One of my schoolteachers used to say that if you could cover 20 daisy flowers in the lawn with one foot, it must be summer. We used to think that her summer always came a good couple of weeks earlier than ours.
There are thousands of plants in the daisy family – the Asteraceae – the name derived from the Latin for star, aster. The flowers have an easily recognisable star shape. Actually, the flower head isn’t a single flower but lots of tiny ones making up the central disc (‘disc florets’) and the surrounding ‘ray florets’ which we think of as petals. This multiplicity of flowers means that daisies are good nectar sources and are consequently attractive to pollinating insects.
The word daisy comes from the Old English of daeges eage, which means day’s eye, referring to the way the flower opens in the morning and closes at night. The symmetrical daisy flower is easy to draw so the daisy wheel is a common apotropaic sign that used to be inscribed onto the walls or beams of buildings to ward off evil (Messums barn, for example) and is now the new logo for the local Stone Daisy Brewery.
The daisy with which we are probably most familiar is the common, lawn or English daisy that we’ve all used for making daisy chains. Some gardeners see the plant as a weed, but others love to see the flowers dotting the lawn. It can grow in wide range of soils, even compacted, and spreads by both seed and underground runners.
Another common species is the much taller ox-eye daisy, often seen in meadows and hedge banks. This is our largest native daisy, a resilient perennial that sheds masses of seeds, it spreads easily and forms impressive stands quite quickly. In contrast to the common daisy, the flowers do not close at night and may glow in the dusk leading some to name it the moon daisy. The flowers are attractive to bees, butterflies, and beetles. Both daisy species are used for the petal-picking romance prediction game of ‘loves me; loves me not’.
As well as several other wild daisy species, there are numerous daisy varieties which have been bred for our gardens such as Shasta Daisies, Michaelmas Daisies, and Marguerites. Most are attractive to insects so should not be overlooked because they are ‘just a daisy.’
by Andrew Graham
Meet at the Nadder Centre car park on Sat 3rd June at 10.30am or approximately 1 hour 15 minutes later at the Westhay Moor Reserve BA6 9TX. The car park is at OS ST 456 437, just north of the junction between Westhay Moor Drove and Dagg’s Lane Drove, between the villages of Westhay and Godney.
Distance, Difficulty and Footwear: Approximately 5 km/3 miles on flat gravel paths which may be a bit muddy if there has been recent rain. Good stout shoes should suffice rather than wellingtons. Bring a packed lunch and refreshments.
This Field Trip has limited numbers. There may still be places if you've not yet signed up and want to come. Equally please let us know if you're on the list, but can no longer make the date. We are now using the email address email@example.com for organising lists for events, so please contact us there.
Umbellifers (Focus - May)
After so much rain in March, as soon as the ground warmed up plant growth was rapid. So now the lanes are bursting with vegetation and flowers. Many roadsides are white with massed clouds of Cow Parsley, also known more flatteringly as Queen Anne’s Lace. In common with other umbellifers, this tall plant has large flat circular flowers made up of many smaller florets. It is extremely common and is found in all sorts of places, particularly along roadside verges. It appears to be particularly suited to this habitat where it starts to dominate other flowers. If, after mowing, the cuttings are left, the ground is enriched, and this combined with fertiliser from adjacent farmland allows strongly growing plants like the Cow Parsley to dominate. Although only a biennial, it produces lots of seed, so can spread easily. On the positive side, the plant’s mass of flowers is attractive to numerous insects including beetles, hoverflies, and butterflies.
Umbellifers are a large group and there are numerous species - good, bad and ugly - to be found in the countryside and garden. Most have white flowers but some are yellow or green while some cultivated varieties for the garden may be purple. Some, such Wild Carrot and Wild Parsley have been domesticated to give us food crops. The former, often found on chalky soils, is a lower growing plant with a collar of wonderful feathery bracts below the flower head. Its root does indeed smell like carrot but while it is far smaller than those we grow for the table, the badgers still like them enough to dig them out of our garden.
