Saturday 6 April 2024

Cornwall Botany - Late March 2024

 March turned out to be one of the wettest on record, so I chose not to go out as much as I usually would have done. There's a limit to enjoyment in heavy driving rain and gale force winds isn't there! I also try to include what could be called "every day" plants, that you, the reader might find locally to you but don't know what they are. I hope this blog helps you to identify a few more plants.

What follows are plants of interest that I did find when I got out and about.


Town Hall Clock, or Moschatel, is not that common in Cornwall, mainly due to the fact that the majority of Cornwall's ancient woodlands were felled a long time ago. However, they persist along the steep, wooded river valleys that dot the Cornish landscape. I found five clumps flowering along a road verge near to the Lanhydrock estate in late March. I've also noticed that the flowers tend to be smaller than those I used to see in Kent, I don't know why that should be.

Adoxa moschatellina

The first Garden Archangels had also burst into bloom. This garden escape is very common in Cornwall and can be told apart from the native species in that the leaves have silvery blotches on them and the flowers are a bit larger too.

Lamiastrum galeobdolon subsp. argentatum

The Dandelion season is now under way as Spring is the only time one can reliably identify plants from the 230 or so different species there are. This one looked striking, so I had it identified by the referee. This plant also taught me a lesson, in that the leaves looked spotted. Spotted leaves lead one to a specific set of Dandelions in the Field Handbook, so I found it difficult to determine what I had found. The reason for this was that the leaves aren't actually spotted at all, the blotches are from insect damage. A lesson learned.

Taraxacum hamatum

Spring is also the time that Slender Speedwell begins to flower. It has bigger flowers than most other common species and is common in lawns, greens and road verges that are mowed, and graveyards, which is where I found this one below. Note the kidney shaped alternate leaves that are typical of this species.

Veronica filiformis

The end of March also saw several grass species come into flower, such as this Meadow Foxtail, a common sight on Cornwall's road verges. Hay fever season has begun in earnest I suspect.

Alopecurus pratensis

There are two species of Parsley Piert; both are tiny plants with even smaller petal-less flowers and tiny stipules under the sepals. The photo below shows some hints on determining which species you have found. Generally, Slender Parsley-piert is only found on acidic soils, but not always.

Regarding the notes in the photo: cuneate means tapered (into the leaf stem) and truncate means horizontally flattened off (to the leaf stem).

Aphanes australis

Mossy Stonecrop is a tiny succulent leaved plant that only grows where there is little competition from other plants. As such, it is often found on urban paths, very short turf rural paths and waste ground. Below, it is flowering on a gravel path on the Camel Trail near Wadebridge. In a few weeks, as these plants go to seed, they turn bright red and are easier to see, even from a distance. Look for unexplained red patches in bare areas and you might find some. The £1 coin gives you some scale as to the size of individual plants.

Crassula tillaea

Blinks are tiny plants - blink and you'll miss them. This whole plant wasn't much bigger than that £1 coin in the last photo. It was growing in a damp gravel car park amongst moss. It is another species that doesn't like competition from other plants. When the flowers open, they have 5 petals. Note the thickened leaf stalks where the leaf blade joins the stem and the tiny bumps (papillae) on the leaves.

Montia fontana

Ivy-leaved Water Crowfoot is often found in wet areas of pasture fields for grazing animals. I suspect the animals distribute their seeds in mud on their hooves to other wet areas where they germinate the following Spring. Given the very wet weather, the plant below was in a huge patch of thousands of plants in a cow field entrance that had become a giant puddle from all the rain. The flowers are small and the leaves look like mini ivy leaves and often have dark blotches on them.

Ranunculus hederaceus

The next photo was so poor that I wasn't going to include it, however, it contains an important feature for identification, so I have. When I see a load of floating duckweed plants in a ditch, it's so easy to assume that they are just Common Duckweed and walk on. However, there are several species of duckweeds, so it's worth having a look. Dip your finger into them and pull it out and a few plants will stick to it enabling a closer look. These ones turned out to be Least Duckweed, evidenced by their small size, single root and most importantly, a single ridge line of papillae along the centreline of the upper side of the leaf. Other species may have 3 leaves joined together, tiny sacs of air bubbles on the underside or multiple roots coming off the base. All are slightly different.

Lemna minuta

On a wall in Wadebridge, I came across a Polypody fern that looked odd. The frame of reference of what looked odd for me, was that I normally only see Common and Intermediate Polypodies around Cornwall. The one below didn't fit either species, so was likely to be the rarer Southern Polypody. To tell them apart reliably, you need to examine them microscopically. The text in the photo shows the important points, but crucially, this plant had paraphyses (tiny hairs) between the sporangia (orange blobs on the underside of the frond). Only Southern Polypody has these, apart from a hybrid. The hybrid is sterile and under the microscope I found plenty of viable spores, thus ruling that out.

Polypodium cambricum

In damp woodlands and rural road verges, Pink Purlsane has burst into flower. They are attractive and though not native, are long naturalised in Cornwall and are now widespread in the east of the county. Most are pink or pink and white, but occassionaly I find all white flowered variants too.

Claytonia sibirica

Along a flooded rural road verge in the Luxulyan valley, I saw some Water Horsetail (not photographed). A short distance away, I found more, but they looked different, having denser branches and more rigid (but still weak) stems. This was the hybrid between Field and Water Horsetail, one I'd not seen before. A key tip to Horsetail identification, is to break a stem and note what the inner hollow in it looks like. Each species is different, some with large interior hollows and other with angled narrow ones. I've photographed the stem hollow below and it is intermediate between the two species, as expected.

Equisetum x litorale

The three most common early flowering wood-rushes are now out, including: Field wood-rush; Greater wood-rush and below, Hairy wood-rush. Oddly, the hairy wood-rush is not as hairy as the other two!

This species is easy to identify as the branches that hold the flowers and later nutlets are bent in all directions and thus are unmistakable. The second photo below shows this trait clearly.

Luzula pilosa

In a boggy area under Grey Willow trees, I found the first Marsh Violet of the season. Easily identified by their round leaves in a very wet habitat and when in flower, by the veins of the bottom petal going all the way down to the base. Most are quite small flowers, so if you look for them, they might only be a few centimetres wide.

Viola palustris subsp juressi

In the same area where I found the violet, I came across some Three-nerved Sandwort growing along the drier areas of a woodland path. Easily identified by the 3 prominent veins in the leaves along with 5 un-notched petals shorter than the sepals. Usually found in woodland or Cornish hedges.

Moehringia trinervia

Wood Sorrel is a declining species nationally, so it's always nice to find some. Quite often they grow in damp woodland on tree trunks or mosses. Anywhere shaded and damp where there is less competition from other plants.

Oxalis acetosella

Lesser Celandines (the yellow flower below) have been out for many weeks now and will begin to fade soon. However, they are being joined now by other wildflowers, so look even better. Here, one is enhanced by the deep blue of Germander Speedwell, a very common plant of open woodland, road verges and lawns. It has two opposite lines of hairs up the leaf stems and all the flowers are on a raceme as shown below.

Veronica chamaedrys

Many tree species are waking up from their winter slumber and most flower early. This peculiar looking bunch of flowers below belong to the common Ash tree.

Fraxinus excelsior

That sums up my March botanical finds. Of course, there were far more wildflowers open than what I photograph or show off here, but I hope my selection was of interest to you. I try to include a few ID tips too for the featured plants. 

As I write this, Storm Kathleen is howling outside and driving rain is hitting the windows of my house, so no change in the weather patterns we have had all through March, but I will get out and about in April regardless, I hope you do too.

Take Care


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