Woodland Watch – Week 19 – 24/07/2013

After a couple of weeks away from walking through the woodland on my own with plenty of opportunity to look at the changing flora, I am amazed to see how everything has changed in such a short space of time.

Only a couple of weeks ago, the meadow approaching the woodland was covered in lush green grasses and bright yellow buttercups. Dry hay meadows such as these are characterized by mixures of grasses such as Cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata), Timothy (Phleum pratense), Common Bent (Agrostis capillaris), Sweet Vernal-grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum) and Crested Dog’s-tail (Cynosurus cristatus). I am certainly no expert on grasses and struggle to identify anything beyond the basic species, however even my untrained eye can clearly see the difference between these diverse hay meadows and monoculture manicured lawns.

Meadow grasses on the approach to the woodland

Meadow grasses on the approach to the woodland

This is a very different picture to just a few weeks ago when the meadow was awash with bright yellow buttercups. One of the main features of meadows is the sheer diversity of plants which they contain. Mixed in among the variety of native grasses are a great many other flowering plants. These include plantains, docks, buttercups, vetches and clovers, dandelions, nettles, selfheal, Lesser knapweed, scabious, thistles, hawkbits, Ox-eye Daisies, Yellow-rattle and on rare occasions, Cowslips.

Within a few months of sprouting, the mature grass plant reproduces sexually. The plant grows a tall stem with an inflorescence at the end, which contains small flowers. Each flower contains a male organ, called the anther and a female organ called the pistil. When the pollen from the anther contacts the pistil, it releases sperms cells that enter the pistil to fertilise the ovules inside. These eventually become seeds. The grass seeds, once mature, will fall to the ground to germinate and continue the grass plant’s life cycle.The grass in the meadow approaching the woodland has moved on from the mature green leafy growth of previous weeks to flowering and reproducing to produce seed to continue their life cycle.

Meadow flora going to flower and seed

Meadow flora going to flower and seed

And its not only the meadow plants thinking about reproduction. As we enter the woodland, the bluebells which we have followed since early spring when their first lush, green, leafy growth now have brittle seed pods full of black seeds.

Bluebell seeds now maturing all over the coppice woodland floor

Bluebell seeds now maturing all over the coppice woodland floor

Bluebell seeds take around 3 years to produce flowers from seed. In 3-4 years time, these tiny seeds will hopefully be contributing to the beautiful spread of bluebells covering the woodland floor.

Our native bluebells are coming under threat from competition and hybridization, habitat loss, unsustainable collection and climate change. The native bluebell’s Spanish relative is more vigourous than our native species and can readily cross-breed with it to create a fertile hybrid Hyacinthoides hispanica x non-scripta. To find out more about the future of and the threats facing our native bluebell, take a look at this link from plantlife:

http://www.plantlife.org.uk/uploads/documents/Blubells-for-Britain-report.pdf

Also moving from its flowering stage to producing seed is the cow parsley which we have looked at several times over previous weeks as it developed. Now, the flower heads are covered in tiny black seeds.

Cow parsley plants going to seed among the nettles on the ditch bank

Cow parsley plants going to seed among the nettles on the ditch bank

Cow Parsley is a biennial plant; it takes two years to flower from seed. It puts on leaves, stems and roots during the first year and then flowers the following summer. Once they have flowered they die. These plants will self seed freely unless you remove the spent flower heads. These seeds should grow into flowering cow parsley plants over the coming 2 years as they drop to the ground once mature and begin their life cycle.

Seeds are not the only way that plants in the woodland are reproducing. If you look at the underside of the fern leaves on the woodland floor, the spores are clear to see easily with the naked eye.

Fern spores

Fern spores

Sporogenesis is not a reproductive method I am familiar with, so next week we’ll have a look at this in more detail.

Until then, enjoy your own walks in the woods. We will see you next week and see whats happening in the woods and what you should be looking out for on your own travels.

From the Treecreeper Arborists Team

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Woodland Watch – Week 14 – 19/06/2013

It seems as fast as I get used to warm spring/summer weather everything turns around and its back to miserable grey again! This week wasn’t great weather for a walk in the woods, but me and the dog made it out anyway and here’s what we saw this week!

Despite the dreary looking sky and cold, blustery wind that felt more like early spring than early summer, the meadow approaching the woodland was still beautiful, covered in buttercups and a wide range of flora.

Stormier skies than in previous weeks as we approached the woodland

Stormier skies than in previous weeks as we approached the woodland

The buttercup family is comprised of about 2,252 species, including wildflowers and ornamentals, such as larkspur, marsh marigold and clematis. It used to be thought that the rich yellow of the buttercup made better butter from cows feeding in buttercup-rich meadows. This is a myth however, as we now know that the stem and leaf are actually toxic, especially to cattle, and the animals avoid eating it.

The meadow is full of a wide variety of flowers, herbs, grasses etc and I am the first to admit that my meadow species identification needs a lot of work, so please feel free to correct any mistakes!!! Species such as the common plantain and clover are widespread among the buttercups.

Ground level vegetation in the meadow approaching the woodland

Ground level vegetation in the meadow approaching the woodland

Inside the wood, the woodland floor has changed again. The green bluebell leaves from previous weeks have turned yellow and collapsed as they come to the end of their life for this year. The stems and seed pods are still upright, bare looking without their foliage.

Bluebell stems left after the leaves have wilted

Bluebell stems left after the leaves have wilted

While these areas of the woodland look bare now that the bluebells have died back, other areas are overrun with weeds. On entering the woodland area there are large patches of young brambles which will continue to dominate the vegetation where they can through the summer months.

Young brambles taking over the area close to the entrance to the woods

Young brambles taking over the area close to the entrance to the woods

Although generally considered a woody week and certainly difficult to eradicate once they become established, brambles are a very useful plant to a wide range of wildlife. Hundreds of creatures use brambles at different times of the year: Insects visit the flowers for pollen and nectar, including bumblebees, honey bees, hoverflies, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies and lacewings.Spiders spin webs to catch the bounty of visiting insects. Moths such as buff arches, peach blossom and fox moths lay their eggs on bramble as it is their larval foodplant. Blackbirds, thrushes, chaffinches, starlings, robins, pheasants, foxes, mice and other small mammals eat the fruits. Robins, wrens, thrushes, blackbirds, warblers and finches will nest in bramble and small mammals use it for protection from predators.

A weed the bramble may be, but it is certainly a very valuable woodland plant as long as it is not allowed to out compete other valuable vegetation. The key to any habitat is variety.

That’s it for this week. Join us again next week for another walk in the woods.

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