Many of our culinary herbs, for example parsley, coriander and fennel are umbellifers as anyone who has had their plants bolt will have noticed. Those with a sweet tooth will appreciate Angelica, the stems of which are crystallised for cake and trifle decoration and also provides the flavour for Chartreuse liqueur.
However, the hated Ground Elder is the bane of many a gardener’s life. Although not a large plant, once established its rhizomes spread easily making it hard to eradicate. But there are worse species. The Giant Hogweed, which was introduced from the Caucasus by Victorian plant hunters is particularly nasty. Its sap is phototoxic which means that on contact with it, your skin loses the ability to protect itself from sunlight, resulting in nasty blisters. And then there is Hemlock, most famously associated with the death of Socrates. All parts of this plant are highly toxic but fortunately it has an off-putting odour which keeps animals away and reduces the likelihood of humans thinking it might be edible.
Umbellifers are such a large group, and quite difficult to distinguish without practice and good guidebook, it is better to avoid consuming any of them, just admire the mass of flowers and leave them for the insects to enjoy.
by Andrew Graham
Debbie Carter has given us some valuable assistance in listing out the wildflowers you may be able to spot locally across four habitat types (chalk downland, hay meadows, woodland and wetland). With Ordnance Survey grid references, this is an impressive guide, all beautifully illustrated with the wildflower photographs taken by Andrew Carter.
Please refer to the Resources part of the website to locate the growing number of Local Wildlife pages we're adding to the Wildlife identification and recording section.
Juniper scrub prospers well on rocky screes, exposed to the light, away from heavy grazing activity. Matt Pitts, Meadows Adviser at the Salisbury-based environmental charity Plantlife, showed us striking photographs of sites in Cumbria and the Caledonian forest where juniper growth has persisted since the last Ice Age. Closer to home we heard about Plantlife’s project in the Wylye Valley and the Chilterns where they are regenerating juniper on chalkland downs. Not only will this conserve the habitats for the 50 species of insects and 40 of fungi which solely rely on juniper, but it will also contribute to the biodiversity of species on these sites.
Historical records of land usage show that juniper started to disappear when the downlands were fenced and the shift in grazing patterns caused an impact, with some land also being lost to arable, particularly after the Napoleonic War and World War II. Despite this, Juniper went through a mini regeneration during the myxomatosis period 1960-80 as it no longer had the threat of thousands of rabbits nibbling its young shoots.
We learned a striking fact that the berries have a low fertility with only 1-5% viability, so gathering viable seed is difficult. The Juniper project team is aided by the Millenium Seedbank which stores seed and checks on viability. Plantlife mainly use two methods of cultivation: they grow from seed and store young plants in a nursery for several years until they are strong enough for planting out and they also scatter seed on prepared scrapes of chalkland. Locally they have extensive scrapes on the Fonthill Estate in the Wylye Valley where they are trialling juniper regeneration.
Patience is definitely required because juniper takes a long time to establish. We saw photographs of a scraped chalk fenced area over a ten year period and only by year 3 were tiny shoots in evidence. By year 10 there were 688 clumps of juniper growing well, with a multitude of chalkland orchids, kidney vetch and other flowers naturally seeded.
Matt advised against buying juniper from nurseries because firstly, it might not be a native plant and secondly it could be infected with phytophthora austrocedi, a pathogen which kills our native juniper trees. This fungus-like pathogen is difficult to detect without proper laboratory investigation and it is likely to be carried in the compost, so to preserve the strength and integrity of our native juniper we better leave the juniper regeneration to the specialists.
More information about Plantlife’s juniper project is available on their website.
Talk on Thurs 16th March at 7:30pm: Revitalising Wiltshire's populations of Lowland Juniper
Matt Pitts, Meadows Adviser at the Salisbury-based environmental charity Plantlife, is coming to give us a talk on his project to reinvigorate juniper’s growth after its significant decline and protect the wildlife that depend on its presence.
