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About Me

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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!

30 November, 2016

Great Birdsfoot Trefoil: the error of my ways



I have been interested in recording flowers, along with other forms of wildlife, for many, many years but it was only comparatively recently I discovered that in addition to the common birdsfoot trefoil there is an equally common greater birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus pedunculatus). I find it hard to believe that for so many years I may have been making a fundamental error; there are far more complex identification issues that one get easily wrong but surely not between these two?
The flowers of both species are very similar although in greater birdsfoot trefoil they are, perhaps, a slightly dull yellow whereas in common birdsfoot trefoil they verge towards an orange-yellow. The main and obvious differences are in the rest of the plant. It is a much larger plant, hence 'greater', a bit straggly and has larger, darker leaves. 
Although quite different when you take a look at the two there is a key difference I have not mentioned. Common birdsfoot trefoil thrives in short grass on dry soils whereas its greater cousin likes damp conditions; ditches, marshes, damp woodland rides and so on, All in all, no excuse for making a fundamental mistake here I think!
Great Birdsfoot Trefoil: the error of my ways

29 November, 2016

Leucobryum glaucum: the white moss



The white moss (Leucobryum glaucum)? Surely it is green? You actually need to see this moss close up to see why it is called white moss. The shoots are actually different colours, some are a dirty white, some a glaucous colour (see the glaucum in the scientific name) and some are pale green. From a distance it looks green but close up it looks more white.
This is a common moss in acid conditions, especially on damp soils in woods, heaths and bogs; the soil must be bare and very acidic. It forms tufted mats of closely packed shoots and it is sometimes called the pin cushion moss for this very reason. In favourable conditions these mats can be quite large and cover earth, logs, stumps and even tree trunks. It is very distinctive and cannot really be mistaken for any other moss species which, in moss identification, is a real treat for the novice!. 
Leucobryum glaucum: the white moss

28 November, 2016

Common Mallow: a cottage garden essential



What a lovely flower the common mallow (Malva sylvestris) is! Simple but beautiful, everything that wild flowers bring us in a simple package; who needs gardens full of specially bred plants when the natural world has already produced such wonders.
All the five species of mallow found in Dorset, in general, have similar five petalled mauve flowers and yet each is quite distinctive.  The common mallow is more purple than the others, bordering on blue sometimes as each petal has darker veins running through it. The petals are also narrower leaving gaps between them. The flowers are visible from June until September. It is, perhaps, a bit of an untidy plant that sometime grows erect and other times can be sprawling across the ground. It grows on bare ground and is most commonly found by the sea.
Long associated with human benefits the common mallow has been used as a traditional May Day decoration. Its leaves have been used as a vegetable and its seeds used to decorate bread. It has various traditional uses as a remedy; notably a tea made from it was considered a laxative and it is also an ingredient in some modern medicines too. The plant was also used to create a yellow dye for fabrics so, all in all, a jolly useful plant to have around the garden and it can be found in traditional cottage gardens today because of its beauty and its versatility.
Common Mallow: a cottage garden essential

27 November, 2016

Xestia sexstrigata: the six striped rustic



A good choice of common name for this species, the six-striped rustic (Xestia sexstrigata) does, indeed, have six stripes. Having said that they are more lines than stripes in my opinions! Whatever, stripes or lines, there are six of them.
A nocturnal species rarely seen by day this is widespread and is quite common across southern England. It has no real preference for food plant, although it does like a bit of ragwort pollen, and so it can turn up almost anywhere you look for it between late July and early September. 
The larvae are hardy little chaps, overwintering in that stage eating herbaceous plants such as docks and plantains before pupating in the spring.
Xestia sexstrigata: the six striped rustic

