Wonderful Wildflowers

PUBLISHED: 15:48 24 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:15 20 February 2013

Common poppies near Alvecote

Common poppies near Alvecote

In the mid-1600s the naturalist John Ray began a fine tradition of recording the county's flora. The latest 'plant record' is published this year by Steven Falk, Senior Keeper of Natural History at Warwickshire Museum.

The history of plant recording in Warwickshire is a long and proud one. The great naturalist John Ray, who resided for part of his life at Middleton Hall, near Tamworth, was cataloguing plants as early as the mid-1600s. Some of his local discoveries were firsts for Britain. James Bagnall published his Flora of Warwickshire in 1891, one of the finest county floras of the Victorian period. Warwickshire was also subject to Britains first ever computer-generated county flora, A Computer-mapped Flora, produced by Birmingham University in 1971. The computers used to produce the maps for this occupied three rooms and had less capacity than a modern mobile phone!
The third county flora was published last autumn. Warwickshires Wildflowers is a snap-shot of what now exists and how six thousand years of human activity have shaped the local plant communities and their habitats. Here are some of the highlights.

Ancient plants in ancient places
About half of the plants that are currently established in Warwickshire are native species that arrived in Britain naturally following the last ice age. Some of these are very good indicators of our oldest and finest habitats. Woods full of Bluebell, Wood Anemone, Dogs Mercury and Hazel are typically hundreds if not thousands of years old, because such plants do not normally occur in young woods. Check out Ryton, Wappenbury, Clowes, Rough Hill or Hampton Woods, also Snitterfield Bushes and Hartshill Hayes. They are particularly fine in April and May. Old unimproved grasslands are indicated by plants such as Cowslip, Betony and Green-winged Orchid. Unfortunately about 95 per cent of Warwickshires old grassland has been lost or damaged over the past 100 years, so such plants are much rarer today.

Introductions old and new
Those wonderful old willow pollards that grace our riversides, the poppies and chamomiles in our fields, and many of the familiar weeds of our gardens and allotments are not British natives but introductions. Those that arrived before 1,500 AD are called archaeophytes and many were introduced with imported grain and wool as early as the Bronze Age and Romano-British period. Plants that arrived after 1,500 are called neophytes and there are hundreds of these in Warwickshire, and the list is still growing. They include many of the plants that now thrive on disturbed ground, such as Buddleia, Canadian Goldenrod and evening-primroses. Nature reserves such as Brandon Marsh, Ryton Pools, Claybrookes Marsh and Pooley Fields are great places to find such plants.

Cursed invaders
Many of those introductions co-exist with our native species fairly harmoniously, and some, such as our rare arable weeds (hardly any of which are natives) are subject of much conservation concern internationally. Unfortunately, a few rogue species, including Indian Balsam, New Zealand Pigmyweed, Rhododendron, Sycamore and Japanese Knotweed are seriously invasive and are bringing about major changes to our woods, ponds and riverbanks.

Flowers on your doorstep
If you think that you need to travel to nature reserves to find unusual flowers in Warwickshire, you could not be more wrong. Check out the walls of old buildings such as your local parish church, the platform of your local railway station, your local allotments and any local public footpaths. With a sharp eye you should be able to spot dozens of different species.

Warwickshires Wildflowers by Steven J. Falk is published by Brewin Books, ISBN 978-1-85858-445-4, Hardback 344 pages, 374 photos, 15.95. The book is as much an account of how Warwickshire came to look and feel the way it does today as an account of the plants, and has been written to appeal to naturalists, ramblers and local historians alike. It has chapters on each of the eight major habitats that support plants, and provides an annotated checklist covering 1778 species regarded as native or naturalised.

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