The New Year Plant Hunt in Sussex

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The sixth New Year Plant Hunt organised by the BSBI took place between 1-4 January, and many Sussex botanists were out in force. The objective is to record native and non-native plants in flower in the wild over the course of a three hour period.

Nationally, 416 individuals and groups submitted 460 lists of plants, amounting to 7123 records of 492 species. Further details of the 2017 event can be seen on the BSBI blog,[1] and in the analysis by Kevin Walker of the results. This short summary gives a flavour of the Sussex activities.

Map of Sussex
Submissions from Sussex in the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt 2017

First off were Dawn, Jill and Sue on New Years Day, who found 42 species in flower in Storrington (VC13), including Leontodon saxatile, Trifolium repens, Viola tricolor, Euphorbia heliscopia, Urtica urens, and Epilobium montana. They wondered if the latter kept flowering due to a security light from a nearby building giving it more hours of light.

Picture of Viola tricolor
Viola tricolor. Photo: Dawn Nelson

The same trio were out the following day at Pagham (VC13) and recorded an amazing 52 species, such as Achillea millifolium, Tragopogon pratensis, Helleborus argutifolius, Lamium amplexicaule, Lepidium didymum, Viola odorata, Senecio viscosus, Geranium molle, Gnaphalium luteoalbum and Diplotaxis muralis.

Picture of Helleborus argutifolius
Helleborus argutifolius. Photo: Dawn Nelson

Meanwhile, Kate found 22 species in flower around Plumpton (VC14) in the afternoon. Her list included Heracleum sphondylium, Parietaria judaica, Ruscus aculeatus, and Scorzoneroides autumnalis. Tim Rich chipped in on Facebook with the ID of the yellow crucifer Erysimum cheiranthoides, and Arthur noted the variety for Viola odorata var praecox, which popped up in East Chiltington. That also galvanised Arthur to unearth his notes on Sussex Viola species, which are now on this website.

Pictures of plants in Plumpton
The Plumpton collection. Photos: Kate Gold

On the same day, Wendy in Uckfield (VC14) recorded 23 species, another very respectable total, though the number showed the same pattern as the country as a whole since she found 34 last year.[2]

Picture of Hedera helix
Hedera helix. Photo: Wendy Tagg

A group of five of us including our new recorder Tim set out in Forest Row (VC14), mostly exploring our local farm. It turned out to be not overly productive and we clocked up 15 species, almost all the most-commonly found ones, but did include an especially tall Malva sylvestris.[3]

The final list from 2 January came from Judy, Ellen and Helen in Hastings, which included Judy’s allotment, and delivered them 54 species. A few notables, not yet mentioned were: Allium triquetrum, Pentaglottis sempervirens, Ballota nigra and Geranium pyrenaicum.

Half-way through the plant hunt, and Lewes (VC14) was the lucky beneficiary of two plant hunts on the same day (3 January). Nevil followed his same route as the previous year and picked up 25 species, among which were Sonchus asper, Sonchus oleraceus, Mercuralis annua, Centranthus ruber, Cymbalaria muralis, Myositis arvensis, and Conyza sumatrensis (again, Tim Rich’s useful tip on the SBRS Facebook group about its hairy bracts helped several of us to identify this one).

Pictures of plants in Lewes
Lewes plant combo #1: Photos: Nevil Hutchinson

On a slightly different route, Kate also did a botanical tour of Lewes, finding 27 species in flower. These included Senecio squalidus and Campanula porschskyana.

Pictures of Lewes plants
Lewes plant combo #2: Photos: Kate Gold

A few miles away, Helen and Peter explored Seaford cemetery and recorded 45 species. Their list included Sherardia arvensis, Tanacetum parthenium and Osteospermum jucundum.

Finally, on 4 January, the last day of the plant hunt brought out two teams. The first comprised Dawn, Jill and Sue for the third time, visiting two tetrads in Midhurst and Easebourne (VC13), and found 39 species.

Picture of Matricaria discoidea
Matricaria discoidea. Photo: Dawn Nelson

The other group explored the streets of Eastbourne and was made up of Matthew, Patrick, Judith  and Helen (who was out for the third time), resulting in 38 species, including Scabiosa atropurpurea, Leucanthemum lacustre x maximum (= L. x superbum), Papaver atlanticum, and Asteriscus maritimus. As with most of the other groups, it wasn’t quite as good as last year when they found many more including Centaurea nigra in full bloom!

So, how did we do in the context of the national results? The southern and Irish counties tended to record the most species, and East Sussex recorded 112 different species in flower over the four days, with about 85 being found in West Sussex, the latter entirely down to the efforts of Dawn, Jill and Sue. This can be compared with 187 in West Cornwall and Scilly, 154 in Dublin, and 120 in West Cork. Judy, Ellen and Helen’s tour of Hastings resulted in the 15th highest total of an individual recording session with 54 species.

It is certainly a bit of mid-winter fun, but also a useful exercise as a means of exploring the changing phenology of our native and non-native plants. Thank you to everyone who took part.

[1] See also the daily blog posts: 1 January; 2 January; 3 January; 4 January

[2] See Wendy’s blog The Natural History of Uckfield

[3] See also the account of this event on the Forest Row natural history group blog.