Welcome to my blog

This is where I post various musings about wildlife and ecology, observations of interesting species (often invertebrates)
and bits of research that grab my attention. As well as blogging, I undertake professional ecological & wildlife surveys
covering invertebrates, plants, birds, reptiles, amphibians and some mammals, plus habitat assessment and management
. I don't work on planning applications/for developers. The pages on the right will tell you more about my work,
main interests and key projects, and you can follow my academic work here.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

The Bluebells and the Town-hall Clock

In most of Britain, bluebells (Hyacanthoides non-scripta) are a familiar sight in the spring - a few here and there in hedgerows, grassland and on western sea cliffs, but if you visit ancient woodlands, you have a good chance of seeing carpets of these flowers...
Bluebell Wood in the Holywell Estate in Hampshire
Bluebell flowers are all on one side of the stem forming a 'raceme' of drooping flowers, each a cylindrical bell shape with two blue bracts at the base, the petals (more technically 'perianth segments' as they are fused) curled back strongly at the tips, and the anthers cream-coloured. However, you might see some that aren't quite like this - either the introduced Spanish Bluebell (H.hispanica) or, more commonly, the hybrid between the two, H. x massartiana, both being garden escapes.

H. hispanica looks superficially similar to the native bluebell, but the flowers are not all on the same side of the stem, and are not all drooping, the tips are flared outwards but not tightly curled back, and the anthers are blue. The hybrid is sometimes confused with this species, but has features intermediate between the two such as flowers that curl slightly back at the tips.

If you do visit an ancient bluebell wood, however, don't forget to look around for other species - bluebell carpets are an impressive wildlife spectacle, but this type of habitat supports many other species, some of which may be less familiar, such as Moschatel (Adoxa moschatellina), also known as 'Town-hall Clock'.

The pale green  trifoliate leaves of Moschatel

The tiny pale greenish flowers of Moschatel
Moschatel, named after its musky smell, is common in some places, particularly ancient woodlands on damp, fertile soils (and sometimes mountain ledges - in southern Europe, it is a mountain species), but is often overlooked. The trifoliate (three-part, like clovers) leaves are fairly easy to spot, each of the three leaflets further split into three lobes, but the tiny flowers can be elusive. There are five flowers at the end of each long stalk and these are arranged as a cube; four facing sideways at right-angles to each other, the fifth pointing straight up. This gives the plant its alternative 'town-hall clock' name as it recalls the shape of old clock towers with four faces and a roof on top. However, if you want to see it, you have to be quick - it soon dies back and for much of the year there is little evidence of it above ground.

There are many other ancient woodland indicators that can be found by visiting the right sites in spring - as I write, some are still visible, but soon the summer species will take over for another year...

A bluebell wood from ground level

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