Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Sex in the churchyard

After a morning meeting in Sleaford, I spent the rest of the day botanising in three Lincolnshire villages, which tend to be oases in the rather intensively arable landscape of huge wheat fields and scrappy, over-managed Enclosure Act hedges of much of south Lincolnshire.

I always make a bee-line for the churchyard, as this often contains fragments of species-rich grassland or woodland species such as primroses and violets.  The churchyards at Silk Willoughby and Osbournby rewarded me with a reasonable suite of species, but at Aswarby I was met with close-mown improved grassland, devoid of any interest.

The churchyard at Silk Willoughby had a very impressive range of primroses. Many were the native type (Primula vulgaris subsp. vulgaris) with soft yellow flowers, but there were also a significant number of clear pink specimens, with a white band round the yellow centre,  which I suspect are P.vulgaris subsp. sibthorpii. This subspecies becomes more frequent from Greece eastwards . It has been cultivated, it seems, since the early seventeenth century, when it was known as 'Tradescant's Turkie-Purple Primrose'. It is assumed to be one of the sources of different colours in garden primroses. 

Certainly primroses are a promiscuous bunch, and have been busily cross-pollinating with gay abandon, giving rise to flowers of many different shades of pink. There also seems to be some evidence of the influence of garden polyanthus around, as a number of the plants had multiple blooms on a single stem. 

Osbournby churchyard had an impressive number of sweet violets, with three distinct varieties present: the deep purple var. odorata, the white var. dumetorum and the attractive pinkish-purple var. subcarnea, which seems to be relatively uncommon locally.

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