Saturday, 29 April 2017

Churchyard Plant Survey - End of April

This weekend, I was back in Holy Cross Churchyard. At the beginning of April, Helen of the Sussex Botanical Recording Society, got me going. This time I was back - and needed to be able to identify the plants on my own. 

Ferns and flowers by the smartly painted door.
The instructions for the Churchyard Survey recommend ...

Three visits per year in Spring, mid and late summer would be ideal for ... plant recording.

I've decided to add in another visit, four weeks after my first, to see some of the plants that Helen pointed out, before I forgot too much.  At the beginning of the month we saw bluebells just beginning to flower. Now both the English and Spanish varieties are in full bloom.

Honeybee on Spanish Bluebell (possibly hybrid) - notice the bluish pollen
English Bluebells showing creamy-coloured pollen.
There are some lovely clumps of English bluebells (‎Hyacinthoides non-scripta) alongside some touching modern-day memorials along the East Wall.

English Bluebells by touching wall memorials.
Slightly nearer the church, a gravestone from the late 1700s reminded me just how old the Holy Cross churchyard is.

E.B. 1765 and J. B. 1779.
The Caring For God's Acre website - A2 Caring for Grassland tells us:

Apart from grave digging, the grassland will have been relatively undisturbed, re-seeding naturally for hundreds if not thousands of years. ...

A benefit of this continuity of management over a very long time is a diversity of beautiful grasses and flowers and associated animals, some of which may now be uncommon or rare in Britain.

A tiny (6mm) Red-Girdled Mining Bee on Germander Speedwell.
Have you ever wondered what pollinates the tiny flowers in the grass? For this Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys), the answer is tiny bees. While I was photographing the plant, a bee landed on the sapphire-blue flowers. Thanks to Ryan Clark and Stuart Roberts of the UK Bees, Wasps and Ants Facebook group, I now know that this is a Red-Girdled Mining Bee (Andrena labiata). My Field Guide to Bees, by Steven Falk, says that  this little pollinator lives in unimproved grasslands, feeds on  Germander Speedwell and Forget-me-nots, nests in short or sparse vegetation and is "scarce".

It seems that the old turf of Holy Cross church is just the place for this little bee. It has escaped the fertilizers and weedkillers intended to "improve" grass but end up driving out wildflowers and the pollinators that depend on them.

Of course I was in the churchyard to find more plants that I could add to my list. I was able to identify about 10 more ranging from a humble Common Chickweed to Ash Trees that make up part of the hedge.

Large Red Damsel Fly - only about an inch long!
The hedge is a valuable habitat too. While looking for more plants, I found a damsel fly, who had found sanctuary from the cold wind, amongst its leaves.

Black Bryony
Black Bryony has sprung up very rapidly. On our first visit there were only old stems and one, shrivelled fruit. 4 weeks later the stems are carrying the shiny, exotic-looking, leaves up round railings and other supports. Soon, the dainty white flowers will open.

A little plant growing in the wall had me stumped. Fortunately, Mum came to the rescue by telling me that it is Pellitory-by-the-Wall (Parietaria Judaica).

Pellitory-by-the-wall - tiny female flowers
Pellitory-by-the-Wall has miniature, wind-pollinated flowers. The plant that I found has female flowers. I wonder if there is a male somewhere nearby?

Blackbird - making it clear to a rival who owns this patch.
My couple of hours searching for plants had flown by. As I was completing my survey, a glossy male Blackbird was fending off another, whose presence was clearly unwelcome. The brown female, was nearby and there may well be a nest. I left and hoped that the intruding Blackbird had the good sense to do likewise.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Churchyard Plant Survey - Holy Cross, Uckfield

After the hustle and bustle of the working week, it was lovely to spend some time in "God's acre", the churchyard of Holy Cross Church, which is very much the beating heart of Uckfield.  I was recording the wild plants in the churchyard as part of the Sussex Botanical Recording Society's Churchyard survey.

Holy Cross churchyard, with established garden daffodils.
With Helen acting as a guide and mentor, we recorded 74 species of plant.  Most of these are natives but some were garden varieties that had become established in the churchyard.  We included everything from tiny Speedwells to big Yew trees.

Slender Speedwell in the grass by the East Wall.
The Slender Speedwell (Veronica filiformis) was originally from Turkey and was introduced in the early 19th Centaury as a rockery plant. However, it was prone to establish itself in the grass, much to the annoyance of Victorian gardeners.

Good Friday Grass, throughout the churchyard. 
One of the plants we found was the Field Wood Rush (Luzula campestris).  This is a tiny rush that grows in the grass. The individual plants are inconspicuous but in their hundreds they make a pretty yellow haze above the neatly-cut grass.  Pleasingly, for a plant found in a churchyard they are also called Good Friday Grass, because the flowers come out just in time for Easter.

The gravestones and hedges are habitats too.
Grassland is just one of the habitats to be found in a churchyard. The gravestones support colonies of colourful lichens and mosses, as well as perches for curious robins. There are also hedges as shown in the background of photo above.  These provide a home to hedge plants such as Hazels, Hawthorns and Yew, as well as the little plants that live in their feet.

Wall Rue fern (Asplenium ruta-muraria)
Even the walls provide a habitat for plants such as the delicate Wall Rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria), which is a tiny fern. This was my favourite find. It is such a pretty little thing, clinging to the tiny crevices in the old wall.

Primroses hiding under some roses.
There are just a few primroses (Primula vulgaris) in the churchyard, tucked away in odd corners. The photo shows one of a group nestling under a rose. Another spring favourite, the Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), is just starting to flower amongst the gravestones.

Thale Cress, which grows in disturbed ground.
One plant, which I have never noticed before, was Thale Cress (Arabidopsis thaliana). It is a fairly widespread weed of disturbed ground and I must have walked past it many a time without really seeing it.

A solitary bee, which is a good pollinator but does not make honey.
The churchyard supports a community of plants, insects and birds just as the Church supports the community of Uckfield. Even the humble Dandelion is providing a welcome meal for a hungry bee.

Survey done and I was off to the Farmers' Market to pick up some samosas for lunch and a jar of Sussex honey. I found myself wondering if the honeybees, who had made my honey, had visited any churchyards.