A collection of wildlife photographs



Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Plants of Sunnybank

In early February, I decided to visit Sheffield Wildlife Trust's Sunnybank reserve. I had been there before, once to move Common frog, Rana temporaria individuals into the reserve's pond. The frogs were translocated shortly before the meadow was strimmed. Such annual strimming practices are implemented to maintain optimum species richness. This previous visit had been a thoroughly enjoyable day. 

I did not expect to see Common Frogs this time, because all UK amphibians hibernate during winter. They slow down their metabolism in underground tunnels, or large log piles, so that they can survive the colder months. On this visit, I wanted to check out the plant species that grew there. What Sunnybank lacks in size, it makes up for with a surprising abundance of wildlife. Embedded in the urban fabric of Sheffield city, this site has particular importance in ameliorating the negative impacts of habitat fragmentation on species persistence. 
Lords-and-ladies, Arum maculatum

On venturing into the reserve, I discovered an unmistakable Lords-and-ladies, Arum maculatum individual growing beneath a pond-side bench. Its arrow-shaped leaves, growing from long stalks, are large and hairless. Its flowers had not emerged yet, as April-May time is not yet upon us. Lords-and-ladies enjoys the neutral soils of woods or hedgerows, which have a readily available water supply.

This habitat was bramble, Rubis fructosa agg.-dominated scrub. Also present in this assemblage was the unspectacular Common nettle, Urtica dioica, and Goosegrass, Galium aparine. A tiny Goosegrass plant is displayed in the bottom right of the same photograph. Goosegrass tends to stick to clothes, and has 6 leaves in each whorl (3 or more leaves growing from the same point around the stem).


Water Mint, Mentha aquatica and Lesser spearwort, Ranunculus flammula grew in the pond.



Annual meadow-grass, Poa annua
I left the pond to have a nose around a patch of woodland. On my way, I was struck by an Annual meadow-grass, Poa annua individual growing at the foot of a bench. This annual species can flower all year round, and is a very successful species. The photograph to the right shows that its oval or oblong spikelets (the subunits of a grass plant's inflorescence)  are subtended by distinctive pale-green to pink-flushed glumes, and each contain 3-5 florets (the flowers of grasses). Annual meadow-grass has wide leaf blades, less than 10cm in length and up to 5mm wide. These leaves are typically folded, and have abruptly pointed tips.

Annual meadow-grass is tolerant of disturbance, such as trampling by people or animals. The surrounding bare ground in the photograph to the right illustrates that few other plants can withstand the intense disturbance of trampling by muddy boots. This tolerance of disturbance allows it to grow in sites, where its short stature is not overtopped and shaded by surrounding vegetation. 

The bench sat in the shadow of a patch of Silver birch, Betula pendula. This tree species is particularly distinctive because of its peeling white bark and characteristic upright branches with drooping 'pendulous' twigs. In a glade, grew Wood Avens, Geum urbanum, an ancient woodland indicator species. This perennial species has leaves and stems that are covered in sparse hairs, and feel furry to the touch. It has a relatively large terminal leaf (pictured below), that is usually three lobed. This species also has 2-3 distinctive smaller pairs of leaflets below this terminal leaf. 

Wood Avens, Geum urbanum
Wood avens prefers soil in woods, and is often found beneath dense shade. It can grow in both dry and moist soils, ranging between neutral and basic. Wood Avens produces 5-petaled and miniature yellow flowers, which resemble those of a buttercup. The presence of Wood avens and multiple broadleaved trees, left no doubt that this patch was indeed ancient broadleaved woodland. It was impressive that the land managers have preserved it so rigorously.

Common field speedwell, Veronica persica
After an amble beneath chirping birds, I noticed a Common field speedwell, Veronica persica growing on the opposite edge of the woodland. With coarsely-toothed leaf edges, the underside of its oval-triangular leaves are hairy, as are the short stems on which they are fixed. The photograph below shows the solitary flowers to be pale blue, and positioned on longer stems than the leaves. A whorl of sepals contain the flowers, with 5-6mm oval lobes, which incidentally are also hairy. Individuals from this species are annuals, and can be found flowering throughout year. 



A species from the Cabbage family, Shepherd's purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris also grew in this ruderal wasteland. The winter annual produces white, 4-petalled flowers, which transform into triangular seed pods, with a small notch in their widest side, after blossoming. This species has a basal rosette of deeply lobed leaves, which resemble those of a Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, although its lobes extend out horizontally, instead of backwards, as they do in those of a Dandelion.

Shepherd's purse grows well on frequently disturbed patches with high nutrient contents, reaching heights of 30cm. It may be important to mention that Shepherds Purse is now the second most common weed on earthThis species is harmless here, but reduces the yield of farmer's crops, when it thrives on arable fields.

Shepherd's purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris
I finally saw some Crocuses flowering, indicating the impatience of spring.

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