J J Day

At the indoor meeting, 22nd.March 2003, Brett Westwood informed me that Trachystemon orientalis (L.) Don, Abraham-Isaac-Jacob, still grew by the A456 on Hagley Hill, where he had recorded it in 1993. Coincidently, on 30th.March 2003, the first known record from the same site was entered onto the database. This was made by William Mathews and published in 1868. Other literature references followed in 1881, 1893, 1909, 1954.

A considerable survival span for an alien, 135 years shows remarkable tenacity to site. It indicates a tolerance of the complete current range of climatological conditions prevalent in central England. On the other hand, it has shown no ability to spread. This has remained the sole location in Worcestershire.

This is in contrast to its known associate. In the early records, it was growing with Leopard's Bane, Doronicum pardalianches. This was only the second recorded locality in Worcestershire. It is now, apparently, lost from Hagley but has spread in the intervening period and was, for instance, found in 33 sites between 1970-2002.

The presence of two established aliens in the mid-nineteenth century,is suggestive of a deliberate and early introduction. There might be a connection with the landscaping of Hagley Park. (The Croome area, which inherits a similiar tradition in its landscape history, is threaded with a spectrum of exotics).

The botanical literature, in this case, well illustrates some of the pitfalls in dealing with the written record. References to the plant are reproduced in the Appendix. They are copied, as faithfully as possible, from the original published sources.

At first sight the tale seems straightforward:

The first published record for Hagley Hill was in 1868.
It was still there in 1881, when Mathews wrote his Clent and Lickey Flora.
Amphlett and Rea, in 1909, repeat Mathew's record but add no novel material.
Hardaker has it still growing there in c.1940s, although he is worried, in the Spring of 1952, that the plant has been lost to road alterations.
He need not of worried - Brett re-found it in 1993.

On a closer inspection the records become ambiguous.

Firstly, in the systematic list (Flora of the Clent and Lickey Hills, 1881), Mathews is clearly referring to Trachystemon orientalis (L.) Don :

"Borago orientalis (L.) Eastern Borage. A native of Turkey (figured in pl. 288 of the Botanical Register, vol.iv,1818)".

In the Introduction on p.8 he refers, in an almost identical description of location, to "Borago officinalis" i.e. Borage. This seems to be erroneous and was likely overlooked on proof reading, officinalis and orientalis are very close. Furthermore, officinalis is familiar and makes sense to a brain in scan mode.

However, Mathews obviously meant B.orientalis as he repeats this record in 1893 and of course there is the living proof.

In the Botanical section of Victoria County History written by John Amphlett, dated "complete to December 1900", there is no reference, in the text or systematic County list, to Trachystemon orientalis. However, "Borago officinalis" is mentioned as lost from Hagley (VCH Vol. I p.43). Amphlett is clearly copying Mathews textual error but ignoring three separate references, by the same author to "Borago orientalis".

By 1909 Amphlett and Rea have re-found the Trachystemon orientalis record. They refer to it. They cite p.34 of Mathews (1881) and quote him verbatim (although they can not help adding a hyphen to his "water trough").

They give the name "Borago orientale Linn." in brackets, it appears to have been restored but then it is entered under "Symphytum orientale, Linn.", as the sole record for that species.

This is a wholly novel species and even genus.

Carlton Rea appears to retain this error. He published his own record for Symphytum orientale from the railway banks north of Bewdley (C.Rea, 1913, B.E.C.R. III, p.214). This was repeated in Rea's, Appendix to The Botany of Worcestershire, Transactions Worcestershire Naturalists' Club Vol.VIII p.47 plus the comment "known there for fifteen years".

It is not indicated as the first county record, which it should have been if the Hagley record is correctly entered. Rea kept the County list. So either the error, in The Botany of Worcestershire, was overlooked or it was ignored. Rea's own annotated copy of The Botany of Worcestershire is in the British Museum, this might shed some light on the matter.

