If you would like to read my Dorset nature notes about any of these featured species or sites please click on the post title
- I have been interested in nature for most of my life but since I retired I spend as much time as I can exploring the nature reserves and wildlife hotspots of my adopted home, Dorset in southern England. Whilst out I record what I see and take snaps where I can (I am no photographer!) and that forms the basis of my Nature of Dorset website. When I find something new I like to research it and write about it in my nature notes, it is how I learn and hopefully you might find my notes helpful as well!This website is for the people of Dorset interested in wildlife and for people from elsewhere interested in the wildlife of Dorset!
29 February, 2016
28 February, 2016
27 February, 2016
Yellow oat-grass (Trisetum flavescens) is primarily a species of limestone grassland and so its stronghold in Dorset is, not surprisingly then, the Purbeck cliffs and ridge-way and here it is quite common. It can be found on chalk grasslands too.
Although quite distinctly a member of the oat family its flower head remains fairly upright whereas in the wild oat species the flower/seed heads are found at the end of horizontal thing stems. These flowers heads have a yellow, almost golden, tinge even when new which gives it is common name of course. It is a medium height grass growing to about two feet tall in loose tufts (ie: several stems from a single root) and it has a single, long thin leaf that bends away from the main stem.
Growing on calcareous soils it absorbs some of the calcium into its structure and this makes it toxic to livestock who, in turn, can absorb excess amounts of calcium into their organs which causes various health problems.Yellow Oat-grass: chalk it up
26 February, 2016
25 February, 2016
Stonecrops grow in dry places; they especially favour rocks and walls and, indeed, some members of the family are popular plants in garden rockeries. Mossy stonecrop (Crassula tillaea), however, grows and bare sandy patches of soil on heathland. It can occasionally be found growing on the bare, well trodden and baked ground of footpaths where nothing else can grow as it is too weak to tolerate any completion for resources.
Mossy stonecrop does actually look like a moss so it is well named. A tiny, prostrate and spreading out across the ground from its central root it forms something of a mat on the ground, much like some species of mosses can do. The whole plant is red in colour and it gives the appearance of being dead and shrivelled up even when in full flower! The flowers are very small and not really discernible without magnification.
Originally a plant of Mediterranean climates it was once quite rare here in Britain but it seems to be spreading and can be found in car parks (non-tarmaced ones of course) and on caravan sites. Away from artificial sites like these the Dorset heaths are a likely place to find it.Mossy Stonecrop: the bare necessities
23 February, 2016
Although they may not know the name all gardeners will be familiar with the rampant little weed, hairy bittercress. This species I am featuring is its cousin, the wavy bittercress (Cardamine flexuosa). Although its appearance is not disimmilar there are many reasons why you should joot confuse the two.
Firstly, wavy bittercress is a bigger, stronger plant than the much smaller hairy variety. Wavy bittercress grows in damp woodland areas, often on muddy paths, whereas hairy bittercress is a weed of cultivated ground hence its presence in gardens in profusion! Finally, and it is the origin of its common name, the stem of wavy bittercress zig-zags from side to side turning in a different direction at each leaf joint.
This is a member of the cabbage family and can be used as a salad garnish but you would need an awful lot of it to make a meal.Wavy Bittercress: this way and that
22 February, 2016
21 February, 2016
I will get the obvious 'funny' out of the way first; this species is not silver-hair grass, a form of cannabis for older people, it is silver hair-grass (Aira caryophyllea).
Hair-grasses are so called because the branches that the florets appear on are exceedingly fine, just like hair. In the case of silver hair-grass the whole plant has a silvery colouring as it glistens in the sun but close up it has something of a purple tinge to it. Flowering from May until July it is fairly short grass a that grows on dry, bare patches on sandy or gravelly soils. When the flowers are over they turn white.
It is a very delicate plant and getting a good photograph of it has escaped me so far.Silver Hair-grass: hallmark of a fine grass
20 February, 2016
19 February, 2016
18 February, 2016
Whilst marsh lousewort (Pedicularis palustris) has much in common with its relative, the common lousewort, it also has some distinct differences and so should be quite distinguishable if found. It is generally found far less frequently that the common lousewort.