26 November, 2016

Changing Forget-me-not: the rainbow plant



Why would a flower have a common name that includes 'changing'? I am only aware of one, the changing forget-me-not (Myosotis discolor); there may be others but I cannot recall them at present. The answer is that the colour of the flowers of the changing forget-me-not change as they age and, as the flowers open in sequence up a central stem, the newly emerging ones at the top are cream, just below they are yellow, then there will be some pink ones and finally the lower ones are blue. At the bottom of the stem the early ones will be turning to seed heads. The flowers in many plants change as they open. The birds'sfoot-trefoil, for example, starts partly orange and turns yellow when fully open but to have a full sequence of three or four colours on one flower spike is unusual.
Changing forget-me-not is not that common in Dorset preferring bare patches on dry, slightly acid soil and a lot of Dorset is alkaline lime and chalk. It flowers from May until September and can be quite prolific where it does occur.
Changing Forget-me-not: the rainbow plant

25 November, 2016

Aphrophora alni: the alder spittle bug



This is the alder spittle bug (Aphrophora alni) but it is actually associated with a wide range of deciduous trees and bushes, not just alder. Indeed, it is more likely to be seen in woodland rather than by rivers where the alder grows. The alder might be misleading but the spittle bug is not! This is one of the froghopper bugs that produces 'cuckoo-spit' to house its eggs and hatched larvae.
Large for a froghopper but still very small, just a centimetre long at most, it can be quite variable in colouring. The reasons for this are not known but one thing remains constant and that is the distinctive pale patches on the margins of the wings.
A common species but not often seen as most of its work is done at night. During the day it rests on the leaves of trees and shrubs. It is active from May until October but only produces one brood of off-spring each year.
Aphrophora alni: the alder spittle bug

24 November, 2016

White Campion: the red campions companion



The white campion (Silene latifolia) is sometimes thought to be a bleached red campion but it is, of course, a totally different species. I think the confusion comes from the fact that they can quite often be found growing together and they can hybridise giving a pale pink version. The flowers also look very similar if you disregard the colour.
The botanists who wrote my book look far more closely at these flowers than I do and point out that the flowers of the white campion are slightly larger than the red and the calyx is longer and narrower. The white is also slightly fragrant at night although I do not see how that will help with identification unless you find some by day and then go back by torch light to give them a sniff! Overall, I think the difference in colour is enough for me to work on.
The white campion is far less common than the red, both being found on waysides and field edges. The white campion flowers from May through until October.
White Campion: the red campions companion

23 November, 2016

Lunularia cruciata: the crescent-cup liverwort



This plant is not exactly a moss, it is a liverwort; they are related but the differences are quite technical and beyond me to even attempt to understand. If I had to make an observation I would say liverworts have waxy, leafy structures whereas mosses seem more flexible and slender. I will say no more as I expect there are specimens of both mosses and liverworts that blow that theory out of the water!
This particular species is known as the crescent-cup liverwort (Lunularia cruciata). It is best known as a coloniser of flower pots, rockeries, walls and garden paths. In some cases it can be of a pest in gardens. It is this fondness for gardens that lead to a belief that this is not actually a native species but was brought in with imported plants and has spread as people have bought pot plants from garden centres. That may be true but it can also be commonly found on stream banks and bridges and it can even occur along  woodland rides. Whether this is because the plant has escaped from gardens or because it occurs naturally is not clear. 
The 'leaves' are about 1.5mm across, are pale green and almost always form large spreading mats.
Lunularia cruciata: the crescent-cup liverwort

22 November, 2016

Great Willowherb: codlins and cream



My field guide lists no less than fourteen members of the willowherb family and as you would expect from related species separating them can be a challenge. As always, though, one can whittle the choices down by looking to see which ones occur in the area you are in and in Dorset this means there are only seven to worry about! From here you have to look for identifying features to separate them although you can use habitat as a useful guide as well.
With this in mind the great willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum) is easy to pick out from the seven options. Firstly, the use of the prefix 'great' is a good indicator. Not only is it a strong, robust plant growing to nearly two metres tall it also produces 'great' flowers, much larger than other members of the family and that alone should be enough to settle it. Just to be certain, if it is in flower between July and September and is growing in damp conditions in ditches, by ponds or along river banks then it is almost certainly great willowherb.
This is also known as codlins and cream but it is hard to see why. Codlin is an old country name for apples (codlin moths are a pest of apples) so why would a completely purple flower resemble apples and cream?