Over the past 60-70 years there has been an 80% loss in the area of chalk grassland in Southern Britain. Fragmentation of the habitat and a reduction in extensive grazing has resulted in a loss of plant species and of biodiversity more widely.
Juniper is a specific example that faces extinction in southern Britain. Across our downlands, this iconic shrub has failed to regenerate for the past sixty years. As bushes reach the end of their lives, whole colonies are dying out; it has been lost from nearly 50% of its historic range. If this trend continues, over 100 specialist invertebrates and fungi that depend on the juniper to survive will disappear too.
But although juniper is the focus for Matt’s project, the work is benefiting chalk grassland conservation overall.
Since 2009, Plantlife has been trialling in-situ techniques to regenerate juniper from seed. 10 out of 14 trial sites now boast healthy populations both of young juniper bushes and populations of other wildflowers and plants. Focusing on the themes of nature conservation and connecting people with nature, Plantlife are now working to reinstate lost juniper landscapes on a larger scale, initially in the Wylye Valley and on the Berkshire Downs.
The Victoria Hall, High Street, Tisbury and its bar, will be open as usual from 7:00 p.m (cash & card payments). Members and those under 21 have free entry and we welcome any visitors to join us and pay a guest fee of £2. Please bring cash for guest tickets!
Talk notes: Managing the NT hillforts and chalk grasslands for both archaeology and nature conservation
Clive Whitbourn, National Trust Ranger, started his talk with a focus on Hambledon Hill, the 47 hectare hillfort which came to the National Trust in 2014. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a photo from 1940 showed how bare the hillfort was 80 years ago. Now the hillfort is managed lightly, with scrub kept low and any erosion kept at bay with terrace reshaping to preserve the profile of the ramparts.
Clive showed us the methods they use with wooden frameworks buried deep to support hessian bags full of chalk, which bulk out any damaged areas, with turf from the ditch placed on top. The chalkland grasses grow through and thrive. He mentioned that the south and south-west ramparts of Hambledon Hill are best for butterflies.
Cattle scraping for minerals – they can go on binges to self-medicate - and visitors wearing down paths, all play their part in erosion. Roboflail, a mechanical AI cutter, is being used on some of the NT sites to great effect to keep the scrub low and save the man hours for other tasks. The NT relies on volunteer help on many of their conservation projects.
Hod Hill is Dorset’s largest Iron Age hillfort and is unusual because it has a Roman fort nestled within, built at a time when the invaders needed to defend their capture of this Durotriges stronghold. Clive showed us how the framework and hessian bag method was also used to repair a bridleway here.
In terms of nature conservation, Texel sheep are good grazers and White Park cattle are brilliant for rough pastures. Yellow Rattle, which suppresses coarse grass growth, is doing well at Winn Green and there are plans this year to brush-harvest the seed from there and broadcast it to the newly purchased Clubmen’s Down, a 30 acre piece of arable.
Across Clive’s patch and the various Downs and hillforts, uncommon species are being noted: Bee and the Great Butterfly orchids, and the unusual Autumn Lady’s Tresses; Waxcap fungi; Marsh, Silver-spotted and Danville Fritillaries, Grizzled Skippers, Small Blue and Adonis Blue butterflies; Great Green Bush-crickets and Glow worms.
Clive’s talk gave us plenty of inspiration for visiting these places, particularly in the spring and summer!
Talk notes: Gardening for wild pollinators
Rebecca Twigg started her talk last week by stressing the relative unimportance of honey bees compared with wild pollinators such as solitary bees, bumblebees, moths, butterflies, hoverflies and beetles. She gave several examples of solitary bee species that are commonly found in gardens such as the Ashy and Tawny mining bees, as well as the recently arrived Ivy bees, and explained interesting details about their lifecycles and habitat requirements. Later, she gave us examples of the best garden flowers for pollinators, natives as well as exotics.
