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This autumn, help us find the Britain’s most colourful and important fungi – waxcaps.
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They are generally found in unimproved grassland (favouring acid or neutral grassland) and in leaf litter on woodland edges and clearings. In the summer and autumn, they can be found on road verges, in cropped grassland and in churchyards.
After years of low-nutrient management, they can also appear on lawns.
This autumn, help Plantlife find Britain’s most colourful and important fungi – waxcaps.
Meadow Waxcaps (Hygrocybe pratensis) are a common find on cropped grassland and upland pastures. It appears from late August until December. Particularly in upland areas on acidic soil, the Meadow Waxcap is one of the few waxcap species that can tolerate small amounts of fertiliser being applied to its grassland habitat.
Two varieties of the Meadow Waxcap occur in Britain. One is apricot and the other is paler and almost white. It is a conspicuous and robust waxcap often persisting for several weeks.
The Pink Ballerina Waxcap (Porpolomopsis calytriformis) is uncommon and localised in Britain and Ireland.
Due to favouring unimproved acid or neutral grassland it is more often seen in western Britain and particularly in Wales, sometimes in churchyards but more often on sheep-grazed acid grassland in the hills.
Commonly referred to as the Ballerina Waxcap, because of the way the pink cap flares out and splits like a tutu or pirouetting dancer.
The Ballerina Waxcap is on the The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (ICNU) Red List. At present it is a decreasing species and listed as vulnerable.
The Meadow Waxcap.
A striking wild plant with tall spires of large pink flowers and leaves that grow like a staircase around the stem. Its leaves resemble those of the willow species, hence the name.
Rosebay willowherb is a fine example of a ‘pioneer species’ – the first plants to colonise a barren area with very little competition (such as the sites of forest fires). For this reason it was a familiar sight following the London Blitz (see below).
Common throughout England, Wales and south-east Scotland. Rarer in Ireland.
As a pioneer plant, Rosebay Willowherb thrives on waste ground. Keep an eye out for it when travelling by car or train. It likes to grow in dry, relatively open areas. It can typically be found in forest clearings, beside tracks and trails, on recently disturbed ground and on well-drained banks of rivers. Since it can colonise disturbed sites, even following an oil spill, it is often used to re-establish vegetation.
Late summer, when it flowers: July-September.
Also known as “Hardheads” or “Black knapweed”, this wild flower is one of our toughest meadow plants.
Knapweed is a firm favourite of our pollinating insects, being a source of good quality nectar. And as well as supporting our bee, butterflies and beetles its seeds provide food for many birds.
Somewhat thistle-like, common knapweed can be identified by its slightly spherical black/brown flower head, growing alone, topped with purple, pink or (more rarely) white. The bracts are triangular in shape. Its leaves are linear to lance-like in shape with incomplete lobes.
Greater knapweed – a close relation – is similar but its flowers are more garish and opulent and its leaves are fully lobed.
Found throughout Britain.
Knapweed is a wild flower of meadows and other grassland habitats from lawns to cliff-tops. It can often be seen on road verges where wildlife is allowed to thrive and also in hedges.
In flower, June to September.
‘How in bloom they will resemble Moths, the gloss of mirrors, Christmas Stars, their helmets blushing Red-brown when they marry’ – Medbh McGuckian, ‘The Orchid House’
Flowers in dense spike, white, pink or pale purple, with darker streak and loop markings. Pointed leaves with round purple blotches.
It is often confused with the Common Spotted-orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii). Common Spotted-orchid has broader leaves with wider blotches and flowers with a more deeply lobed lip.
It is more common in northern and western Britain. It is very plentiful along peaty roadsides in parts of Scotland.
It grows in damp places in marshes, bogs, and acid grassland. It prefers sunny places on lowlands or hills. Whilst it can be found in slightly damp meadows, it is also found in the undergrowth of dry forests, at the edges of streams and in areas with bushes. It grows on siliceous and calcareous substrate.
When in flower, from June to August
The genus name Dactylorhiza is formed from the Greek words “daktylos” meaning “finger” and “rhiza” meaning “root”, referring to the tubers of this plant, that are split into several tubercles. The specific Latin name maculata meaning spotted refers to the stained leaves.
It is also known as the Moorland Spotted Orchid.
However, there is nothing to match seeing it in its natural habitat: atop dramatic coastal cliffs or astride craggy islands.
Globular heads of pink flowers have stalks 5-30cm long. Flattened, linear, dark green leaves.
Across wild, coastal areas throughout the UK – especially Scotland. As well as rocky cliffs, Thrift can also be commonly found brightening up saltmarshes and other sandy areas.
April to July when it flowers.
Has started to appear inland on roadsides as salting creates favourable conditions.
Thrift growing on the Gower
Thrift growing along the coast
Its Latin name, morio, means ‘fool’ and refers to the jester-like motley of its green and purple flowers.
It can sometimes be confused with the early-purple orchid – the difference is in the leaves, which are not spotted, and the sepals which have green veins.
Green-winged orchid was chosen as the County Flower of Ayrshire. It can also be seen growing at our Joan’s Hill Farm Reserve in Herefordshire.
Widespread in most of England but has become scarce in the south-west. It is also less common in the north of England. It is well known on the Welsh coast and can be found in one small area on the west coast of Scotland
The green-winged orchid has many names in Scotland, suggesting a lively folklore: hen’s kames (combs), bull’s bags, dog’s dubbles, keet legs and deid man’s thoombs!
Often found in parks, banks and lawns – any type of grassland habitat – White Clover is the commonest of the clovers.
The White Clover flowerheads are ball-shaped cluster on a long stem, made up of tiny individual white and sometimes very pale pink flowers. The leaves have the archetypal ‘cloverleaf’ shape: three rounded leaflets often with a pale band.
Common across the UK.
Almost any grassy habitat.
Flowers from June to September.
White Clover lawn, image by Archie Thomas
White Clover, image by Trevor Dines
The classic colour is magenta however occasionally white and pale pink flower spikes can be found. The leaves are are shiny with dark purple blotches. When first in bloom it has a wonderful scent, not dissimilar to Lily-of-the-valley tinged with blackcurrant but as the flowers fade, it starts to reek! As its name suggests, this is one of the first orchids to bloom, only the Early Spider-orchid flowers earlier.
It adapts to a variety of habitats and can be found in hay meadows, woodland and often on roadside verges. It occurs mostly on non-acidic soils, and is also found in ancient woodland (especially coppice), chalk downland, grassy banks, limestone pavements and cliff-top grassland. It is widely distributed across the UK and Ireland.
The Early Purple Orchid was once a common plant, found in a variety of habitats. Sadly, these have also been places where urban development and modern farming methods have taken their toll. Although it is still found at sites throughout the UK it is by no means as abundant as it once was.
Early Purple Orchid, image by Beth Halski
Early Purple Orchid rosettes at Ranscombe
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