Great Willowherb: codloins and cream

21 November, 2016

Leptoglossus occidentalis: the western conifer seed bug



The western conifer seed bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis) is a native of the west coast of the USA so how did I take this photograph of one in my greenhouse? It seems to have come with imported timber being first recorded in Europe in 1999 with records first from Italy and then the Balkans, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, France and across the Alps. At the same time it has spread across much of North American and has now been found as far east as Nova Scotia. The first British record came from Weymouth in 2007 and, given the amount of pine plantation in Dorset, it probably now quite well established here.
As its name suggests it is dependant on pine trees where it sucks the sap from developing pine cones which has the effect of withering the life fro the cone preventing the seeds forming. It is considered a pest in some areas but I think here in Dorset we should welcome it given the Corsican pine plantations here are not native and are now of little value. 
It is a distinctive creature, quite large as bugs go at almost an inch long and with distinctive and clear markings. It has long legs with 'pads. on the rear pair. It may look a bit fearsome but it is quite harmless and does not bite but it does, like many insects, emit a stinking bitter smell. If you need to handle one wear gloves but do not kill it, let it go in peace.
Leptoglossus occidentalis: the western conifer seed bug

20 November, 2016

River Water Crowfoot; a flowing flower



Is it not amazing that flowering plants can grow in our most hostile, dry habitats and everywhere down to thriving in the running water of streams and rivers? What is basically the same botanical structure can produce so many small variations to make almost any habitat a home. From navelwort growing out of walls to the river water crowfoot (Ranunculus fluitans) and countess other specialisms in between.
The problems of surviving in running water should not be underestimated, even for a plant. Firstly, of course, they have to make sure they have a firm anchor hold in the river bottom. Then, they need to present as little resistance to the water as they can and so they are hairless on their stems and leaves and the leaves are long and thin. Finally, if the flower is to be pollinated it has to appear above the water's surface on a stout, strong stem able to resist the water's flow.
All of these features can be seen in the river water crowfoot. To aid its survival it tends to find areas of the river where the water is moving more slowly on the shelter at the inside of bends in the river and normally at the lower reaches of the river where it has widened out and the flow is less vigorous than upstream. 
There are several water crowfoot species, each adapted for life in different forms of water from ponds and large lakes, to ditches and to fast flowing chalk streams.
River Water Crowfoot; a flowing flower

19 November, 2016

Agrotis clavis: the heart and club moth



Where do nocturnal moths go in the day time? Usually into hedgerows and bushes to sleep safely until the light fades and they can become active again. We rarely see them during the day unless we accidentally disturb them at rest and the reason we rarely see them I think is exemplified by this photograph of the heart and club moth (Agrotis clavis). Its dull colour and dark markings enable it to become almost invisible and to dissolve its surroundings.
It is interesting that nature has given this moth distinct markings and that those markings form shaped that we recognise from other situations and we then apply the names from elsewhere to what we see on the moth. Here on the moths wing are quite clearly two symbols from a pack of human playing cards, a heart and a club so, hence, the heart and club moth. On the moth these are neither hearts or clubs, just dark camouflage patches to break up the wind shape.
This is quite a widespread and common species in southern Britain. Preferring dry, grassy habitats it is quite varied in its tastes and visits a wide range of herbaceous flowers. It can be seen on the wing in June and July and the resulting larvae hibernate over winter before pupating and emerging as adults the following spring.

