Ragwort

Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) is common around the village of Charlton Down. Its bright yellow flowers make a great splash of colour on the waysides, grazing land and uncultivated ground where it grows. It’s a plant that attracts insects for its nectar and pollen, and some of them like the Cinnabar moth caterpillars like to eat it, but there is a problem. It can be poisonous for grazing animals such as cattle and horses.

Himalayan balsam

Himalayan Balsam, also called Indian balsam (Impatiens glandulifera), is a striking tall plant with deep pink/purple flowers and reddish stems that has invaded British watersides and river banks. You can find it along the banks of the River Cerne at Charlton Down in the stretch running parallel to the field of peas. It is a species that was introduced to Britain in 1839 and has now naturalised and become a major weed problem in damp areas.

Cinnabar Caterpillar

If you look carefully at the bright yellow flowers of Ragwort at this time of year, you might be lucky enough to find the orange and black banded caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae). The adult moth has a different colour scheme but none the less striking with its black and red patterned wings.

Stinking Iris

The Stinking Iris (Iris foetidissima) doesn’t have the flashy bright flowers of the wild Yellow Flag or colourful garden varieties. In fact its colouration does not make it stand out at all. I often think that the pale brown and faded purple of its petals make it look as if it is dead or dying when in fact it is in full bloom. It tends to conceal itself in dampish places and hides among other vegetation. The long sword-like leaves are characteristic, and these are sometimes crinkled or almost pleated in a characteristic way. The showy bit of the Stinking Iris is the bright orange berries that it produces in the autumn inside the large green pods that develop after the flowers are fertilised. The common and the Latin name of the plant refer to the unpleasant smell the leaves give off which attracts insects that like to visit dead things.

Lady’s Bedstraw

Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum) is common round the village but can be seen best in greater numbers in the Nature Reserve. If the grass is left to grow on the slope in front of Greenwood House, it soon flowers through the grass, for as long as it is allowed to grow. It can also be found on the slopes around the village cricket ground. It has a sweet smell, especially when dry, and use to be collected in earlier times for stuffing hay mattresses and scattering on the floor to add fragrance to humble dwellings.

Wild Marjoram

Wild Marjoram (Origanum vulgare) is one of the most prolific wild herbs in the Charlton Down Nature Reserve and becomes dominant in the undisturbed meadow section after the Yellow Rattle has finished flowering. The plant likes to grow on dry grassland on calcareous soils. The stems are often reddish. The flower buds when small are a deep reddish purple, but as the buds open the petals are seen to be a much paler pinkish-purple. It has a pleasantly aromatic smell and it often forms large swathes in the grass, alongside other scented wild flowers like Lady’s Bedstraw.

Yellow Rattle

Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) is a small flowering plant which you might easily overlook, but in the CD Nature Reserve it is the most abundant plant in the wild area nearest to the pond. It is semi-parasitic on the roots of other plants. Yellow rattles are known to grow in undisturbed meadows and stabilised dunes. In our area the plants are never reaching their full height or vigour as in other places I have visited (like the sand dunes of Oxwich Bay in South Wales). They reach about 6 or 7 inches and are very crowded together amongst the grass and other vegetation. The flowers are yellow and have leaf-like bracts with a distinctive triangular shape and serrated edges. The common name alludes to the inflated capsules that develop when the flowers are done. The ripe seeds will actually rattle in the dried brown pods.

Click on any image to enlarge.

Knapweed

The purplish-pink fine-petalled flowers of Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) are starting to open up in the Charlton Down Nature Reserve. They look a bit like thistles among the taller grasses. The flower buds look strange with their dark brown spikey bracts. Insects love the flowers.

Field of Peas

Pictures from a walk yesterday afternoon into the fields around Charlton Down, towards the River Cerne where it borders onto a large field on sloping ground where the farmer has planted a crop of Field Peas. I think that they are being grown for animal feed but at the same time will help fertilise the soil because legumes fix nitrogen from the air and store as a compound in the roots. I haven’t seen peas as a crop here before. This field had barley last year. I really like the way the skies seen so expansive over the fields, and the cloud formations were wonderful.

Nature Reserve Flowers

Our local Charlton Down Nature Reserve is a small space with about half of the area left untouched at this time of year. One grassy patch now has a multitude of flowers and looks very colourful and attractive. The general low cover of Yellow Rattle is dying back with their characteristic seed pods forming; and taller flowers such as Knapweed, Oxeye Daisy, Wild Marjoram, Birds-foot Trefoil, and Ladies Bedstraw are flowering, mostly behind an outer border of tall grasses, dock, and umbelliferous plants.