Yesterday we were invited to a B-b-Q at a friend’s home which backs onto open pasture and managed grassland so we took a short mid afternoon stroll with our hosts and their dog ‘Dibley’.
In the woodland edge bordering the first field we heard Blackcap, Wren, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch and a deer was disturbed by our presence. For the gardener, Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) appearing in their well cared for lawns are an unwelcome invader and if you have ever blown on a dandelion clock to “tell the time”, then you will know how easily the seed travel. This dispersal method using its parachute-assisted seeds is part of the plant’s success in neglected urban areas allowing it to be carried easily to new sites on a breath of wind.Once established, the seedling puts down, well anchored roots that survive damage to the foliage above ground. The leaves produce a bitter, narcotic latex which deters browsing animals and the flat leaf rosette allows it to withstand mowing, heavy animal and even human traffic.
So what are the benefits, I hear you say? Well its sturdiness means that its nectar supports early bumblebees and butterflies that could otherwise not live in the wasteland.
So how many seeds do you reckon are in this area?
In early spring when almost every wild flower seems to be yellow, it is easy to confuse the dandelion with Coltsfoot (but their flowers come out before the large flat leaves develop, hence its old country name of “son before father”) and Cat’s ear (which has ragged edged, hairy leaves that are not very cat-like). Tony reminded us that when they first moved in some 30 years ago he heard Corncrake (on migration) calling from this field when the land was managed somewhat differently.
Further on the landscape is a mixture of open grassland used for sheep grazing and the occassional fenced area where Clover is grown commercially. The occasional old oak tree (Quercus robur) stands proudly in the landscape and is the larder for an astronomical number of insects and their larvae (over 1000 different species) plus providing nesting sites for various species of birds and smaller mammals.During the early evening as we feasted, chatted and tasted various liquids we were increasingly bombarded by the screaming calls of Swifts (Apus apus) flying around and Tony kindly allowed me to try out his Tamron 100-300 lens in an attempt to capture these very fast, high altitude flyer's.