Agrotis clavis: the heart and club moth

18 November, 2016

Smooth Hawksbeard: a weed of neglected lawns

















Now surely no one can mistake this for a dandelion? I know it is yellow and has lots of florets in the flower head but it bears no other resemblance to a dandelion at all. This is the commonest of the hawk's-beards, smooth hawk's-beard (Crepis capillaris). 
The flower of the hawk's-beard is much, much smaller than a dandelion and the main stem keeps branching with a flower appearing at the top of every stem whereas the dandelion has a single central stem to support one flower. The outside florets on the edge of the each flower head is tinged with orange as the flower opens. Many of the lower flowers will have turned to seed before the top ones have even opened so each plant has a long flowering period and, again, the seed head is very different from a dandelion, it is much more contained within the sepals and does not open out into the glorious globe of a dandelion clock.
I said this was the commonest of the hawk's-beards in Dorset the only other one likely to found out of the seven listed in my reference book is the similar beaked hawk's-beard. However, they are easy to tell apart if you look at the developing flowers as the buds are pointed (giving the appearance of a beak) whereas the smooth has round flower buds.
In flower from June through until the frosts kill it off in November time you can find it along roadsides, on waste ground, and grassy places in general including lots of it on my lawn; and there you have it, a crude beginners guide to hawk's-beards!
Smooth Hawksbeard: a weed of neglected lawns

17 November, 2016

Oudemansiella mucida: the porcelain fungus



This fungus, associated with dying beech trees, has a slimy covering which makes it appear shiny and hence it has derived the name of the porcelain fungus (Oudemansiella mucida) although it is also known as the poached egg fungus.
Occurring  in late summer and in to the autumn it forms high up in beech trees and so may not always be seen until the dying tree falls, or loses branches in a storm, and then it is visible at close quarters. It usually occurs in clusters of several caps together.
It is edible if you wash the slime off it but you have to be able to reach it first to pick it!
Oudemansiella mucida: the porcelain fungus

16 November, 2016

Wall Speedwell: the healing speedwell



Now think very carefully before you answer ... where would you expect to find wall speedwell (Veronica arvensis) growing? It likes bare ground and so you can occasionally find it on walls but arvensis means 'of the field' and hard, bare ground in fields is a much more likely location for it. The scientific name is more accurate than the common English name which is not unusual!
It is a low growing, sprawling plant with small, dark blue flowers and is it is easily overlooked even though the flowers are present from March right through until October. I am pretty sure I have missed on more than one occasion.  Whist small the flowers are the classic 'bird's eye' shape but the plant itself is usually best identified by its leaves which, at first, seem more akin to germander speedwell rather than the other field speedwells.
Known also as the corn speedwell it has been also named the healing speedwell too and is supposedly an effective anti-inflammatory.
Wall Speedwell: the healing speedwell

15 November, 2016

Pyrausta aurata: the small purple and gold moth



If you have a garden and grow herbs, especially mint and marjoram, then look out for the small purple and gold moth (Pyrausta aurata) visiting them in sunshine in August and September. Its fondness for mint gives it its other common name, the mint moth.
It is one of those species that is aptly named. It is, indeed, small; less than a centimetre from wing tip to wing tip. It is mainly purple and has four small gold dots, one on each wing. It is a very active day flying moth but if you wait it will stop to feed and then you can see it properly. Whilst most often seen in August and September it actually flies from March onwards. It has two broods and the later brood tends to be more numerous and more visible than the early brood.
There is a common purple and gold moth which is slightly bigger and has more golden colouring on the fore-wings. It is less of a garden species, more usually seen on calcareous grasslands. 
Pyrausta aurata: the small purple and gold moth

14 November, 2016

Marsh Valerian: his and hers



The marsh valerian (Valeriana dioica) is certainly a plant that likes wet meadows and marshy areas and so is aptly named. Often found in places where rivers overflow frequently or where low ground next to a river is constantly under water; it does not grow in running water. As much of this sort of habitat has been drained for agricultural improvement this is a now more scarce than it one was.
An attractive plant with clusters of small, five-petalled pale pink or cream flowers that appear from April until June. Interestingly, although very similar in appearance this species has separate female and male flowers and each grow on different plants. Its main way of spreading is by underground runners. The plant grows to no more than two feet tall at the most and has opposite pairs of leaf sets, each set being a series of small, narrow oval leafs again in pairs along a short stem, a bit like rose leaves.
Traditionally used to create sleeping potions it is still used in the production of sedatives today. It is one of those plants you are advised to avoid eating, it is not poisonous but it is not good for you.
Marsh Valerian: his and hers

