Purple Toothwort

The Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland (BSBI) is a fantastic organisation ‘for everyone who cares about the wild plants of Britain and Ireland’. It gives support to botanists and recorders of all levels of expertise and leads many projects to help better understand the flora of the British Isles. One of the ways in which the BSBI has been helping to bring British and Irish botany to the wider public is through social media and especially using the hashtag #wildflowerhour on Twitter.

Wildflower Hour takes place every Sunday at 8pm and is an opportunity for everyone to share their photos of wildflowers taken over the past week. Many people come together to share their plant sightings and Twitter becomes a hub of botanical activity. Wildflower Hour is not only a good way to share wildflowers with others but also a chance to revise plant identification and see what has been recorded in your local area.

A couple of  Sundays ago, Wildflower Hour took place as normal with many tweets on early spring wildflowers. One of these tweets was by @KateGold24 and included some photographs taken at Wakehurst Place in West Sussex. As I live quite close to Wakehurst I was interested, and even more so when I saw that one of the photos was of several flowers of a Purple Toothwort Lathraea clandestina.

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As I have never seen Purple Toothwort before, I was excited to visit Wakehurst Place on Friday afternoon just after we broke up for the Easter holidays. I was expecting to have to search long and hard for them due to the fact that they are not the largest of plants, however I was very wrong. They were all over the place! As well as in the main part of the gardens they were also in the deepest part of the woods and even on the bank of Westwood Lake.

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As you can see from the above photograph, the plant is currently without leaves and it will remain without leaves. Leaves are necessary for photosynthesis as they contain chlorophyll which is vital for the process. However, this plant contains no chlorophyll and is therefore unable to photosynthesise and produce energy in that way. Then how does it produce energy?

You will, most of the time, find this plant growing below mainly Poplar and Willow trees. This is because it is these trees it most usually parasitises, and it does so using its roots. These grow at a gentle downward angle until one of them finds a root of the tree they are parasitising. Each root has haustoria, suckers, on the end which attach to the root of the tree and from there the toothwort gets its energy.

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The Purple Toothwort is closely related to the Common Toothwort, Lathraea squamaria, which is also a root parasite. The Common Toothwort is more common, however it is a species I have yet to see. I am hoping I’ll be able to find some this year before they stop flowering in May. The generic name ‘Toothwort’ comes from this common species: their flowers look like a row of teeth!

 

Searching for Sandstone Bryophytes: Part 1

Today we visited Loder Valley Nature Reserve near Wakehurst Place. It is special not only for its excellent Hazel coppice (great for Dormice) and sandstone outcrops but because it only allows 50 people in per day; but we may have been the only people to brave the mud. This was good because the birds on the Ardingly Reservoir were very anxious and agitated.

I had marked some of the species of moss and liverwort found on sandstone in the South-East in my field guide (Mosses and Liverworts of Britain and Ireland: a Field Guide), which has its first birthday in 8 days. There weren’t many, so that made identification relatively easy. That’s crucial when it is unseasonably hot, you are carrying lots and you forgot to bring a water bottle! Not to mention the field guide weighs a tonne!

To get to the reserve, we had to go through Wakehurst Place. Wakehurst is a garden run by Kew and there are a variety of habitats. There are even a few sandstone outcrops. We passed one on the way to the reserve and we could see quite a lot of species even though it was quite crumbly. As well as the Bank Haircap (Polytrichastrum formosum) and the Swan’s-neck Thyme-moss (Mnium hornum) that can be found pretty much everywhere, I found two new species for me: Pellucid Four-tooth Moss (Tetraphis pellucida) and Stipular Flapwort (Harpanthus scutatus). Also on that outcrop was a Garlic Snail, which I wasn’t expecting. Not a new species but it was stunning with the blue on the ‘head and neck’ being very clear.

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A little further along, we came to a stand of Yews. For a while I’ve been looking for a species of midge: Taxomyia taxi. This might seem a little off-topic, but they create galls on Yew to raise their young in safety. And believe it or not, one tree was covered in the galls! New species #3!

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We still hadn’t reached the reserve when I found two more species new to me. I found a patch of Fork-moss (Dicranum) at the base of a large conifer and tried to identify it. It took longer that the two sandstone species to identify but I managed. It turned out to be Whip Fork-moss (Dicranum flagellare). While I was kneeling on the cushion of soft pine needles, I spotted a small insect crawling along one of the roots of the conifer near the moss. On closer inspection I saw it was a globular springtail. I can’t do these by memory, so I took a few photos to look at when I returned home. Recently someone recommended www.collembola.org so that was my resource. It was easy to find as it seems to be quite common and I had a rough idea of which genus it was thanks to browsing the gallery on the NatureSpot website. New species #5 was Dicyrtoma fusca which is also my 5th ever springtail species identified.

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We eventually reached the reserve. There were a couple of trails to choose from but we seemed to choose the wrong one and we only came across a few sandstone outcrops. We did manage to find two new species though, Scott’s Fork-moss (Dicranum scottianum), our second Dicranum species of the day, and the Forcipated Pincerwort (Cephalozia connivens). There weren’t as many bryophyte species as I hoped there would be, but I shall be following in the British Bryological Society (South-East Branch)’s footsteps and visiting Eridge Rocks on Sunday. According to our county recorder, Tom Ottley, the site is looking at its best for 3 decades so I hope to find lots more species.

The Loder Valley Reserve is situated around one of the two arms of Ardingly Reservoir. Therefore in the absence of sandstone, I could enjoy the birds that were on offer. I failed to see the Willow Tits that supposedly breed in the reserve, but I did see 7 Gadwall, 5 Mandarin Ducks and a Common Gull soaring high above us.