What’s that plant – and why?

Twelve Society members (and one Parks Trust volunteer) braved a decidedly cold, damp, and sunless morning for two hours at Shenley Wood for the inaugural event of the newly formed Plant Group. Because of the wet and boggy conditions all our observations and identifications were made from the triangular route hard-core path in the east of the Wood or off the route into the Wood from the car park.

Shenley Wood is designated as Ancient Woodland and also as a ‘County Wildlife Site’. It is owned and managed by the Parks Trust. The surface geology is mostly glacial boulder clay and drainage is poor despite some ditches. Pedunculate Oak (Quercus robur) and Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) were the dominant mature tree species observed with an understory of Hazel (Corylus avellana), Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), Bramble (Rubus ‘fruiticosus’) and Rose (Rosa species). Bluebell (Hyacynthoides non-scripta) was the dominant ground species of the wooded areas but the path edges and small clearings offered more light and here we were able to identify many more species:

Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa), Bugle (Ajuga reptans), Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), Primrose (Primula vulgaris), and Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna) as might have been expected but also Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) in profusion (not yet in flower), Pendulous Sedge (Carex pendula), Wood Sedge (Carex sylvatica) , Bush Vetch (Vica sepium), Common Figwort not yet in flower(Scrophularia nodosa) – or was it Water Figwort (Scrophularia auriculata)? , Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) , and more.

Bugle Ajuga reptans (left)  Bush Vetch Vica sepium (right) (Photos © Bob Phillips)

We had hoped to find Early Purple Orchid in flower (Orchis mascula) but the orchid leaves that we did find could have been either Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) or Early Purple Orchid.  One of the key indicators of Ancient Woodland is Dog’s Mercury (Mercurialis perennis) but none was identified in this section of the Wood (though it had been seen in other parts, on the recce). There was a plentiful supply of specimens on the ground of canopy-emerging leaves and flowers of the Pedunculate Oak – perhaps the combined work of grey squirrels and strong winds the previous night. With the benefit of a hand lens we were able to identify the small dark female flowers as well as the more familiar male yellow catkins.

Along the short walk between the car park and entry to the Wood we identified several shrubs, bushes, and plants on the route. Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea), and Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) were close together and Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana) nearby with all but the Dogwood showing their white blossom. This offered the opportunity for examination of the essential differences of leaf form, florescence, and stem colour. At the edge of the car park, Sticky Mouse-ear (Cerastium glomeratum) was new to many of us:  a hand lens allowed us to view the glandular hairs on the stem and leaves.

Close-up of Sticky Mouse-ear to show glandular hairs on a stem (Photo © Bob Phillips)

A full list of species observed and identified is being prepared with comments and notes where necessary. This list including some of its queries will be input to a more formal Record of Listings which aims to be compatible with the requirements of BMERC in most respects although it is not anticipated that Group members will be able to acquire the skills necessary to submit formal records without further external training support.

In what way was this event different to the evening walks of the Society’s Summer Programme? Certainly, there was much more time for detailed examination of the plants we saw, checking field guides for distinguishing features, and sharing this knowledge with each other. Planning Team members were on hand to guide participants to planned stopping places and in practice we broke into a number of smaller groups in order to follow up particular interests. We also found that for some plants identification proved uncertain especially when not yet in flower and in these instances, we decided to list them as such. We also decided to list only those species that we observed either at the recce or the event itself, and to rely on our own identification skills. This was to avoid the temptation of assuming that because a plant had been seen before in Shenley Wood that was what it must be (e.g. the Figwort and Orchid species). We concluded with a welcome offer of tea or coffee.

To read more about the Plant Group go to the website under Programmes then Plant Group in the drop-down box to find an Information Sheet. The next event is from 10.30 am to 12.30 pm on Sunday 2nd June when the habitat will be the grassland, hedges, and limestone scrape of Stonepit Field.

Report prepared by the Planning Team (Charles Kesser, Jenny Mercer, Di Parsons, Carla Boswell, and Joe Clinch), with special thanks to Janice Robertson for her local knowledge and joining us on the recce, Bob Philips for his photographs, and Richard Schmidt for sharing his field notes with us.

07 May 2024