13 November, 2016

Noctua pronuba: the large yellow underwing



Do not be fooled by those dark, drab coloured fore-wings, they are for camouflage purposes whilst this nocturnal moths rests during the day. Once opened up they reveal the most lovely yellow, almost golden, secondary wings underneath. It is one of several species with drab fore-wings and brightly coloured under-wings and of those several species this is one of the largest hence its common name, the large yellow underwing (Noctua pronuba).
My photograph is of one with very dark wings but it is actually a very variable species and those wings can be any shade of brown from this dark colour through to a light buff colour. One can find a complete range in the same catch in the moth trap and you would, at first, think they were separate species. Whilst the fore-wings vary in colour the yellow under-wings do not.
This is a very common species found across the whole country from May right through until November. It seems to have no real preference for habitat or food plant and it has several broods a year and it is thought that numbers in the south are increased even further by immigrants from across the channel. 
Noctua pronuba: the large yellow underwing

12 November, 2016

Sweet Vernal Grass: the vanilla grass



Walk across grassland anywhere in Dorset in high summer and you will certainly find sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum). Indeed a quick glance at the distribution map for this species on my Nature of Dorset website will reveal a mass of pins showing it is widespread on all types of dry soil right across the county.
Growing to just 50 centimetres or so tall it has a conical and tufted flower head that is a little bit scruffy when compared to its cousins in the cat's-tail family which are much smoother. I know all grasses look the same (!) but actually sweet vernal grass is quite distinctive and once learned is easy to pick out. As it is so common you quickly get to recognise it.
Why is it called sweet vernal grass? There is a clue in its scientific name, oderatum; odour or smell. When cut and dried it has the sweet smell on new mown hay, indeed it is the main ingredient of the smell of new mown hay. The scent is likened to that of vanilla and so the sweet vanilla grass became the sweet vernal grass over time. 
It has been sewn for grazing and used as a lawn grass and it has even been grown specifically for its scent and it can be found in flower from April right through until the end of July and as a dried seed head in August. It is also known as holy grass again through its scent and the 'smells and bells' of high church!
Sweet Vernal Grass: the vanilla grass

10 November, 2016

Field Scabious: the gypsy rose



If you are familiar with the wild teasel then I think you will understand why I find it hard to believe that field scabious (Knautia arvensis) is a member of the same family! They seem to have nothing in common at all and when you read the characteristics of plants in the dipsacaceae family you will find that the characteristics are in minute details.
The field scabious is an attractive, almost daisy-like, flower. The flower petals are blue but the anthers are pink which can make the flower overall look a little purple in hue. The leaves are pointed and have 'teeth' along the edges. There is a single pair of leaves formed opposite each other on the main stem and from the point where the leaves form the stem then branches into several flower heads. The field guide suggests that it can grow to a metre tall but in my experience a foot to eighteen inches would seem the norm.
Flowering from June through until October the field scabious does not grow in fields as such but is very much a species of chalk grassland. 
Species of scabious were used to treat sores and skin infections and are especially noted as a treatment to ease the symptoms of the bubonic plague. It is also known by its country name, the gypsy rose.
Field Scabious: the gypsy rose

09 November, 2016

Psathyrella piluliformis: the common stump brittlestem



With fungi being something of a challenge to identify unless you specialise in them it is always good to find one that has a distinctive feature. The two tone cap here, dark around the edges and lighter in the centre marks this out as the common stump brittlestem (Psathyrella piluliformis). 
A widespread and common species it is found in autumn growing on decaying wood of mainly beech and oak trees. It starts with a conical cap which gradually flattens out with age and the differentiation in colour becomes slightly less obvious. It usually grows in a small cluster.
It apparently has a rather bitter taste so it is best left where it is to spread its spores and create new fungi. 
Psathyrella piluliformis: the common stump brittlestem

