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Botany Report for 2006

by Gill Smith

2006 was a very strange year weather-wise. Although the winter was never very cold, things did not warm up till relatively late, delaying the spring flowers (even the snowdrops weren’t fully out until mid-February). There was a warm, wet interlude in late March, but much of April was cold again. The Lowna daffodils were not at their best till c20th (which at least meant they were just right for Easter visitors).

Things really warmed up in early May, at which point everything grew like mad. There was a condensed flowering season, with all kinds of plants blooming together – but often the flowers were only out for a few days. The early summer was hot and dry, baking lawns and verges. However, we then had an “August monsoon” which resulted in a lush second growth, with wayside flowers such as meadow cranesbill and red campion producing a wonderful late show. The summer warmth lingered on, and the first frost wasn’t until November; the down side of this was the autumn colours didn’t develop till then, by which time some of the leaves had already fallen.

Something in these conditions really suited the trees – I have never seen the hedges so heavily laden with hips, haws, holly berries and sloes, and there was also a bumper harvest of acorns and apples (wild and cultivated), not to mention the walnuts and sweet chestnuts in gardens. There was a good crop of hazelnuts early on, but they were mostly eaten by the squirrels before they were fully ripe, and of beech nuts, though I have seen heavier mast years. I wonder whether part of the reason for the heavy crop of berries, apples and plums is because the weather conditions meant all the blossom was out at once, and that there was a sudden flush of pollinating insects brought out by the warmth?

My personal highlights were finding a whole wood full of the yellow star of Bethlehem (above right), which has to be one of my favourite wild flowers; seeing the elusive, unusual and interesting – if not particularly attractive – birdsnest orchid (left); seeing St. Dabeoc’s Heath on Rollgate Bank (this is presumably an escape as it is only supposed to grow in western Ireland, but it is over a mile from the nearest house and looked very natural – it is certainly happy here); eventually finding stone bramble growing on Murton Bank after several abortive searches elsewhere; and finding both species of small-flowered water crowfoot (Ranunculus hederacea and R. omiophyllus) and being able to compare them!

On the down side the dwarf cornel in the Hole of Horcum seems to be getting swamped by bracken and/or bilberry, which may be a reflection of global warming.

In November Tom and Janet Denney reported a strange plant from Golden Heights on Rudland Rigg, north of the trig point. It turns out to be Cotula squalida also known as Leptinella squalida, a kind of daisy from New Zealand – goodness knows how it got here! [See article]

After a long, warm autumn the frost finally arrived in the third week of December. Up until then there were still plenty of plants in flower – my list for the month reached 45.

My thanks to Nan Sykes and Janet & Tom Denney for reports.

Gill Smith 5th Nov 2006, 9 Dec

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Text copyright © Ryedale Natural History Society 2006. Photos Gill & Adrian Smith © 2006. Site maintained by APL-385.