I WOULDN’T have thought that a south-west-facing bank below a quarry face would be ideal for Bluebells but they’re growing like weeds on this slope by Addingford Steps. Although they’re a woodland plant they don’t do well in full shade.
Spring goes by so quickly and each year I find myself missing out on drawing woodland flowers so, as I’m walking back this way anyway, I decide to give myself half an hour drawing the flowers on a mossy bank between the railway and a derelict railway embankment.
This can’t be ancient woodland but the dark soil appears to be rich in leaf mould. The Bluebells here are growing beneath small Ash trees. Brambles run through the herb layer without dominating the habitat by forming a dense tangle. There are a lot of seedlings with bright green toothed leaves which I guess are Himalayan Balsam.
As I’m drawing, a Red-tailed Bee lands on a bare patch of soil and starts digging. It turns around and pushes soil out of its thimble-sized excavation. Three minutes later it cleans its fur by rubbing with front and back legs but it then gives up on the hole.
It flies a short distance further up the bank and I photograph it at work, but after a few minutes it gives up on that hole too. I assume that this is a young queen which has recently emerged and that it’s prospecting for a suitable bank in which to start a new colony.
Broad Buckler Fern
One fern looks very much like another but I know that something to take a closer look at is the colour of the scales on the stem, if there are any. These had a dark brown streak along the centre with pale margins, so this is Broad Buckler Fern, Dryopteris filix-mas, a common fern of woods, hedgerows and shaded rocky ledges.
I recently bought a Victorian book, Ferns of Great Britain, by Anne Pratt, so I checked out the species in it. I was surprised that, despite that traditional sounding name of ‘Broad Buckler’, at that time it then went under the name of Broad Prickly-toothed or Crested Fern, and had a different genus name; Lastréa instead of Dryopteris.
Although the streaked scales are described in the text, they aren’t shown as streaked in this illustration.
The illustration is credited to ‘W. Dickes del et sc.’. ‘Del. et sc. is an abbreviation for ‘delineavit et sculpsit’, meaning ‘drew and engraved’.
Much as I like Victorian natural history books, they wouldn’t be of much use as field guides. An attached poem doesn’t really help with identity but it does evoke the Victorian attitude to natural history:
“The feathery Fern ! the feathery Fern !
It groweth wild, and it groweth free,
By the rippling brook, and the dimpling burn,
And the tall and stately forest tree ;
Where the merle and the mavis sweetly sing,
And the blue jay makes the woods to ring,
And the pheasant flies on whirring wing,
Beneath a verdurous canopy.”
The merle and the mavis are the Blackbird and Song Thrush. I don’t hear them today but there’s a Chiff-chaff singing almost continuously and, briefly, a Wren.
Three members of the mint family, the Labiates, that I tend to get mixed up are Bugle, Skullcap and Ground Ivy, so I draw this plant by the path side with some care. It’s Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea, a common plant of woods, hedges and disturbed ground. It is softly hairy and, according to the field guide, smells strongly when crushed. I must try crushing a leaf next time I see it.