08 November, 2016

Bush Vetch: purple haze



Bush vetch (Vicia sepium) is a member of the pea family and is a climbing plant using tendrils to cling to its host. It is not bush vetch because it forms a bush but because it is found in bushes where it grows up using the bush for support.
Amongst vetches with the classic pea flower bush vetch is fairly distinctive because the flowers are larger than most and tend to form in clusters a bit like a clover.  Each flower starts as dull shade of purple that then turns blue with age and so often a plant will seem to have two different coloured flowers with several shades in between also present. It produces pods after flowering which turn black when ripe. 
Flowering as early as April it can go on producing flowers right through until November. It is quite common and can be found in hedgerows and scrubby places where there are bushes to support it. It is popular plant with insects with bees and bumblebees very keen on its nectar and beetles, weevils and other creatures feeding on the leaves and seed pods.
Bush Vetch: purple haze

07 November, 2016

Phyllopertha horticola: the garden chafer



The garden chafer (Phyllopertha horticola)  is one of the smallest of the chafer beetles being just over 1 cm long. Despite this it is easily seen due to the bright iridescent colouring which shines in the summer sun revealing a metallic green thorax and bronze elytra (wing cases). The adults can be seen on sunny days in May and June feeding on the leaves of various plants. They also visit flowers.
Although quite an attractive beetle it is something of a pest on fruit crops and the larvae feed on the roots of grasses (including cereal crops). As a result it is a persecuted little beast and is now seen less frequently that it once was due to the increased use of pesticides. It is a local species but distributed across southern Britain and they they can sometimes be seen in swarms although this is far less common now that it was in the past.
Phyllopertha horticola: the garden chafer

06 November, 2016

White Clover: the Dutch clover



Along with daisies and dandelions, white clover (Trifolium repens) is the sort of plant you pass by without a second look because it is so common. That is a shame because it is actually a very attractive little flower but as it only grows just above ground level you have to take the trouble to look at it.
There are around twenty four species of clover in the British flora and apart from the similar but rare western clover found in Cornwall it is quite distinctive and should not be confused with any of the other clovers. The flower head is white and often has brown tinges around the base where the first of the individual florets are dying off and being replaced by fresh new one above. Clovers are members of the pea family and each individual floret is a tiny pea shaped flower. Often planted as a fodder crop it can be found on grassland almost everywhere, especially where the turf is short and well grazed. The flowers are visible from May through until November.
Also known as Dutch clover but a very common English plant! It spreads rapidly and could be considered a problem in some 'wild' areas where it can out grow many other species but the flowers are a very popular nectar source for bees and other insects and so we should not get too worked up about it.
White Clover: the Dutch clover

05 November, 2016

Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale: the hawthorn shieldbug



This insect is shield shaped and is found mainly on the leaves and fruits of hawthorn so, not surprisingly, it has the common English name of ... hawthorn shield-bug (Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale). Although common on hawthorn and carrying that name it also frequents other hedgerow shrubs like dogwood, hazel, holly and even oak. They can be found in woodland settings, in hedgerows and are quite common in gardens.
The hawthorn shield-bug is mainly green but they can vary in colour quite considerably depending on age but the red triangle is usually visible. Take care though, some other shield-bug species also have a red/brown triangular shape on their backs, it is often more pronounced on this particular species. The green surface is also pitted and appears to have lots of black dots on it as a result.
Although at their peak in September they hibernate as adults and can be see as early as March if they awake in a mild spring and can be seen as late as November if conditions are such that they do not have to go into hibernation earlier. In their search for somewhere safe to spend the winter that can venture into houses but they do not pose a threat , they are quite harmless. One of the bigger shield-bugs, one of the most distinctive in appearance and and one of the more frequently seen, there is likely to be one near you soon!
Shield bugs are part of the order Hemiptera, sub-order Heteroptera; they are not flies or beetles, they are a separate taxonomical group. 
Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale: the hawthorn shieldbug

