Heyshott Common

Field meeting reports
Picture of Trichophorum germanicum (Deergrass)
Trichophorum germanicum (Deergrass) on a damp track. Photo: Nick Sturt

Meeting date: 23 June 2019

(Leader: Nick Sturt)

On a hot and humid morning the usual suspects from West Sussex gathered south of Midhurst. They were joined by a friend of Ady’s called Erica which, given that it was an exploration of lowland heath, seemed entirely appropriate. Plants came thick and fast so that by lunchtime 165 species were determined, including eight sedges and five Veronicas, and Sue Denness was kept busy with her GPS.  A fine suite of heathland plants were represented but the roadside patch of Convallaria majalis (Lily-of-the-valley) was suspected to be an introduction.

The wooded areas were, with the exception of one bush, mercifully clear of Rhododendron ponticum (Rhododendron). The nectar of Rhododendron ponticum is toxic to bees which die within a few hours of delivering it to the hive. This allows the opportunity to fertilise other nearby Rhodendron bushes but less so other plants, thereby reducing the local competition. Its effect on humans is less drastic but well known to honey gatherers in Nepal whose mental state is pleasurably altered during the pursuit of their calling. Although not common knowledge now, it was well known in antiquity. Darius IV, when invaded by the Ptolemy of the time placed hives rich in Rhododendron honey along Ptolemy’s line of march. Unable to resist this, his soldiers became happily stuporose and fell easy prey to the swords of Darius’ forces.

No hives being available to us we continued diligently, identified seven different species of rush, and came upon Dryopteris carthusiana (Narrow Buckler-fern). For me, the grass of the day was Festuca filiformis (Fine-leaved Sheep’s-fescue) a plant of which I have hitherto not been sufficiently aware. The prize for the smallest plant of the day went to Helen who spotted Ornithopus perpusillus (Bird’s-foot) – a thing of beauty viewed through a x10 lens. Guermonprez recorded Wahlenbergia hederaceae (Ivy-leaved Bellflower) at the roadside by a railway arch in 1909. It was still there in 2010 but has not been seen since. He noted that it had been introduced from Devon and in the days of gentle narrow wheeled carriages this might have been a not unreasonable thing to do. We, as others before us, only found heavily impressed tyre tracks and no sign of Wahlenbergia.

Arising from lunch Dawn discovered she had been sitting next to Frangula alnus (Alder Buckthorn), something those of us immersed in sandwiches had failed to spot. The post prandial plan was to explore some of the damper areas of the common previously referred to as bogs. Bogs hardly any longer – only a little moisture being expressed by the most heavy footed amongst us. Nevertheless Drosera rotundifolia (Round-leaved Sundew) and D. intermedia (Oblong-leaved Sundew), Narthecium ossifragum (Bog Asphodel) in bud and Eriophorum angustifolium (Common Cottongrass) just coming into flower were hanging on. Clumps of Trichophorum germanicum (Deergrass) were looking robustly healthy and there was a small colony of Dactylorhiza maculata (Heath Spotted-orchid). As all wise leaders do, Nick had saved the best to last and took us to admire Juncus compressus (Round-fruited Rush) just outside the boundary, being across the road, of the old cricket field at Heyshott Green where it was known to Francis Rose. It takes the eagle eye of a prepared mind first to spot it and then to distinguish it from Juncus gerardii (Saltmarsh Rush) – although the habitat provides a clue. Thanks are due to Nick not only for guiding us through this special habitat but also for rescuing bands of Duke of Edinburgh expeditioners who had become disorientated on the heath. 

Picture of botanists looking at plants
A pause at Ambersham. Photo: Nick Sturt