I set off bright an early for this morning’s Heath Hands’ litter pick but, thanks to the holidays and the chilly weekend weather, the heath was, delightfully, virtually litter free. So instead of photographing a selection of old beer cans and half empty KFC boxes for you, I decided to focus on the wild flowers. And, thanks to the splendid Picture This app that has recently taken up residence on my phone, identify them all for you.
Starting with the Creeping Thistle – called creeping because of its network of underground roots than can spread up to five metres. The thistle is thought to have come from south eastern Europe and is now seen as an ‘invasive noxious weed’ even in its native countries. It can cause major problems to farmers not only because of its spread but because its seeds feed pest insects as well as birds. And it is amazingly seed prolific (as you can see in the picture above) each plant producing over 5,000 seeds. In its defence, it is also very decorative – and the bees love its flowers.
So moving to another weed which has also been identified as problematic in some parts of the world although not here – the Common bird’sfoot trefoil. It likes disturbed ground such roadsides and grasslands where it will form a dense mat which prevents soil erosion although it can also choke out native vegetation. Because of its rich yellow colour it is often called ‘butter and eggs’ – but thanks to the clawlike shape of its flowers it is also less attractively known as ‘granny’s toenails’. Bees love it too.
OK – Bermuda grass. Despite its name (how did that come about?) it is not native to Bermuda where it is seen as an ‘invasive species’. It also contains cyanide so can poisin livestock, affects asthmatics and hosts a great number of crop pests and diseases. It doesn’t even have the benefit of looking good.
So many toxic invaders. Surely the heath must host something less evil? How about a pretty Oxeye Daisy – might that be OK?
Well, if you look on the Woodland Trust site it does seem to be pretty benign – ‘cheerful, prophetic and mystical’. However, if I go back to Picture This, more doom and gloom is on offer. The Oxeye daisy in ‘another noxious weed’ and although Italians make salads with its young leaves, it is a poisinous plant and ‘its long term consumption will affect human health’. It is, moreover, highly toxic to dogs and cats…
Is my faith in Picture This beginning to waver? Let’s try it on Red Clover. Might they have something good to say about that?
Well, it’s a bit better. It ‘is often grown around crops to fix nitrogen and it produces lots of bee friendly pollen’ but… ‘It is a strong rampant weed… and it is a toxic plant. Although the toxicity is low, long term consumption will affect health.’
OK – let’s finish this round up (there is more to come but I don’t want to overload you) with Timothy Grass and Garden Yellow Loosestrife.
Timothy grass is a perennial grass and to my relief, PictureThis does not class it as toxic. On the contrary, ‘it is a favourite with insects and farmers’ although ‘it is an irritant to many allergy sufferers’.
As for Garden Yellow Loosestrife…
Both yellow and purple loosestrife ‘can be found in wetlands, forests and dampened meadows’ (and I did find it on the edge of the Boating pond) although it seems that the yellow variety is also a garden plant. Again, PictureThis does not seem to be able to find anything too terrible to say about it – indeed, it says very little at all except to note that ‘historically this plant was attached to the necks of oxen to keep the flies away’….
Check back soon for common yarrow, autumn hawkbit, hedge mustard, Queen Anne’s lace, lesser burdock, spear thistle, bitter dock, small balsam, common plantain, rosebay willow herb, meadow cranesbill – and lots of blackberries.
But, what of the butterflies?
I had been taking note of the Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count which has been running since July 16th and ends next Sunday, August 8th.
The Conservation Trust are asking us all to take 15 minutes to count the number of butterflies that we see. Ideally this should be done in the sun since butterflies do love to bask in the sun, and will be really hard to do in the rain as butterflies find it hard to fly in the rain and will usually hole up under a leaf and wait for the rain to stop. Which means that the last couple weeks have not been ideal for butterfly watching. However, do not be downhearted.
The trust have provided us with a fine chart to identify any butterflies that we do see and and an app to make it super easy to report any sightings. And even if you do not manage to see any at all, they want to hear that from you.
My attempts to count in the garden had so far been unsuccessful as I kept getting distrated by a weed that needed attention or a sprouting climber that needed tying back. So I decided to try and do it while I was litter picking. Not a great more successfully as I just got distracted by the wild flowers. However, I was aware that in my three and a half hours on the heath I saw quite a lot of bees but I only actually logged four butterflies (including the Gatekeeper above) which does not sound that healthy.