04 November, 2016

Coprinellus disseminatus: the fairy inkcap



Were you ever told that fairies live under toadstools? Obviously the are no such things as fairies surely? Well the scientists at the Mycological Society decided to name this species the fairy inkcap (Coprinellus disseminatus), or fairies bonnets, so what evidence did they have that fairies really wore these fungi as bonnets? It is a lovely thought that harden, factual based researchers could put all that to one side to indulge in a bit of childhood romance!
So enough of the fantasy what of reality? Firstly, this is a widespread and common species found on the rotting wood, usually stumps, of dead broadleaf trees. It almost always grows in a cluster or troop. Indeed there are often so many of them my field guide describes them as a swarm rather than a troop. The caps are slightly conical rather than domed and they have grooves on the upper surface and gills below. Being inkcaps they are only in pristine condition for a short time as the caps quickly start to dissolve and wither away.
They can be found from spring through until the autumn but are more common later in the year. I do not know if they are edible but as they start to decompose very quickly the chances of finding them in perfect condition suitable for picking are pretty remote so I would not plan on having them for breakfast tomorrow, leave them for the fairies to wear.
Coprinellus disseminatus: the fairy inkcap

03 November, 2016

Elymus repens: the common couch grass



I was tempted to start by saying that the common couch grass (Elymus repens) must be Dorset's most common grass species but on reflection that might not be a fair assessment. Indeed, just how do you decide what our most common grass species is and what appears to be a simple question becomes more complex the more I think about it! As always the issue comes down to habitat, specialisation and adaptability. 
Couch grass tends to be a species of cultivated land and is sewn in meadows for hay production. It is a vigorous plant that spreads by deep rhizomes. You can try and dig couch out but leave even a small fragment of the rhizome in the ground and guess what - you have more couch grass growing! These two factors mean that couch is abundant around arable land, pasture meadows and amenity grass areas where it has been sewn and it is very common anywhere near one of these habitats because of its ability to spread. It is a very, very common grass. However, away from these 'artificial' habitats the position changes and you will find very common grasses on chalk soils, others on acid soils, others in damp meadows and so on. Some grasses are more widespread and found in more places than couch, cocks-foot and Yorkshire fog for example.
I guess the answer to what is the most common grass in Dorset rests with the total number of plants of each species in the county. It could be purple moor grass or tor-grass, it might be cocks-foot or Yorkshire fog, it could be annual meadow-grass, it may be couch but who is ever going to try and count the number of plants of each of those? I am sure all would reach the billions. 
Elymus repens: the common couch grass

02 November, 2016

Mnium hornum: the forest star moss



Mnium hornum is one of the mosses found in our woodlands that is fairly distinctive in that it has large 'leaves' that are almost fern like. It is a rather dull, dark green moss but, nonetheless, an attractive species. In spring the new and almost yellow leaves are in stark contrast to the older ones.
My book describes it as a common species but I have not encountered it that often on my travels. In Dorset it is undoubtedly a woodland species (it can grow at high levels in other parts of the country) that forms large carpets on earth banks, rotting logs and tree stumps and on tree bases. It is described as liking acid, well drained soil conditions and is considered to favour birch woodland. There is much of that in the Poole basin but still I have not found it to be common. That said, not being a moss expert, I may have missed it of course.
It has recently been given the common name of the forest star. I personally cannot quite see the connection, forest yes but star? However, I did not name it so who am I to argue!
Mnium hornum: the forest star moss

01 November, 2016

Mouse-ear-hawkweed: just another dandelion



Just another dandelion? No, it is mouse-ear-hawkweed (Pilosella officinarum). There may seem countless flowers we call dandelions but are not but actually it is not that many and whilst telling them apart can be tricky there are often obvious clues if you look.
In this case, although perhaps similar in height to a dandelion, mouse-ear-hawkweed is a more delicate plant that the sturdy dandelion. The flower is more of a lemon yellow than the strong golden yellow of the dandelion but the key is to look at the underside of the flower head and if there are reddish streaks then it is mouse-ear-hawkweed. There are other differences too, the leaves are not serrated like those of the dandelion and the stem is hairy and not smooth like the dandelion. So you see they are not alike at all!
Flowering from May until October this is a species that likes short grassy areas, usually on poor lime soils; the dandelion likes richer, more neutral soil.  So no excuses, you can now tell the two apart!
Mouse-ear-hawkweed: just another dandelion