The New Forest's Weird and Wonderful Plants - Part 1

OK, so I've really let this whole blogging mallarkey slip a bit lately. To make amends I'm going to hurl a few postings your way, starting where I left off - way back at the start of September...

Tony Davis (currently somewhat above me in the rankings) lives just a few miles from where I'm now living. He suggested a jaunt into the New Forest in search of some of the less common plants found there. I gladly accepted and before long I was being driven towards the first of many botanical delights. First up was the staggeringly underwhelming rarity that is Dwarf Spike Rush (Eleocharis parvula). It grows in abundance in the mud not too far from Beaulieu Motor Museum, yet is very easily overlooked. Here's a piccie...hope you're sitting down for this one, lol.

Stunning, huh? What you can't see in the pic is the network of subterranean rhizomes running between plants. When a young plant erupts upwards from a rhizome it does so from a swollen gall-like lump which, apparently, is completely unique to this particular species! We teased a couple up until we were happy we had seen this tiny but important feature. Each plant in the image stands all of maybe two inches in height. Dwarf by name, dwarf by nature.

We parked in a layby opposite Hatchet Pond as Tony was keen to show me some more goodies. Thankful for the wellies I was wearing, I followed into the trees and soon emerged at a small, well-vegetated pond. Deep horse poaching made it fairly treacherous underfoot but we remained on our feet despite a near slip by myself. First up though, what the heck was the shrub in front of me? It looked vaguely Rhododendron like but not as thick leaved or as glossy. Tony laughed at me, "you obviously haven't been botanising much in the Forest if you don't know that one!" Charming...anyway, turns out it WAS a Rhododendron after all - Yellow Azalea (Rhododendron luteum) and this is what it looks like

Two new plants and we'd only been here a few minutes! The pond was a marvel, the ticks threw themselves at me in a rush. First up were carpets of Hampshire Purslane (Ludwigia palustris) followed by Lesser Water Plantain (Baldellia ranunculoides) in flower at the muddy margin and delightful strings of Coral Necklace (Illecebrum verticillatum) running through everything, truly a gorgeous plant when examined closely. Here's a few more pics, they don't do justice though.

Lesser Water Plantain and Hampshire Purslane side by side. Stunning. Be even better if I had Photoshop....

Coral Necklace in all it's glory (with more Hampshire Purslane alongside). Maybe it'll strangle the Crassula growing up beside it....

Other species at this small pond included Marsh St John's-wort (Hypericum elodes) in abundance, Bog Pimpernel (Anagallis tenella), Marsh Pennywort (Hydrocotyle vulgaris) and lots of Lesser Spearwort (Ranunculus flammula). I had seen five new plants in no time at all, Tony suggested we cross the road to Hatchet Pond and I hurried to keep up. This was going very well so far! We walked along the margin of Hatchet Pond keeping an eye out for anything we (well I) didn't recognise. Seeing as I'm a pretty crap boptanist that meant lots of stops and pauses! Tony, bless him, put up rather well. An aquatic plant was quickly determined to be Alternate Water-milfoil (Myriophyllum alterniflorum) but we hashed the ID of our next aquatic, it took a Facebook message to correct our initial identification of Curly Waterweed, it was in fact Nuttall's Waterweed (Elodea nuttallii) a new one for me nonetheless! All of the pondweed here has been shown to be Bog Pondweed (Potamogeton polygonifolius) so no worries with that particular genus today! Here's a couple more pics.

Nuttall's Waterweed NOT Curly Waterweed! Count the leaves per whorl - duh!!! That was just a silly error, we were too busy looking for a different target to pay close attention. I'm very glad now that I took the pic.

As mentioned, the only Potamogeton that grows here is Bog Pondweed. The lack of a 'hinge' at the leaf base is a feature. Or so I'm told. I'm not a huge fan of pondweeds... BUT I am a fan of the next thing we found! A half-submerged branch was just too darn tempting to walk past. I'm a complete bugger for checking under rocks, logs, sheets of tin etc etc as anyone who's ever been out with me will know. I'm drawn to them, there could be anything underneath! So I HAD to haul the branch ashore and check. Blimey, am I ever glad I did - this is what I found

A flippin' huge great leech! Easily 5 or 6 feet long, dripping acid and hissing in anger!!! It smashed my arm and almost bit Tony's head off, but we were saved by a pack of bloodthirsty Jack Russells who managed to corner it until I could capture it in a pot. Phew, who knew botany could be so dangerous? We both figured it was a Horse Leech due to large size and subdued colouration but, seeing as we're both inexperienced with the finer points of leech identification, Tony offered to take it home to key it through for confirmation of the record. So you can probably imagine our surprise and delight when he discovered that it was, in fact, a European Medicinal Leech (Hirudo medicinalis) - brilliant! I checked online, it's already known from the New Forest but nowadays only occurs at a few of its former ponds. At least we know for sure that it is still present in Hatchet Pond (but probably best not to tell the bathers the good news, eh?) 

Anyway, Tony was keen to find some insignificant something or another of a plant so we pressed on along the shoreline. We found a clump of Many-stalked Spike-rush (Eleocharis multicaulis) which keyed through very nicely and a load of horse-cropped Yellow-sedge which didn't key through very nicely at all. Happily we soon found another lifer for me - Shoreweed (Littorella uniflora) which must surely rank as one of the most underwhelming plants anywhere in the New Forest. So saying, once I managed to stop stringing every young Buckshorn Plantain plant (they exhibit very simple, untoothed leaf shapes at this age. Or they do here, anyway!) I found quite a few Shoreweed rosettes scattered across one small area, it's actually a very satisfying plant to see. Here, have a look for yourself. Mega....sorta...

Shoreweed - it's what happens when you feed brittlestars nothing but cucumber...

We headed away from Hatchet Pond and back towards the road again. We crossed a zone of Sphagnum dominated squealchy stuff with swathes of White-beaked Sedge (Rhynchospora alba), yet another lifer, giving way to heather as we gained height. But not before I almost trod on a plant I've spent a lot of time searching for - Pale Buttterwort (Pinguicula lusitanica) and not just one but two of them!!! Wow, totally unexpected and totally amazing, I walked Land's End to John O'Groats a couple of years back and checked hundreds and hundreds of Common Butterworts all through the Scottish Highlands. I'm not kidding - hundreds! I was kinda obsessed with finding their smaller cousin, and now I'd almost stomped one into the mire. Phew, close call. Tony wasn't even slightly impressed, "I thought I'd let you find them for yourself. We've passed loads." Whaaaaaaat???? The lying bugger! I hope. Anyway, despite wanting to see one for ages I could only manage a really terrible pic and couldn't get the flower and basal leaves in the same shot. So here's part of a Pale Butterwort

OMG - I've wanted to see those swollen, inrolled leaves for SO long. And yet this was the best pic I could manage? Pathetic! 

We continued to another small pond, this one full of water lily patches. But not White Water-lily, the flowers were the wrong shape and the leaves were deep red on the undersides. Tony enlightened me, these were Coloured Water-lily (Nymphaea marliacea) a non-native ornamental species (or maybe just a hybrid - the texts seem to contradict each other) which is doing very well here. It was the last new plant for me before we reached the car. I think we'd been out for maybe a couple of hours yet Tony had led me to a wonderful part of the New Forest and I'd seen eleven new plants. Eleven!

Next up we were heading to Crockford Bridge, a short drive down the road. Tony was already telling me all about the totally different suite of plants I'd see there, yep - even more lifers! But that'll be on the second part of this blog. Hope you enjoyed this first half of the day, I'll whack the second half up tomorrow night   :)


Hey...where'd that bloomin' fly come from???