Marsh lousewort grows somewhat taller than its cousin, even growing to two feet tall in exceptional circumstances and is an erect plant whereas common lousewort is low growing and sprawling. The flowers of marsh lousewort are a much deeper colour, more red than pink and that redness gives rise to its other name, red rattle. Finally, the marsh lousewort likes much wetter conditions that the dampness favoured by common lousewort. Flowering from May right through until September look for marsh lousewort in marshes and fens. It has less of a preference for the acidic conditions favoured by common lousewort which also helps to separate them.
Like common lousewort it is a semi-parasitic plant, using various grasses as its host for nutrition, as well as fending for itself.Marsh Lousewort: the red rattle
17 February, 2016
16 February, 2016
You can find wood dock (Rumex sanguineus) just about anywhere there it is shade from trees. This is, of course, mainly in woodland habitats but it freely occurs along hedgerows where trees create shade. It is the only dock one is likely to find in these conditions. It has a preference for heavy, damp soils.
It is a much more delicate plant than the other common dock species which tend to be sturdy, significant plants. Wood dock grows to about about two feet tall and the leaves tend to be only on the lower levels of the stems. The flower spikes occur ion June and July but because they are red in colour similar to the reddish brown seed heads it can give the impression of flowering longer.
Sanguineus means "resembling or containing blood" which is a bit odd as I have never noticed anything of the sort in plants I have seen. There is a garden variety called the blood-vein dock which has red veins in the leaves which has the latin name Rumex sanguineus var sanguineus.Wood Dock: not bloody likely
15 February, 2016
07 February, 2016
Whilst the three species of oat-grass are readily identifiable as a group separating them is, to my eye anyway, more difficult. This is a case of taking other factors in to account to try and come to a conclusion. Meadow oat-grass (Helictotrichon pratense) is a medium to tall grass species and where it occurs it can be abundant and the dominant vegetation.
How do you distinguish from the downy and yellow oat-grasses? Firstly, meadow oat-grass has glaucous leaves and sheath; this blueish colouring rather than bright green is a helpful indicator, so too the fact the leaves and sheath are smooth and without hairs. The downy and yellow varieties have a distinct preference for lime soil whereas meadow oat-grass grows in neutral soils. Finally, meadow oat-grass flowers a little later than its cousins, the spikes appearing in July and early August whereas the other two flower in May and June, possibly early July.
Not easy but with practice it can be done, I still need a lot of practice on these three!Meadow Oat-grass: staying neutral
06 February, 2016
05 February, 2016
04 February, 2016
Heathland tends to occur on sandy soils, often course sand, but where the sand is finer bare patches can occur, possibly lightly grassed. It is on these dry, bare areas you should look for the elusive small cudweed (Filago minima). It is far from common but is probably often overlooked because, true to its name, it is small. Ted Pratt's indispensable guide to the Wild Flowers of the Isle of Purbeck suggests Studland is the best place for it as well as restricted areas on Stoborough Heath and Hartland Moor (although I have never found it there).
You would be forgiven for thinking that this plant does not produce flowers because they are very small and pale yellow which does not stand out well against the greyish/green of the stem and leaves. Rarely growing above a couple of inches tall it is a member of the daisy family so the flowers, visible from June through until September, appear in clusters at the tops of the stems. The stems and leaves are very downy which gives it is grey appearance.
Not a remarkable wild flower to look at, rather plain and simple, but a good find when you spot it.Small Cudweed: plain and simple
02 February, 2016
There are two common species of sow-thistle (Sonchus species) that are very similar and I am not competent enough to tell them apart and so I combine my sightings under the name 'common sow-thistle'. The two species are prickly but also known as rough sow-thistle (Sonchus asper) and smooth sow-thistle (Sonchus oleraceus).
They are different, of course, but the defining factor is whether the auricles of the leaves are rounded or not! Rough sow-thistle can have brighter yellow flowers, may have more pointed leaves, may prefer lime soils and is less likely to be seen in winter months. Smooth sow-thistle is probably the nore frequent of the two. Overall, they are quite unmistakably thistles but with yellow flowers that occur in clusters, have prickly leaves and exude a milky substrance if broken.
Undoubtedly weeds of cultivated areas the seed and spread quickly. The leaves are edible and are popular in Chinese cooking and the plant are used by herablists as a cure for gall stones, liver and kidney complaints and piles.Common sow-thistle: the rough with the smooth