Dear Readers, while many of us are sitting in our armchairs nursing a headache after the shenanigans of New Year’s Eve, some intrepid souls were venturing out on New Year’s Day to see how many plants they could find that were in flower. The New Year Plant Hunt runs from 1st to 4th January every year, and nearly 2,000 people took part in the 2022 event.
In total, 669 different species of plant were found to be in flower, with a pretty even split between native and non-native plants. The four most commonly-found plants were daisy, dandelion, groundsel and annual meadow grass, which were each recorded in over 50% of the lists submitted. Because it has been a mild winter, over half the plant species are thought to be flowering late – there were some stray hogweed flowers, for example, and some yarrow. Because of the date at which the flower count takes place, it isn’t picking up the early-flowering that’s been seen in some other reports (such as the talk given by Alex Fitter on Plants and Climate Change here or in this report on spring coming earlier). In addition, because of the pandemic over the past two years, the authors of the BSBI (Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland) report suspect that people are tending to stick closer to home, which probably means a lot of urban and suburban plants are being picked up. As we know, urban areas have the ‘heat island’ effect, which helps plants to survive and even thrive which would otherwise be too cold.
Standard UK floral guides would expect only about 2% of plants to be in flower in early January (which would only be about 30 species). 669 species in flower is the second highest recorded (it was just beaten by 710 species in 2021), but every year since the survey began in 2012 has shown many more species flowering than 2%. BSBI make the point that we need more information in order to conduct a ‘radical reassessment’ of flowering patterns in the UK. More citizen science is clearly called for. It’s surprising what a lot of people doing something for a short period of time on a regular basis can find out. You can read the full BSBI report here.
And can I just share with you this wonderful poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, in praise of all those small, scrawny, unnoticed plants that are so often written off as weeds?
This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.
A windpuff-bonnet of fáwn-fróth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, féll-frówning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.
Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Photo One by Norbert Nagel, Mörfelden-Walldorf, Germany, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Two by By Kristian Peters — Fabelfroh 10:06, 7 May 2007 (UTC) – photographed by Kristian Peters, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2069726
Photo Three by Greg Hume, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons