• DWT Botany Group

A short Low Barns recce

The reserve is open and in order to support social distancing you have to walk one way around the main lake. No access to hides or other places – so simple and a clear way to reduce the risk of spreading this horrible virus. It takes up to an hour to walk around. With ‘flaming’ June feeling more like a perishing cousin that was more than enough on this breezy afternoon!

Actually, you don’t need to get out of the car park before seeing some rally nice plants. Teasel is already well up, almost in flower and showing its amazing leaves. Have a close look but be careful, they have sharp edges.

Alongside were plants with pink or white flowers – the same species and with four petals arranged in a cross (or crucifix), a member of the Cabbage family (Brassicaceae). The previous scientific name for this family was Cruciferaceae – reflecting the crucifix arrangement of petals. This plant is similar in many ways, including pink/purple flowers, to Honesty. But if you are familiar with the oval, flat, translucent fruit of Honesty (used extensively in flower arrangements) you will know what to look for – and you won’t find any here! Instead, the fruit of this plant, Dame’s violet, is a long, twisted pod – can you see any pods?

The Campion family is on show well at Low Barns, with lots of Red campion throughout and some nice clumps of Bladder campion near the fenced-off reedbed. Red campion is one of several plant species that have separate female plants and male plants. That is, plants with only male parts, producing pollen, in their flowers and other plants with only female parts in their flowers, receiving pollen and producing seeds. You can see why Bladder campion is so named – the swollen bladders are the outside part of the flower, sepals fused into a wide tube. Unlike Red campions, Bladder campion flowers have both female and male parts.

While the weather wasn’t warm, the month of June is always a riot of colour as these pictures show. Yellow flowering buttercups and blue flowers of forget-me-knot and many more species in picture 1. Then in picture 2, the blue-flowered speedwell show up nicely under the taller yellow flowered crosswort plants, and more….. but what can you see? Have a close look, enlarge the images a little – how many different type of plants can you see in each picture? Can you tell what any are?

By the way, I’ve only walked about 100m and I must have seen dozens of wild plants by now. Identifying them is another matter, but the sight of such beauty is doing wonders for the soul!

Perhaps you can name this plant – one that many people love to see and we are most fortunate to have many species growing in our area. Yes, an orchid – do you know which one?

Orchids have very elaborate, irregular flowers and most are scarce to rare. This yellow flowered plant can be quite common in pastures and meadows. Its yellow flowers are also irregular (you cannot cut into identical halves). When the flower develops into a fruit and dries out, the seeds are shaken out by gusts of wind… and the seeds rattle about inside the hollow fruit. So, piece together two parts of the name of this curious plant – Yellow rattle. It’s also different because it feeds partly on surrounding grasses – definitely not a friendly neighbour!

And I’m not even a ¼ of the way around this wonderful reserve that will display its fantastic wild flowers for some time to come. So, make sure that you do come to enjoy some amazing plants. I’ll finish with two images. The first is of the Alder trees that are so special to this reserve, growing in the former course of the River Wear. While they may not look too special, they really are! And a question about a tree in bloom in the second image – what is it? If you’re unsure, it’s awaiting your inspection anytime soon – enjoy your visit!

Steven Gater

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