Thursday, 16 April 2009

A Road Side Salt Marsh

At the beginning of February, this year (if you can remember that far back!), we had some snow. You may also remember that, as a result, 'all Hell broke loose'! Trains were cancelled, roads were shut and people phoned and instructed not to go into work. And local authorities ran out of salt and had to buy more at inflated prices. I strongly suspect that this is because they don't stockpile salt any more and have probably sold the depots off to property developers (Ah! The wonders of the modern, 'lean-'n'-mean' economy!).

Anyway, eventually the authorities spread all of this, very expensive, salt on the roads. Most of it went down the drains and ended up in water courses - which probably didn't do them, or the organisms which live in them, much good. Some of it, though, ended up on road side verges and central reservations, effectively turning them into long, thin salt marshes.

One plant, in particular, has taken advantage of this man-made phenomenon. It is a coastal salt marsh plant called Danish Scurvygrass (Cochlearia danica). Incidentally, this plant is not specifically Danish and is found throughout most of N.W. Europe from Spain and Portugal to southern Norway and the Baltic coast of Denmark. It is also widely distributed in England and Wales. As usual the venacular name is (at least partially) misleading and it is not a 'grass' but a member of the Cabbage Family (Brassicaceae). On the other hand it, and its close relatives, are known to be rich in vitamin C so they may well have been used for treating scurvy (which is a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C in the diet).

I took the above photograph by the A56, Chester Road in Stretford but can attest that mile after mile of motorway and major road verges are turned a very pale lilac colour, at this time of year, by millions upon millions of Danish Scurvygrass's flowers. On an April day, a few years ago, I went on a business trip to Cardiff. I was a passenger in a company car driven by a colleague and the Scurvygrass was a feature of the verges all the way from South Lancashire to South Wales.
Dave Bishop, April 2009

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