Monday, 10 August 2009

New Plant Finds - Part 5

The Sunday before last (2nd August 2009) I decided to have a little wander around the Hough End area to see what I could find. My first stop was the little bit of waste ground off Mauldeth Road West, next to the Police Dog Training Centre. The most obvious plants were the Melilots – tall members of the Pea family (Fabaceae) with yellow or white flowers. I found both of the common yellow flowered species: Ribbed Melilot (Melilotus officinalis) and Tall Melilot (M. altissimus). The first species has smooth brown pods and the second has hairy black ones; there are differences in the shapes of the flowers as well. White Melilot (M. albus) has (yes, you’ve guessed it!) white flowers and smooth black pods.

Also present on this site were suckers of a shrub called, Staghorn Sumach (now given the scientific name, Rhus hirta, but still called, in some books, R. typhina) which I’ve not seen growing wild around here before. This shrub is originally from North America. It has leaves rather like big, spiky Ash leaves and branches which are covered in a very short ‘fuzz’ of hairs like a sort of brown velvet (the branches rather resemble deer antlers – hence the common name). I seem to recall, from my childhood, that this shrub was once commonly grown in front gardens but in the last few decades it has rather fallen out of fashion. This is probably partly due to its suckering habit but mainly because the ‘velvet’ can irritate human skin and cause dermatitis.

My best find from this area was Haresfoot Clover (Trifolium arvense). This is a true clover but with tight, elongated heads of flowers. These flower heads have a ‘furry’ look as a result of long fine, pale brown teeth of the joined sepals (see top photograph). Haresfoot Clover is usually found near the coast in dry, sandy places. Nevertheless, it can be found inland and has been found in South Manchester before – but this is the first time that I’ve seen it in this area.
Also on this site were other interesting plants such as Chicory (Chicorium intybus) and Spearmint (Mentha spicata).

The next area that I wanted to take a close look at was associated with the newer part of Southern Cemetery (that is the area to the north east of Nell Lane). At the back of this area, up against the allotment fence, are piles of earth which are, presumably, the soil dug out when preparing new graves (I’m sorry if this upsets anyone). I had noticed on a previous visit that these heaps were covered in weeds and that many of these plants were representatives of South Manchester’s ‘lost’ arable weed flora (see my article entitled, ‘Arable Weeds of South Manchester’, 17th July 2009). Disturbing the soils which composed these heaps had obviously unlocked the long-buried seed bank.

Here were both Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) and Long-headed Poppy (P. dubium). And I managed to identify two species of Fumitory: Common Ramping Fumitory (Fumaria muralis) – which is our commonest species and Common Fumitory (F. officinalis) – which definitely isn’t ‘common’ around here! The bottom photo shows F. officinalis with Black Bindweed (Fallopia convolvulus).

Also growing on the heaps were Small Nettle (Urtica urens), Sun Spurge (Euphorbia helioscopia), Redleg (Persicaria maculosa) and Wild Pansy (Viola tricolor). The Small Nettle was only the second local specimen that I’ve seen. Growing among all these were specimens of those ‘archetypal’ weeds the Goosefoots (Chenopodium) and the Oraches (Atriplex). These can be ferociously difficult to identify, but after much swearing and head scratching I managed to identify two of each: Fat Hen (Chenopodium album) and Red Goosefoot (C. rubrum) plus Common Orache (Atriplex patula) and Spear-leaved Orache (A. prostrata).
In all I found nearly 50 different species in this small area.

I did wonder if I was being disrespectful, poking around at the back of a cemetery on a Sunday afternoon – but no-one appeared to pay me any heed. I suppose that I could come up with some glib thoughts about so much colourful life springing up at the edge of such a sombre place – but out of respect for the living relatives of the people interred there, I think that I should probably keep them to myself.

Dave Bishop, August 2009

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