Should we record that plant? Some questions raised in 2013

Bert Reid

It is often a difficult decision whether or not record some plants or not. Native plants and long-established introductions in the wild are obviously worth publishing, but what should we do with casuals, and just what qualifies as “in the wild”? 2013 has provided several examples that raise these questions, in particular with garden plants, planted street trees and arable introductions planted as conservation field margins or game bird feed. I need to reach some conclusions before I publish a full report on this year’s plant records. Horticultural escapes raise most difficult questions.

I have mainly recorded in SO93 this year, adding many new records for the hectad. Very few of these additions are native plants. What should I do about the following?

Brachyglottis x jubar (Shrub Ragwort) - Pigeon Lane Overbury - SO9637

Calendula officinalis (Pot Marigold) - Conderton Village - SO9637

Campanula medium (Canterbury-bell) - Overbury Village - SO9637

Campanula persicifolia (Peach-leaved Bellflower) - Bredon Parish - SO9336

Campanula poscharskyana (Trailing Bellflower) - Teddington Village - SO9633

Centaurea montana (Perennial Cornflower) - Teddington Village - SO9633

Corydalis solida (Bird-in-a-bush) - Bredon Village Off B4079 - SO9236

Eryngium giganteum (Tall Eryngo) - Mitton north of Tewkesbury Mitton Way - SO9033

Gilia tricolor (Bird's-eyes) - Bredon Village Off Queensmead - SO9336

Iberis amara (Wild Candytuft) - Bredon Village Queensmead - SO9336

Iris sibirica (Siberian Iris) - Crashmore Lane - SO9634

Malva x clementii (Clements Tree-mallow) - Overbury Village - SO953

Portulaca grandiflora (Rose-moss) - Overbury Village - SO9637

Silene coeli-rosa (Rose-of-heaven) - Overbury Village - SO9637

Tradescantia virginiana (Spiderwort) - Bredon Village Blenheim Drive - SO9336

Zauschneria californica (Californian Fuschia) - Mitton north of Tewkesbury Mitton Way - SO9033

Or these records passed to me by Keith Barnett?

Cerinthe major (Honeywort) - Chance Lane Hall Green - SO8045

Geranium x magnificum (Purple Crane's-bill) - Barnards Green area - SO7946

Hemerocallis fulva (Orange Day-lily) - Barnards Green to Guarlford road - SO7945

Heuchera x brizoides (Coral-bells hybrids) - Hanley Swan - SO8142

Kniphofia praecox (Greater Red-hot-poker) - Great Malvern Elgar Avenue - SO7946

Weigela florida (Weigelia) - Malvern Wells St Wulstans NR - SO7841

All these records are believed to be correctly identified so the main question is about whether they are sufficiently away from gardens to rule them out or not. The other question is are they clearly planted and unlikely to become naturalised. Some records clearly meet these criteria. The Shrub Ragwort is on a roadside away from houses, where it has been known for over 10 years. Pot Marigold, Trailing Bellflower, Perennial Cornflower, Bird-in-a-bush, Clements Tree-mallow and several others are well known plants locally, that often escape the garden confines and are traditionally counted as recordable. Some of the others are locally rare or in some cases previously unknown in our area. These need greater care, especially new county records (Tall Eryngo, Bird's-eyes, Wild Candytuft, Rose-of-heaven, Californian Fuschia, Coral-bells hybrids and Weigelia).

An important consideration is what to do about deliberate planting on road verges, as is often seen at the entrance of villages. In Overbury where the main village road joins Pigeon Lane, there is a grassy bank by a seat. This appears to have been originally planted up with garden plants and the records for Rose-of-heaven and Canterbury-bell are from this bank, although other plants here are normal natives. Other road verge plants in Overbury such as Rose-moss are clearly accidental casuals from road works.

More difficult questions arise when garden plants are only just out of the garden. I have no hesitation in accepting the Tall Eryngo on Mitton Way, since this is not in any nearby garden, but the Californian Fuschia from within a few metres of the same spot is more of a worry. This is a very rare casual in Britain, and is only sold by a very few specialist dealers. But it was growing in the nearest garden (with several normal Fuchsias) and a single plant had jumped over or burrowed under a tall garden fence. It is not clear whether the plant had appeared from seed or vegetative growth, but either way it disappeared a couple of months later and is a casual at best. The Bird's-eyes were in a lock-up garage area where unofficial track enters from a footpath. The plants are not planted and well away the gardens, but the Wild Candytuft grows on the vehicle entrance by the houses and must be a garden escape. It seems unlikely that the Wild Candytuft would be grown in a garden, but the plants were carefully checked and were not the usual garden species. I think this record needs confirmation in 2014. Keith Barnett’s Coral-bells hybrids and Weigelia are both acceptable records although the first is a single plant only just outside the garden and the second is a single relic shrub in a nature reserve.