She stressed the importance of having flowers blooming all year round, with Heathers from late winter, Lungwort in early spring and continuing right through to early winter with Mahonia, for example. Rebecca explained how she restocks her garden by swapping plants, growing from cuttings and collecting seeds rather than buying from
Rebecca pointed out how planting in drifts is so important, so the bees don’t have to waste energy flying between individual flowers, making sure there’s a variety of flower types, e.g., Foxgloves for long-tongued bumblebees and daisies for short-tongued hover-flies.
Rebecca then spoke about creating different habitats in gardens, to provide for the diverse requirements of different pollinators. Drilling holes between 5 and 8mm and pencil length into wooden panels, logs or posts placed in warm, sunny situations can provide valuable nesting sites for solitary bees. The importance of having areas of short and longer (flower rich) grass in a lawn to cater for mining bees, which need warm soil to complete their lifecycle, was emphasised.
We recommend walking the Salisbury Bee Trail which Rebecca is responsible for laying out and for which she won an award.
by Peter Shallcross
This month we welcome Rebecca Twigg, founder of Salisbury's Secret Garden.
Rebecca is an organic gardener with a passion for the natural world who received a DEFRA award for the Salisbury Bee Trail project. She has now started a new community garden at the Five Rivers Health and Well-being Centre and an additional ‘green space kick start’ scheme for those wanting to take on a patch of ground themselves.
“Exploration outside is absolutely in my heart, there is something magical about immersing yourself in nature …these interactions shape our values and abilities to manage in an ever-changing world too.”
As last month, the Victoria Hall bar will be open from 7:00PM to serve wine, beer and soft drinks before the meeting.
We plan, as usual now, to live-stream Rebecca’s presentation over Zoom for anyone not able to attend in person; I’ll send out the Zoom link to members a few days before.
Attending our meetings is free for members and anyone under 21; adult visitors are asked for a £2 contribution. If you are not a member but would like to come along, please get in touch via the contact form. The Victoria Hall is on the High St, Tisbury, opposite the garage.
Talk notes: Where the wildflowers grow
Leif Bersweden was brought up near here so visiting us last month was, appropriately enough, something of a return to his roots. A bright, engaging speaker, he was bursting with enthusiasm for his subject.
He set about the topic by describing how he became interested first in animals and then in plants and flowers as a boy, and went on to describe the journey he recently made across the whole of the British Isles, largely on bicycle, to explore the range of plants that grow here, their habits and their habitats. He travelled as far west as the lizard Peninsula in Cornwall, as far east as the South East corner of England, at Deal in Kent, via the Norfolk Broads and Scarborough in Yorkshire, as far north as the Shetland Isles, and across the island of Ireland to sites in both Derry in the north and Cork in the far south west.
Much of his talk was made up of descriptions of the sights and specimens he found most amazing; some that we may consider familiar such as the glorious spring-time carpets of bluebell woods on the South Downs or in Hampshire; or the unfamiliar characteristics of common plants such as the fact that Lords-and-ladies is capable of generating heat; or the truly unexpected carnivorous greater bladderwort, growing in the Norfolk Broads. Leif’s sheer delight at all of these was truly infectious; a delight to listen to.
The background, of course, which he did not shy away from, is that wildflower populations are threatened everywhere, by population growth, changes in agricultural practices and intensity, and by climate change. And the familiarity people used to have with wild plants in their locality, their names, their uses, has largely disappeared.
But there were light hearted touches, too, such as the anecdote he told of how embarrassed he was when apprehended, camera in hand, while taking pictures of a particular plant native to a coastal sand-dune, by a couple of members of the nudist colony that also occupied the area.
Overall Leif’s message was determinedly up-beat. Our wildflower heritage is something wonderful and to be cherished. He filled his audience with enthusiasm and pleasure that reflected his own – and sold a fair number of copies of his recently published book as a result!
by Richard Budden
Photo: Avocets (Izzy Fry)
The headers display photos taken by our members. Do get in touch via the Contact Form if you'd like to submit a photo for selection.