Nature Notes from Argyll
(and occasionally other places)
Thu 11 Jun 2009 Dunbar, East Lothian
A Fumitory workshop run by Heather McHaffie at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh. Following an indoor talk on how to tell these tricky species apart, we drove to the Dunbar area to look at Fumitories growing wild. We saw all 6 of the Scottish species.
Fumitories colonise bare ground, and are particularly common in arable fields, so long as these have not been sprayed. They can also occur on any kind of disturbed ground, and sometimes pop up as garden weeds. Their seeds can survive a very long time in the ground awaiting the opportunity to germinate when the ground is cleared.
On the left is Ramping Fumitory, a native plant which occupied ground left bare as the ice retreated following the last Ice Age. On the right is Common Fumitory, which did not occur in Britain until the beginning of cultivation, about 5,000 years ago. As soon as people started to grow crops, this plant appeared in their fields. It has smaller flowers than Ramping Fumitory and much less conspicuous sepals (the frilly white things in the LH pic).
These are the two commonest species of Fumitory, but there are 4 other species in Scotland (and maybe more!) which it's easy to overlook. The object of this workshop was to encourage and equip botanists to look for them.
Once Common Fumitory was established in Britain, it would sometimes hybridise with Ramping Fumitory, but the resulting diploid plants were always sterile. One one occasion however, a fertile polyploid hybrid appeared which gave rise to a new species, Purple Ramping Fumitory (F purpurea) which is endemic to the British Isles. That's it on the left. It has very large sepals.
On the right is Dense-flowered Fumitory (F densiflora). It was growing mixed with Common Fumitory and from a distance the two looked identical. I would never have bothered to check more than one plant in the group, but I'll know better in future. Like Common Fumitory, it has small flowers (< 9 mm long; the other four species have flowers > 9 mm) and the flower colouring is the same, but on close inspection the sepals are quite different, being large, conspicuous and whitish.
Dense-flowered and Common are the only two species which don't climb or twine, as well as being the two with the smallest flowers.
Tall Ramping Fumitory (F bastardii) in a potato field. It has small sepals and is notable for not having the top petal dark-tipped, though the side petals are. On the right is White Ramping Fumitory (F capreolata) which is often a coastal plant, as here. It was growing among other vegetation and seems less dependent on bare ground than the other species. It is easily confused with F purpurea. The best way to tell the difference is that the sides of the top petal only turn up slightly, so that viewing the top petal's tip from the side you can see the green strip along the middle. In F purpurea this green strip is mostly hidden by the upturned petal edges when viewed from the side.
Like F purpurea, F capreolata flowers turn down sharply when fertilised and take on a pink or purple tinge.
Poppies are also arable weeds and were formerly included in the Fumitory family. Though we didn't set out to look for them, we found the two common kinds, Long-headed Poppy, left, the original native species, and Common Poppy, right, which, like Common Fumitory, first appeared in this country when crops were grown.
The tall spidery yellow Hedge Mustard is another frequent arable weed. Henbit Dead-nettle was found growing on a wall; not a great photo.
Beside a car park at Dunbar we found these two vetch species, Hairy Tare and Common Vetch.
Dunbar was the birthplace of John Muir, who must often have
clambered over these rocks as a boy in search of nature's treasures. The
Bass Rock is visible on the right, home to 150,000 Gannets.
All photos and other content copyright © Carl Farmer