Solving plant mysteries

Loch Lomond NNR

Every day is a school day during this student placement. Each time we’re out on the reserves I notice something new I haven’t seen before, resulting in frequent pit stops to ask: “what’s that plant?.. oooh what’s that?.. what about that one?”. I think the NNR team are really going to miss me when I’m gone!

Usually someone can answer my question and we move on but last week we came across a plant that left the whole team scratching our heads.

We were removing Himalayan balsam in a patch of wet woodland on Loch Lomond NNR when we stumbled upon this…

The mystery plant..

The plant had never been seen on the reserve before and Steve suspected it was some kind of ice plant but none of us knew for sure. Mysterious garden escapes often turn up along water courses after their seeds have entered the river upstream and dispersed downstream. Sometimes they will disappear just as quickly as they appeared but occasionally they can go on to cause problems. The very plant we were out there looking for, Himalayan balsam, started off as garden plant introduced to the UK in 1839. It soon escaped and became naturalised along riverbanks due to its explosive and abundant seed dispersal. It now grows rapidly throughout the UK, smothering native plants and taking over whole areas. Therefore it’s important that we identify any newbies that show up and keep an eye on their progress.

Luckily there doesn’t seem to be anything to worry about with this particular newcomer. After a bit of detective work (asking Henry, aka garden plant expert) we confirmed that the plant is Hylotelephium telephium, commonly known as orpine, livelong, alpine, life-everlasting and, rather oddly, frog’s stomach and witch’s moneybags. When flowering it produces clusters of pinky/red flowers. Although native to the UK in some habitats, this small colony are likely to have naturalised on the reserve after escaping from a nearby garden. We will keep an eye on them over time but for now the mystery is solved!

Orpine

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