Flora and Wildlife near to Home
Notes from a Lancashire Countryman.
We commence our exploration of this beautiful park where we concluded in the hub-The Beacon Country park- Part 3.
At the end of this short pathway between the trees we are faced with a choice of direction. Looking to our right we see a track that runs behind the woodland.
Path between the trees
The track is bear in winter but this track is greatly narrowed by the rapid growth of summer, when bird song is unmuffled, each side of the track is invaded by herbage which includes the dazzling yellow buttercups.
However, at this point we are to turn left to cross a wooden board walk which will carry us over the ditch onto the next small meadow land. The main grassland is now on our left, while to our right is a small copse which comprises of willow, hazel and ash. Dividing the path from the trees is an area of rough grassland and it is to this area we are to turn our attention. Here we encounter a bramble thicket. Over its arched thorny branches scrambles a plant known as cleavers or goose grass. The square stems and linear foliage are covered with tiny hooks which allow the plant to cling to the branches and leaves of other vegetation. Indeed the name cleavers derives from the old English word meaning to cling.
It is a fact that there are over 300 hundred species of bramble in the U.K. however, you would have to be an expert in that particular field to be able to differentiate between the species. Blackberries are probably the most collected and utilised of all wild fruits being employed in sundry culinary preparations. They begin to flower in May and some species may still produce flowers as late as September. I am often asked, when leading walks at the park, when do you stop collecting the fruits?. This question always brings to mind an old country legend that states -God through the devil out of heaven and he landed on a bramble bush, which pleased him not. According to this legend this occurred on the 29th of September. By way of retaliation the devil is said to spit on the fruits each year on the date of its anniversary. Indeed the many of the fruits are becoming damaged by mould after this date. However, this is caused by the activities of the fruit fly and not "old Nick" If the berries look right and undamaged they are fit to be eaten what ever the date might be.
Shortly we reach the end of this small meadow and come upon a slope in the land. At the bottom of this slope we meet with a cross roads. Should we turn right at this point we would walk among the trees along a pathway that leads to a metal footbridge which carries pedestrians across a busy dual carriageway which runs parallel along the parks border.
should we choose to turn left at this juncture we would walk towards the hill which has at its summit a seating area that affords panoramic views. One such view is of Liverpool's two cathedrals in the middle distance with the Welsh mountains prominent on the horizon. Where these pathways converge grow three plants worthy of our attention. the first of these and probably the most noticeable is the greater plantain. The shape of the foliage is said to be a superficial resemblance to the sole of a human's foot. Indeed the name plantain derives from the Latin planta meaning the sole of a foot. The plant produces stiff stems tightly packed with seeds that are remarkably like a rat's tail in form, and it is a name they are known as by many country folk. The seeds were once used as purgative in archaic times, but the vomiting they produced was so violent that they were withdrawn for this purpose. The leaves of the greater plantain can be employed in the manner of a dock leaf to alleviate the pain caused by nettle stings. That is to say the leaf being crushed in the hand until the juice is extracted, the juice then being applied to the sting.
Pine apple weed
The second of our three subjects is the low growing pineapple weed, an introduction from the U.S.A. This plant is a member of the daisy family which produces much cut into leaves. The flower heads are comprised of central disk florets only, lacking the petal-like ray florets of the daisy. When the leaves and the flowers are crushed they omit a strong smell of pineapple. It is also related to the chamomile a herb utilised a lot in teas.
The final plant of our trio is knotgrass a low spreading plant with the tiniest of white flowers. It spreads out its stems along the ground which are swollen at the joints giving rise to the plants common name. The second part of its common name is somewhat confusing for it is not a grass but a member of the the Polygonaceae a family of plants that include the bistort.
From this convergence of the pathways we are to carry on forward up the slight incline which will lead us up from the shade onto the next meadow we are to explore. This meadow affords an open vista. As we walk up the incline we will notice that on our right there is a woodland that descends in to a valley. This woodland is tenanted by by a sea of blue bells during the spring. I have lost count of the hours I have spent sat in this leafy wonderland being serenaded by cascading notes tumbling from feathered throats, surrounded by these delicate azure bells.
Bluebells are beautiful
In the summer months
On our present meadow the first of many species that attract the eye in the later summer months is the knapweed. This is a tall grassland plant that produces thistle like blooms. However, it lacks the hurtful prickles of its distant relative the thistle. Knap derives from the old English knop meaning a knob. The closed flower heads were said to resemble the small knobs that adorned drawers and such like in days gone by.
The meadows take on a new glory when the grass is ablaze with flora. as is the case with most summer meadows the bumblebees are always humming to their flowers, I find this a joy to watch as the busy labour of these industrious insects continues non stop while the light of day permits.This activity is not the least bit diminished by repetition. From the linear woodland at the top of the hill to our left our most common bird of prey is often encountered the kestrel. It may be observed performing its skilful hovering technique over most of the park. They hang almost motionless before their uncompromising talons strike at the unwary venturer.
Walking down the path that runs down the length of this meadow we are sure to encounter another member of the daisy family during the summer months. The goat'sbeard is an interesting plant to meet with. It produces large dandelion like flowers, which later give way to globular plumed seed heads, familiar on the common dandelion. However, the head of this species can attain the size of a tennis ball, before the wind carries them to their new abode. It is indeed another unusual feature of this plant that the flowers close at noon, hence the country title of "jack-go-to- bed-at-noon" Thus it is such that a walk across the meadow at nine in the morning will reveal to the observer a plethora of these large blooms borne on top of tall stems. By one in the afternoon the flowers are closed and they have all mysteriously "disappeared". The grass like foliage enhances this illusion blending into the tall grasses with ease.
Another plant not as abundant but beautiful in its simplicity is the corn mint. The lilac coloured flowers are born in whorls around the stem which is square. The oval leaves when crushed give out a strong scent of mint from this low growing plant. It grows here among the herbage that also plays host to the field horsetail an abundant invasive species.Gardeners cringe when this plant appears for they are difficult to eradicate. And they have the extra annoying habit of growing between the tiniest of cracks between paving stones.
End of the meadow
As we come the end of this meadow the pathway veers to the left towards a group of trees to the right of it. These trees conceal a pond that will have to remain concealed until the next hub