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September 2014

Transatlantic touch-me-not

ImpatienscapensisCloseIt’s always intriguing to find a plant that’s native near our American home in Pennsylvania growing near our English base in Northamptonshire (and vice versa) and the other day a stroll by the River Nene not far from our Northamptonshire house provided an enjoyable surprise. Spotted touch-me-not or jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, was growing on the bank (below, click to enlarge).

There were only a few patches, all grouped near each other, and I wondered for a moment if I myself had inadvertently introduced it on my shoes as perhaps I did in Pennsylvania when it suddenly it turned up in our garden. I walk this same stretch of river every time I’m back in England.

Mike Grant, editor of the Royal Horticultural Society magazine The Plantsman, pointed out in a comment on my piece about this plant turning up in the garden that “it has the distinction of first being recorded in the wild by the philosopher, John Stuart Mill Impatienscapensis(in Surrey in 1822)” and it is now well established in Britain, though mostly a little farther south and west from where I came across it.

In fact, we’d been thinking that perhaps we have the wrong native Impatiens in our Pennsylvania garden. Touch-me-not, Impatiens pallida, is bright yellow instead of red-speckled orange and would show up more effectively from a distance. Tomorrow I’m going to collect some seed from the plants that I’ve seen a few miles from our PA home. In which case look out for it in Northamptonshire a few years from now!

Thoughts on another non-native Impatiens species next time.

Hedgerow harvest

CrataegusMonogyna700Back in England for unexpected short visit (family funeral), I took a stroll this morning along the River Nene not far from our house in Northamptonshire. It’s striking how few wild flowers there are in flower along roadsides and footpaths here compared with Pennsylvania but the hedgerow harvest is in full swing.

Rose hips and hawthorn berries are dripping from the hedgerows, pyracanthas and cotoneaster lean over garden fences so we must step aside as we walk by.

There were so many hawthorn berries weighing down the branches that I was able to pick some clusters to add to my daily fruit smoothie and still leave more than enough for the birds. Hawthorn berries (Crataegus monogyna - left, click to enlarge), it turns out, have high levels of Vitamin C: about 30-40mg per 100g compared with about 50mg per 100gm for oranges. But the Vitamin C content of hawthorns varies not only between different species, but also between different individual plants of the same species.

But as well as Vitamin C hawthorn also contains useful antioxidants and I’ve also discovered that hawthorn is also combined with ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) to improve memory, by improving the blood supply to the brain. I could definitely use that!

The best source of Vitamin C by far is rose hips, which can contain as much fifty (yes, FIFTY) times as much Vitamin C as oranges, in the Second World War hips of Rosa canina and other wild species were collected from British hedgerows for exactly this reason. But, again, it depends on the species or variety.

Shipovnik-vitaminnyj-vnivi-500The Russian rose variety ‘Vitaminnyj-VNIVI’ (right, click to enlarge) has the most Vitamin C, and is reckoned to contain up to 2500mg per 100g of fruit. A Russian website where this variety is on sale tells me (translation by Google): “Ripen in late August, stay long on the bush and do not crumble to full maturity. The fruits are large, round-oval, 3-5 pieces brushes in the brush. Peel the orange-red, medium thickness, without pubescence. Sour-sweet taste. Yields of 2 kg per bush.” Apparently it’s a hybrid between “rose cinnamon and roses Webb”. Hmmm… You can read more here.

It would be great if this variety was available in the west.

Sundews on the shore

We’ve been here at the house on the lake for thirteen and a half years, and it took my five year old grandson to find an insectivorous plant that we didn’t know we had.

Monty is mad about insects – and so, by association, insectivorous plants. He has pitcher plants growing in their kitchen in the London suburbs. So when he was exploring along the banks of our lake with his dad Carl (below, click to enlarge), he knew a sundew when he saw it because he has some in a pot at home. And he knows what they do to insects. He’s not at all squeamish and watched with interest while I hit the bass his dad caught on the head so we could have it for supper.

So it turns out that we have a flourishing colony of Drosera rotundifolia (above, click to enlarge), the round leaved sundew, growing on the bank of our lake. But they’re growing in an unlikely spot. They’re only a few feet from the water, even now when the water levels are very low, but they’re on an east facing sandy bank where the soil is actually quite dry. Not the soggy sphagnum which we associate with these plants. While there is some moss, some plants are growing in bare sand.

Most of the bank is overhung by low shrubs, so only a five year old is short enough to make his way easily along there and look closely at the plants. But for two or three feet at the point where this colony is happy enough to have produced quite a few seedheads, it’s much more open.

This is a plant that grows all around the world – in a band through the Northern Hemisphere that takes in much of North America, north and eastern Europe and much of northern Russia. In Britain, it occurs mainly in Scotland, Ireland and Wales as well as southern and south west England. It's found scattered across Pennsylvania, in our county (Pike County) it’s recorded from seven sites but surely occurs more widely than that. But it took a five year old to find it on our own property.