The questions about arable introductions planted as conservation field margins or game bird feed are different but simpler. I have selected a few of my own records as examples, but could have produced a much longer list.

Anisantha diandra (Great Brome) – Overbury Parish – SO9638

Camelina sativa (Gold-of-pleasure) - Westmancote - SO9338

Capsicum annuum (Sweet Pepper) - Bredons Norton Parish - SO9339

Chenopodium quinoa (Quinoa) - Westmancote - SO9338

Bromus secalinus (Rye Brome) - Westmancote - SO9338

Chaenorhinum minus (Small Toadflax) - Kinsham Footpath to gravel pit - SO9335

Cichorium intybus (Chicory) - Westmancote - SO9338

Fagopyrum esculentum (Buckwheat) - Westmancote - SO9338

Helianthus annuus (Sunflower) - Bredons Norton Parish - SO9339

Panicum miliaceum (Common Millet) - Westmancote - SO9338

Phacelia tanacetifolia (Phacelia) - Crashmore Lane - SO9535

Raphanus raphanistrum (Wild Radish) - Crashmore Lane - SO9634

Setaria viridis (Green Bristle-grass) - Overbury Park - SO953

Trifolium incarnatum (Crimson Clover) - Lower Smite Farm - SO8952

Trifolium resupinatum (Reversed Clover) - Lower Smite Farm - SO8952

Zea mays (Maize) - Bredon Hill - SO9737

These examples show a number of issues that need policy decisions. The Great Brome is growing on what was a conservation arable strip but now the other characteristic plants of this habitat have all disappeared. Gold-of-pleasure is a rare and declining archeophyte from a conservation strip on Adrian Darby’s land. He found some more on another of his fields well away from this one. Quinoa, Buckwheat, Chicory, Sunflower, Common Millet, Green Bristle Grass, together with Crimson Clover and Reversed Clover (from Lower Smite Farm) all tell the same story. Rye Brome and Small Toadflax are natives or archeophytes that will always be recorded. The Phacelia and Wild Radish from Crashmore Lane are rather different. Here we see large arable field planted up with the two species, giving a colourful display. Is this planning for soil improvement? Maize adds a rather different problem. The plant is grown on field scale as food for humans and farm animals as well as pheasant feed, often on a smaller scale. Is this appropriate for recording, or should we make decisions based on scale and purpose? The final plant to consider is the Sweet Pepper or in this case the alternative name of Sweet Chilli. The details here were about 20 plants of Chilli Peppers growing on disturbed soil about 10m into rape field. Other edges of field, but not this edge, have been planted with Phacelia, Buckwheat, and White Mustard. There were a few empty seed packages with the disturbed soil (not Chilli) and it was clear the species had not been planted in situ. The source is a mystery but my guess is rubbish cleared from a greenhouse.

I will say little about other records here, just mentioning four plants.

Acer cappadocicum (C hopeappadocian Maple) - Pigeon Lane Overbury - SO9637

Acer saccharinum (Silver Maple) - Conderton - SO9636

Phytolacca acinosa (Indian Pokeweed) - Pershore Town - SO9445

Taxodium distichum (Swamp Cypress) - Conderton - SO9636

The Cappadocian Maple is a large planted tree on a lane side verge with many suckers, known here since 2003. The Silver Maple is a single small tree by a roadside ditch. This is less obviously naturalised, but the species often survives well and has the potential to naturalise in future years. The Swamp Cypress is more like the Cappadocian Maple. Again this has been known here since 2003, but this is growing in the corner of a field near the road.

The last record I will mention is Indian Pokeweed. This was recorded by my wife and daughter in my home town, and needed them to point me to the site. There was one tall plant in flower at base of a hedge between footpath and cricket field. At least I identified it!

I hope that this report has given you some understanding of what is needed to record non-native plants. I have almost certainly made you think that only experts with years of experience can record unfamiliar plants. THIS IS NOT THE CASE. Just remember a few simple rules. All records are useful if they are passed to someone who may understand more than you. Everyone from beginner to expert (and anywhere between) will get things right and things wrong, There is help out there: a reasonable photo sent to me or another local “expert” can often save you hours of work. And finally, ENJOY YOUR BOTANY. Plant hunting and recording is fun and ALL RECORDS ARE USEFUL.