This is a short blog to finish off 2023 in Cornwall. As we start 2024, the daylight hours are slowly becoming longer but that is rather negated by non-stop heavy rain and gales of late. The following is a precis of the few interesting plants I found in December.
Whilst walking through a wet woodland, I couldn't help but notice hundreds of rushes, most less a foot tall. The look of the plant said it was Slender Rush, but I thought I would take a sample home to double check. Using a new camera on my 3D microscope made it very easy to see all the tiny parts of the plant on my laptop instead of having to squint through the eyepieces. This plant has its outer tepals much longer than the inner ones and project far beyound the nutlets and Slender Rush is characterised by that alone. Some guides say this isn't on a rhizome, but the one I pulled up was - but it was very short, perhaps 2" long from which arose several plants, giving it a bit of a tufted look. I hope to explore Juncus more fully using the microscope and micro camera come Spring when they bear flowers and fruits.
Below is Sea Spurge at Par Sands in seed. It doesn't look a great deal different when in flower, though the central bracts have now enclosed the cyanthium (sexual parts of the flower) hiding them from view.
On "X", formerly Twitter, every Sunday between 8-9pm there is #Wildflowerhour where people all around the UK and Ireland post finds of native or naturalised plants flowering in the last week. It's a great way to see what's going on in different regions and a way to encourage newcomers into botany. If you have trouble identifying your flower, you can simply tag it with #WildflowerID and one of several online volunteer botanists will soon provide an answer. Many thanks to Rebecca Wheeler for keeping this going.
(her accounts are @wildflower_hour and @botany_beck).
Here's some flowering plants I found in mid December locally that I posted on #Wildflowerhour.
Of course as a botanist, in winter, I don't just look for flowers. I notice all sorts of plants and winter is a great time to spot rosettes. Most species have specific leaves and leaf arrangement which help you identify your plant, like this Sea Storksbill below that I found in block paving outside a superstore in Par. This was a surprising find as they are usually very close to the sea and this was about a mile or so inland.
Whilst at Par Beach, I also noticed many rare Sea Knotgrass plants still had leaves on them. I had previously thought that all knotgrasses were annuals and died off and withered away as winter set in, but no, Sea Knotgrass is actually perennial. It's the only UK Knotgrass that is.
In the first photo you can see the edges of the leaves rolled inwards and on the stem, the very short internodes between flowers (they've fallen off now of course). These features characterise this species. In the third photo you can see the thick tap root, as thick as a man's thumb going deep into the sand. The winter storm tides cover these plants and wash away their seeds aiding dispersal.
The long evenings in winter also allow time for peering through a microscope at Polypody spores. The three species (and a number of hybrids) cannot be reliably told apart without microscopic examination of their sporangia and spores. I came across one that looked a bit weird, like a cross between Intermediate and Common Polypody, and I suspected it might be a hybrid, visually confirmed by it looking almost sterile.
So I took a sample home and after careful study, it was apparent that this was simply a Common Polypody that looked a bit weird and wasn't too good at producing spores. The sporangia I examined were full of viable spores, ruling out the hybrid (which is sterile) and the number of annulus rings on the mechanism holding the spores matched Common Polypody too. Oh well, nothing unusual, but fun looking and learning.
The final two days of December and first two days of January are when the BSBI hold their New Year Plant Hunt. Rather than explain it in detail, you can read all about it at
Lots of people all over the UK and Ireland go out and record everything they can find in flower that is native or naturalised in the wild on a 3 hour (max) walk. It's held over 4 days and the results are used to show trends on what and when they are flowering. Hopefully, the data will link into climate change so see what effects if any, that climate change is having on our flora at mid winter. You can go on a group hunt or go solo and I usually do both here in Cornwall. I often find new records too, with some plants inexplicably missed on summer surveys, but found now - like this Field Scabious below. Flowering on 30/12/23 by a football field.
Pot Marigolds are a common garden escape in southern England, but I don't often see them in the summer, however, you can't miss their bright orange flowers in mid winter. The one below had self seeded along a rural road wall, not far from a sports centre from where its parent plant probably originated.
It's been quite a challenge to motivate myself to go out for the New Year Plant Hunt as the weather has been atrocious, with gales, heavy rain and even hail every day so far of the hunt. The gales and rain continue into January and as I write this, the windows are creaking and things are blowing around gardens with gale force gusts and driving rain. Having said all that, just half an hour outside with nature does wonders for your mental health regardless of the weather. Put the waterproofs and wellies on and go outside for a walk, see what you can find - you'll enjoy it.
Happy New Year