It was reinstated as a Worcestershire plant, by Hardaker's reference. But just to reintroduce a little uncertainty the record is put down as Severn (Botanical District), whereas it lies just within the Lickey Botanical District. It is of interest to note that the syntax, in 1951 (Hardaker had been active in the county since 1910), is indicative of a widely known locality, Rea died in 1946.

During the whole period, despite statements to the contrary, Trachystemon orientalis survived at Hagley.

If the botanical references had ceased in 1932, there would have been uncertainty as to which, of the three species, was meant. Fortunately, W.Hardaker in c.1940s and Brett in the 1990/2000s have confirmed the original Mathews identification.

A seemingly, straightforward record has become confused, by carelessness; Mathews, Amphlett, Amphlett & Rea and Rea all introduce muddle. Mathews was very meticulous in his botanical work. His error rate is low. So this is unexpected. Amphlett was a bibliographer, historian and archivist well used to precision; Rea was a meticulous and careful botanist, for instance, he wrote a standard reference work on British Basidiomycetes. So this complete loss from the record and subsequent transference of a species is a most unusual and atypical error (shades of Edwin Lees).

Appendix The Records for Borago orientalis, alias Borago officinalis, alias Symphytum orientale, alias Trachystemon orientalis

William Mathews, 1868 :
Flora of the Clent Hills, W.Mathews p.111, in Clentine Rambles by W.Harris, Stourbridge: Mark and Moody 1868.

First published record.

William Mathews, 1881 :
The Flora of the Clent and Lickey Hills and the neighbouring parts of the County of Worcester
, by William Mathews M.A., 1881, Stourbridge: Mark and Moody. London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co. p.34 in systematic list :
"Borago orientalis (L.) Eastern Borage. A native of Turkey (figured in pl. 288 of the Botanical Register, vol.iv,1818), is established in the hedge at Hagley Park, by the Birmingham road, below the water trough, where it has been growing for many years in company with Doronicum pardalianches."

p.8 in Introduction - a note on aliens :
"Borago officinalis, hedge of Hagley Park, on the Birmingham Road, below the water trough, 1868 to 1881."

William Mathews, 1893 :
History of the County Botany of Worcester
by Wm.Mathews M.A., Midland Naturalist Volume XVI, 1893, p.20 :

"Borago orientalis. A native of Turkey (figured in pl. 288 of the Botanical Register, Vol.iv,1818), is established in the hedge at Hagley Park, by the Birmingham Road, below the water trough, where it has been growing for many years in company with Doronicum pardalianches. First record in previous edition, 1868."

John Amphlett 1901 :
The Victoria History of Worcestershire
(1901); Botany; Phanerogamia (Flowering Plants), by John Amphlett M.A., S.C.L.; list dated as complete to the end of December 1900. No reference to Trachystemon orientalis. On p.43 under Lickey District is the note :"Doronicum pardalianches occurs at Hagley and Clent, and with it at Hagley flourished Borago officinalis, which has now disappeared,".

John Amphlett and Carlton Rea 1909 :
The Botany of Worcestershire
, by John Amphlett and Carlton Rea, Cornish Brothers Ltd. Birmingham, 1909 p.251 :

"Symphytum orientale, Linn.
(Borago orientale Linn.)
Mr.Mathews notes of this alien, Clent and Lickey Fl., p.34 (1881), that it
"is established in the hedge at Hagley Park, by the Birmingham road, below the water-trough, where it has been growing for many years in company with Doronicum pardalianches.""

William Hardaker 1952
The Botany of Worcesterhire
: Appendix II, by W.H.Hardaker (from manuscript dated March 3rd, 1952); Transactions of the Worcestershire Naturalists' Club Vol.XI pt.I 1954 p.336 :

"Trachystemon orientalis D. Don. Severn. Owing to road alterations it seems to have disappeared from Hagley Hill. A friend of mine, Mr.C.Thomas of Edgbaston, rescued some of the plant and grew it successfully in his garden."

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