Perennial Dog’s Mercury, Mercurialis perennis, is already in flower in the hedgebanks, or at least the male flowers are now showing. Each plant is either male or female but I’ve yet to spot any female flowers; they are long-stalked and grow from the axils. An axil is the joint where a leaf stalk branches from the stem of a plant. Axilla is the Latin for armpit.
Like the petty spurge that I drew yesterday, dog’s mercury is a member of the Spurge Family, Euphorbiacaeae. It spreads by root-like rhizomes and is common throughout most of Britain in woods, hedges, scree and in the sheltered crevices (grykes) of limestone pavements. It is rare in Ireland.
The male flowers are just four or five millmetres across and grow in catkin-like tassels. Each has three bract-like tepals.
Stoneycliffe Wood, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve, 3.30 p.m., 39ºF, 4ºC: The only flowers showing on the woodland floor so far are the spikes of male flowers on dog’s mercury. The inconspicuous female flowers are on separate plants. Dog’s mercury is a member of the spurge family.
In south-facing hedge-banks, lesser celandine is already in flower but here in the wood so far there are only a few heart-shaped leaves.
The larger leaves in the bottom right corner of my drawing are ground elder. Ground elder was introduced to this country by the Romans who cooked the leaves like spinach. While the right-hand leaf of the ground elder has been well nibbled there is very little sign of damage to the leaves of the dog’s mercury which, like the spurge, is poisonous.
The stem of the bush in the top right corner of my drawing is elder, another plant with similar looking leaves. Glossy bluebell leaves are springing up but wood anemone and wood sorrel have yet to appear.
A robin is singing, a wood pigeon calling and pheasants are grockling.
‘Did I hear the man on the phone describe this hill as Cardiac Hill’, I ask three passing dog walkers.
‘No I’ve never heard that one!’
‘It would be a good name’, I suggest, ‘the way it gets steeper and steeper as you get towards the top.’
This gryke gives shelter to the kind of plants that you’d see in a hedgerow or in woodland. A velvety coat of moss on the limestone indicates how far the humid, sheltered zone of the gryke extends. In this particular crevice I noted wild garlic, dogs mercury, meadowsweet and creeping thistle.
A gryke is a crack between the clints (slabs) that make up a limestone pavement.
It might be sheltered for the plants down there but there was a cool breeze blowing down the valley this morning and the slab of limestone that I was sitting on proved surprisingly uncomfortable, even though I was sitting on a thin foam mat, so this is as far as I got with my sketch.