Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Sulham Woods

Last year I explored the woodlands closest to home and was pleased to see such a good range of woodland plants that I was determined to make a more extensive search this year - here is the result. Woodland plants have a small window of opportunity to flower before the trees block out the light and just as importantly the trees will dry out the soil after winter rains. So this is really only possible to do in April or May.As this is just a record of mainly the plants that I found this is a bit more boring than usual, there is no route to suggest people might follow as I looped around to try to survey the areas - often off the established paths.

This posting coincides with this wildlife blog passing the 100,000 visits threshold (as measured by blogspot). It seemed to be stuck at over 90,000 for ages. I do hope people find the blog and the pictures of some interest.

I started in Clay Copse; as its name suggests it has a clay soil making it wet and muddy in places, a number of streams and drainage ditches run through the woods. Near the road there was a clump of Yellow Archangel (Lamium galeobdolon). The invasive non-native form with variegated leaves was competing with the native form which was still around here and there. Most were is bud but one or two were already out in flower.

Yellow Archangel,Lamium galeobdolon

I first saw plants with just leaves and no flowers and that makes identification a bit of a challenge. The leaves are rather grass-like that adds to the confusion. I believe it is Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea). It was restricted to drier places and the edge of the woodland. It makes a lovely contrast to the bluebells when they are out.

Greater Stitchwort,Stellaria holostea

Near the southern edge of the woods I managed to catch an early Speckled Wood butterfly sunning itself.

speckled wood,butterfly

One of the ancient woodland indicator species next - Woodruff (Galium odoratum) just coming in bud. I found patches here and there is the woods but not extensive areas.

Woodruff,Galium odoratum

The next ancient woodland plant is Moschatel (Adoxa moschatellina). It has a hard to spot green ‘Town Hall clock’ flowers from the distance - each face and the upward face each has a ‘flower’. However, the foliage is fairly distinctive - it is a bit like Wood anemone but the points are rounded. Up until last year I considered finding this plant quite an event and on many botany themed walks the group has only managed to find one or two clumps of it. Last year I explored a little bit of Clay Copse and was amazed to see some large areas of Moschatel. This survey soon got out of hand, there was so much of it that I gave up noting each plant I saw. I would estimate that about a quarter of the wood has some of it in each square metre, so altogether that must give a total of over 100 sq metres. In some places it dominated - covering 10 sqm on its own. It seems to like damp conditions and was most common and vigorous by the ditches and areas of mud. I have not seen a wood before with such a high proportion of this plant but may be I haven't visited the right places.

Moschatel,Adoxa moschatellina

A more eye-catching sight in the woods in early April before the bluebells are Wood Anemones (Anemone nemorosa). It was widely distributed in Clay Copse forming drifts of white flowers. It seemed to thrive in the slightly drier areas than the Moscatel.

Wood Anemone,Anemone nemorosa

Dotted here and there in the woods were violets. I looked at the sepals and spurs to distinguish the species and believe there were some early dog violets and some dog violets both out in flower. I think these are Dog Violets (Viola riviniana).

Dog Violets,Viola riviniana

I walked up and down through the wood admiring other plants not featured here. The full inventory of plants I noted for Clay Copse was: Yellow Archangel, Lesser Stitchwort, Bluebells, Wild Service Tree, Lesser Celandine, Wood Anemone, Wood Spurge, Wood Sorrel, Early Dog Violet, Dog Violet, Moschatel, Arum Lily, Ivy leaved Speedwell, Wood Speedwell, Ground Ivy, Pignut, Dog's Mercury, Primrose, Brooklime, Sanicle, Hard Shield Fern, and Woundwort. There were also other species I could not identify from the leaves.

I then followed a string of woodland towards 'The Mud House' and this stretch has a number of Wild Service Trees (not yet in leaf). It has some clay pits and is somewhat drier. I found some Moschatel (only in wetter, lower section) together with Wood Anemones, Lesser Celandine, Greater Stitchwort, Woodruff, Ivy leaved Speedwell and many bluebells. There were a few Butcher's Brooms (Ruscus aculeatus) including a baby plant - it is a slow growing plant so good to see a seedling has taken root. The fruits from last year were still present together with this year's tiny flowers.

Butchers Brooms,Ruscus aculeatus

Here is a picture I took last week in the same area that shows the tiny flowers. It looks like they sprout from the underside of leaves, but they are not in fact leaves but flat shoots called 'cladodes'. It is a most curious member of the lily family.

Butchers Broom flowers,Ruscus aculeatus

The next woodland to explore was Cornwell Copse. As this has a housing estate and playing fields alongside it, there is a lot of human footfall and the paths were well trodden. At the lower, wetter end near the stream was some Moschatel and a couple of patches of Pignut. The southern, drier part was many bluebells. Other woodland plants were Lesser Celandine, Yellow Archangel, Wood Anemones, Dogs Mercury, Woodruff, Wood Spurge. Wood Sorrel, Wood Speedwell and Early dog violet. However the wider tracks had nettles, foxgloves and brambles as well as areas of grass. In general it was botanically less interesting than Clay Copse. In the copse I spotted this particularly 'pink' form of Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa).

Wood Anemone,Anemone nemorosa

As in Clay Copse the Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) were just coming into bud and showing a little colour.

Bluebells,Hyacinthoides non-scripta

Wood Spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides) was not all that common in either of the woods - scattered here and there.

Wood Spurge,Euphorbia amygdaloides

In the middle of Cornwell Copse was a patch of wild Redcurrants (Ribes rubrum). The flowers were already over and the fruits beginning to form.

Redcurrants,Ribes rubrum

I found a particularly appealing group of Wood Sorrel flowers

Wood Sorrel,Oxalis acetosella

Having scanned much of Cornwell Copse I walked on a path to the junction with an ancient track-way called 'Gypsy Lane'. I happened to catch a male Orange Tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines) feeding on the freshly opened Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) flowers.

Orange tip,butterfly

The last woodland I explored was Barefoot's Copse. This is a small area on quite a slope. The woodland flowers were more like a 'typical' Berkshire wood - Bluebells with some Stitchwort, Yellow Archangel, Dogs Mercury, Lesser Celandine and Wood Anemone. This I put down to it being drier ground and so a smaller range of species. However one delightful surprise was more Pignut (Conopodium majus). I haven't seen a great deal of this plant; it has the dissected leaves the parsley family and gets its name from its tuberous roots that pigs love to eat. It grows and spreads very slowly and is considered an ancient woodland indicator species. Well in this wood I found the largest colonised area of pignut I have ever seen, not just one or two plants but many spread over about 35 sqm. In all of the three woods I saw about ten pignut colonies, but this was by far the largest.

Pignut,Conopodium majus