January throughout Britain and Ireland, which is an astonishing number.

So, on 2 January a group of five of us met to see what we could find in Forest Row. With the wet and cold weather in the run-up to Christmas and after the chances of finding anything in flower seemed somewhat reduced and, indeed, as we nosed around Foresters Green and then along the Forest Way we did wonder if we’d find anything at all.

Knowing we needed somewhere with a bit more sun we headed in to Tablehurst Farm, but even then it took a while before the first petals were discovered. I knew where there was Gorse bush (Ulex europaeus) so there had to be flowers on that, though at first sight we couldn’t see any; they were all facing away from the path.

Still, around the picnic area we found some Dandelion (Taraxacum sp.), Annual Meadow-grass (Poa annua) and Hairy Bitter-cress (Cardamine hirsuta) all in flower, so things started to look a bit more promising. By now down to three of us we headed up the path towards Minepits Wood, pausing on the way to check out a wasp queen (German Wasp, Vespula germanica, new for the kilometre square!).

Picture of German Wasp (Vespula germanica)

German Wasp (Vespula germanica)

Then, on the recently-disturbed ground by the new pig shed a small flurry of flowers appeared:

Other arable weeds were also lurking in the fields with their variously-sized flowers: Shepherd’s-purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), Common Mouse-ear (Cerastium fontanum), Scentless Mayweed (Tripleurospermum inodorum), and Common Chickweed (Stellaria media). And then we found something huge:

Mallows can be a bit tricky to identify but after a bit of deliberation this was determined to be a rather tall instance of Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris). Then, heading back we picked up Petty Spurge (Euphorbia peplus) and Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris), and noted a few other species that didn’t actually count for the plant hunt:

In total, then, we found 15 species in flower, which wasn’t a huge number, but a useful set to send off to the data gatherers. I’m not sure if quite all the data has been submitted yet, but it currently looks like 551 different species have been recorded in flower across Britain and Ireland between 1-4 January this year, the smaller number than last year surely being down to the weather. Even so, it is still a noteworthy result. Interesting too that some plant hunts in other parts of the country found amazing numbers of plants in bloom; more than 20 groups recorded over 50 species in flower, and around Penzance and Newlyn there were 106 recorded in the three hour search period. The ones we found turned out to be particularly common; ten of ours were in the top 20 most commonly-found species in flower (though we didn’t find Daisy, Bellis perennis!).

Picture of Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)

Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)

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