Rob Duffy: Sidewalk Botany Report January-March 2018

Mistletoe, West Derby (Rob Duffy)


The year kicked off with the New Year Survey of flowering plants of the Liverpool Loop Line, which didn’t yield much, but what was quite inspiring on a cold, wet, afternoon, to this relative fern novice, was the abundance of Soft Shield Fern shuttlecocks (Polystichum setiferum), in the Broad Green “dell”.  I posted a photo of these on the “Friends of Liverpool Loopline” facebook page, hoping the cyclists and litter picking team would wax enthusiastic.

A later in the month search, for Black Spleenwort, on the West Derby section, proved fruitless. The crevices abound in baby Buckler Ferns but little else. It was by chance, after a job interview  in Wavertree, that I discovered a fine specimen of Asplenium adiantum-nigrum growing on a sandstone wall. There is no way this can be confused with Buckler Fern, I thought. The discovery made the morning more fruitful to me than the job interview!

It was here I had my strangest encounter of the winter. Manna from heaven….No Mistletoe (Viscum album) from heaven! Clearance work had obviously shaken the plant out of its canopy and left dozens of sprigs forlornly in the dirt. A rare appearance for this West Midland semi-parasite.

A weird, baby fern, growing under artificial light in a crack on the wall of Broad Green Station, found on my way home from an LBS meeting, in January,  had our kindly county fern experts puzzled- “Watch if it grows and report back…” but I’m sure it’s not a baby Buckler Fern.

A slightly mad survey along the “terra incognita” stretch of Court Hey Brook (that is a 150 metre stretch beyond reach of humans in the winter) revealed the Hard Shield Fern  Polystichum aculeatum. This little discovery justified my seemingly eccentric behaviour which found me walking below a startled dog-walker as I “emerged” – “just doing a plant survey” I blurted.

Further afield, in Liverpool 7, I found a Spring Beauty (Claytonia perfoliata) lodged at the base of a fibre optic junction box. This might be an outlier of a plant with normally a coastal distribution eg. the very odd Alexanders (Smyrnium oluastrum) colony, on Edge Lane, or might indicate the start of a suburban spread viz a viz Cochleria danica. Unlikely I admit.

The moral:-  The best discoveries seem to arrive by accident.

The actual “sidewalks” , near my Huyton home, constitute my routes to either one, or the other, of the local convenience stores, or chemist’s (pharmacist’s if you were born long after me), or the local supermarket. The Loop Line, near Sainsbury’s, marks the somewhat totemic passing of the English Elm (Ulmus procera) as remarked by Dave Earl from a recent “BioBlitz” , as two very dead tree trunks, standing  proud of the embankment. The winter twig identification booklet supplied by BioBank proved useful in that I clocked what appeared to be the living buds of its suckering progeny (“A guide to the identification of broad leaved trees in winter “, May and Panter, an “Aidgap” booklet)..

The L14 sidewalks thus far, this winter, have revealed Sweet Alison (Lobularia maritima), Hen-bit Dead Nettle (Lamium amplexicaule), Common Whitlowgrass (Erophila verna)on a gravelly bank outside “Lloyd’s” , Pilch Lane, Shining Cranesbill (Geranium lucidum) , Common Polypody (Polypodium vulgare), and in L25, the puzzling Broad Bean colony (Vicia faba) in a grass patch, as you turn into Sainsbury’s, Woolton. This has hiked up from the huge mother field in Halewood.

Tackling a flora of Court Hey Park is the main exercise of 2018. This is mainly to update the BioBank report but also to bolster the Park’s uniqueness in the eyes of the Council. While sadly remarking, the other day, that the Council maintenance team had wiped out a patch of bramble on the driveway to the car park, I did, on the other hand, get the feeling that Rubus armeniacus (the Himalayan Giant) could well be getting a grip on the Park’s bramble flora and may need controlling. This brutish looking plant came via “improvers” in Germany and America so, echoes of a certain US leader there…