Wednesday, 22 May 2013

North Wales

A recent trip to North Wales presented the opportunity for some botanical tourism. Firstly though I took a wander around my mother's garden in Rhiwlas. Over the years I have filled the garden with a range of ferns and in spring  they are at their best, their croziers unfurling in fresh greens. Though not in any way uncommon  Hart's Tongue, Asplenium scolopendrium has to be one of the most beautiful ferns of spring. 

Asplenium scolopendrium,
Hen Ardd, Rhiwlas, VC49, May 2013 

Around the small pond at the bottom of the garden Rough Horsetail, Equisetum hyemale was poking its cones through the mess of Juncus and Agrostis. Elsewhere my Asplenium septentrionale continues to be munched to the edge of existence by the larvae of the Psychoides micro-moth and Gymnocarpium dryopteris continues its determined invasion of any part of the garden it has not yet conquered.    

Equisetum hyemale
Hen Ardd, Rhiwlas, VC49, May 2013

Leaving the garden I visited the woods at Padarn Country Park near Llanberis. Tufts of Hairy Wood-rush, Luzula pilosa were flowering on the woodland floor and the delicate panicles of Wood Melick, Melica uniflora drooped from the slate walls beside the path .

Luzula pilosa,
Padarn Country Park, VC 49, May 2013

Melica uniflora, Padarn Country Park, VC 49, May 2013

Further into the woods I revisited an orchid that I first found a decade or more ago: the Narrow-leaved Helleborine, Cephalanthera longifolia. This rarity normally favours calcareous habitats and its occurrence in these highly acidic woods is explicable only with reference to the multitude of small slate and mortar buildings scattered through these woods. The mortar from these leftovers of the slate mining industry has, over the years, leached into the surrounding soil enriching its pH enough for Cephalanthera to tolerate. Unfortunately my visit was a couple of weeks too early for the flowering season so the picture below is far from exciting.     

Cephalanthera longifolia, Padarn Country Park, VC 49, May 2013

My next stop was Penrhyn Castle, a local National Trust property. This nineteenth century mock-castle was the home of the Pennant family, owners of the lucrative Penrhyn slate quarries a couple of miles further up the Ogwen. The grounds of the castle are the only North Wales site for Southern Wood-rush, Luzula forsteri. This species, as its vernacular name suggests, has a southerly distribution though it was first described from Cardiganshire. It is closely related to L. pilosa but differs from this species in having the branches of the panicle ascendant rather than divergent.

Luzula forsteri,
Penrhyn Castle grounds, VC 49, May 2013

Leaving the mainland I headed across Anglesey to the dunes at Aberffraw. My main purpose in visiting this famous botanical locale was to search for its most famous (botanically at least) resident: Early Sand-grass, Mibora minima. This diminutive winter annual is, apparently, the smallest grass in the world. A rarity in the UK it has its headquarters on Anglesey with a few scattered populations elsewhere on the west coast. I was quickly rewarded in my search and soon realised that at Aberffraw it is abundant wherever the sward is open enough for it to establish.

Mibora minima, Aberffraw, VC 52, May 2013

As well as my target species the bare sandy areas in the dunes supported a rich assemblage of other winter annuals. The dwafed culms and congested heads of (probable) Bromus hordeaceus subsp. thominei were just poking through and the very pretty Sand Cat's-tail, Phleum arenarium was abundant.  

(probable) Bromus hordeaceus subsp. thominei, Aberffraw, VC 52, May 2013

Phleum arenarium,
Aberffraw, VC 52, May 2013

A final wander along the low cliffs to the south of the dunes provided a smattering of flowers. The thrift and primroses of the steep rocks giving way to Spring Squill, Scilla verna in the tight sward atop the cliffs.

Scilla verna, Aberffraw, VC 52, May 2013

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