Reading plants

Flanders Moss NNR

I was walking across the moss the other day and pulled up short when I found in front of me and whole patch of Wild Angelica (Angelica sylvestris). This is a large and very striking umbellifer – the scientific name for a large family of plants that includes the hogweeds, wild carrots, parsnips cow parsley and a whole load of others.

Wild angelica is in my humble opinion one of the most attractive of the umbellifers with umbrella like clusters of flowers called umbels that give it a delicately sculptured look and also a fine landing pad for the masses of insects that use the flowers.

Insects aren’t the only ones to make use of it. In the past the sweet tasting roots have been eaten, the seeds can be used as a culinary spice and the young leaves can be boiled and eaten as a vegetable or stewed with fruit or rhubarb. It has medicinal properties as well though caution should be applied as with many of this family of plants, Wild Angelica contains phototoxic compounds called furanocoumarins that may cause sensitivity to the sun and can also cause a rash or skin inflammation in some individuals.

So a useful and striking plant. But what caused me to pause was that it isn’t a bog plant yet a whole patch was growing in the middle of Flanders Moss. It can’t normally survive in the nutrient poor, acidic waterlogged conditions of bogs. So why was it here? Something must be different where it was growing.

And it turns out that though this patch is very, very wet, the source of the water is not just from the bog but is from springs on the glacial mounds on the west side of the moss. At one place water seeps out the heaps of sand and drains across the moss between the domes of peat, creating a water course called the High Moss Pow. This input of ground water from normal soils has a range of minerals in it that bog water doesn’t. This gives other plants a chance to survive and out compete bog vegetation hence this patch of Wild Angelica thriving in the middle of the moss.

You can tell an awful lot of what is going on in terms of soils conditions, geology, water quality, pH and soil richness just by looking at the plants growing on the surface. Read the plants and you can read what’s under your feet.

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