Yellow fluffy flowers!

Yellow fluffy flowers!

Katrina Martin/2020VISION

Did you know there are 232 similar ‘microspecies’ of dandelions in Britain! Lorna shares some of her simple identification tips that she has picked up in her second week as Assistant Conservation Officer.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I have been spending a lot of my time here at the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust alongside Jeremy Fraser (the Wildlife and Sites Officer) assisting him on botanical surveys across Lincolnshire, recording all the plants we find on given sites.

Usually the surveys determine whether a site has enough particular species (specifically chosen for each habitat type) to become designated as a Local Wildlife Site. Jeremy undertakes these surveys and sends the results to the local wildlife sites panel at the Greater Lincolnshire Nature Partnership (GLNP) for further consideration and a final decision.

This week’s surveys were a bit different. They were annually requested surveys from a local drainage company along the banks of their drains on the border with Cambridgeshire. This was a previously designated Local Wildlife Site and the surveys allow them to continually monitor the progress of their habitat management and how, or if, it affects any species.

Knutsford Heath - Cheshire

Field of Hawkbit - The Wildlife Trusts

Jeremy quickly got to work identifying the majority of the ground flora; this was to assess the banks, a neutral grassland habitat, so we didn’t record any species solely in the water. As we got further along in the survey he was then able to start identifying certain species and explain their features to me. I thought I had a basic grasp of flora, however I quickly realised I have a lot to learn…

Over the next couple of days we went through a lot of different families and generas (that’s the plural for multiple genus) and their species, including docks (genus Rumex), rushes (particularly the Juncus genus), and many other grasses, sedges and flowering plants.

Some plants that I particularly enjoyed learning to differentiate are the small-ish, common, fluffy-looking yellow flowering plants in the daisy (Asteraceae) family. I thought I would share some here with a few simple identification tips I have picked up out in the field.

Rough hawkbit with small skipper - Lorna Allen

Rough hawkbit with small skipper - Lorna Allen

Rough hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus)

This plant is very hairy, as you can see from the photo of the stem and bracts. If you look with a hand lens you can see the hairs are forked and the stem is leafless and unbranched, growing up to 60cm tall. There is also a rosette of lanceolate, wavy toothed leaves at the base of the stem.

Lesser hawkbit (Leontodon saxatilis)

This plant is very similar looking to L.hispidus, it is unbranched with a similar flowerhead. However, looking closely at the stem and bracts you will see it lacks excessive hairs, it is usually only sparsely hairy on the bracts. It also grows generally less tall to around 30cm.

Cat’s-ear (Hypochaeris radicata)

Again, a very similar flowerhead to the hawkbits but with a more abrupt narrowing into the stalk. H.radicata is also easy to differentiate being that it has a branched flowering stem, leafless but with the occasional small bract.

Common nipplewort

Common nipplewort - Lorna Allen

Nipplewort (Lapsana communis)

Another easy identification as it grows much larger at up to 90cm, and the flowerheads are flatter, also growing to around half the size of L.hispidus and H.radicata at up to 2cm across. The leaves can also be lobed, although this is tricky to see from the picture.

Dandelion (Taraxaccum spp.)

Although you may think you know them well, there are actually 232 similar ‘microspecies’ of dandelions in the British Isles which are extremely difficult to differentiate. Some general points to recognise them include their large central taproot from which other smaller roots sprout. The stems are hollow, leafless and unbranched and if broken release a milky latex. And finally, there are three rows of bracts, of which the third may arch back in a collar shape, as you can see in the picture.

Despite the large abundance of species we found, including various orchids, common mallow, dove’s-foot crane’s bill, common centaury and the exciting find of round-fruited rush.

We concluded that a big factor in the slight reduction in species variety was due to the management. When we arrived the reedbed had been recently mown, and the cut reeds had not been taken away. This had made it difficult for certain species to grow in these areas due to a lack of light and other factors.

However, all in all, this was a successful day, concluding in the recommendation to remove cut reeds in the future and keep up the good work!