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Hertfordshire’s plant hunters

PUBLISHED: 12:53 24 March 2014 | UPDATED: 12:53 24 March 2014

Wild flowers in an arable field near Clothall

Wild flowers in an arable field near Clothall

Archant

There is an abundance of native plants in the county and it’s the job of the Herts Flora Group to identify and record them. Philippa Pearson talks to the group’s founder, Trevor James, about the ongoing challenge. Photos by Brian Sawford

‘I’ve always been fascinated by wild plants,’ says botanist Trevor James, who grew up in south Hertfordshire and now lives in Ashwell. 
‘When I was growing up, I was always pointing out wildflowers to my father in our lawn, which was slightly irritating I expect, but then our garden was originally heathland, which was cultivated for agriculture before the houses were built. We consequently had some rather rare species of wild flowers growing in our lawn.’

Trevor’s early fascination with the natural world continued and at 16 he joined the Hertfordshire branch of the British Naturalists’ Association, a group he now chairs. He was a founder member in 1963 of what is now the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust and went on to be a plant recorder for the Botanical Society of the British Isles.

Trevor also founded the Herts Flora Group, as a sub-group of the Hertfordshire Natural History Society, which promotes the study and recording of fauna and flora in the county. An informal organisation, the flora group is open to anyone who has an interest in the county’s wild plants. Events take place throughout the year, including field meetings to survey and record groups of plant species at locations in the county. Other like-minded organisations are involved with the events, and help and advice is always available to those new to plant recording or surveying.

‘Wildflowers are fascinating,’ 
Trevor enthuses. ‘They tell us about their environment and what their origins were.’

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Flora of Hertfordshire.

Work on a book of Hertfordshire plants started in 1987 when Trevor, working as a museum curator in the north of the county, was asked by the Botanical Society of the British Isles if he would like to update the 1967 guide to flora in the county. With his plant recorder skills and affection for the county he knows intimately, Trevor took the challenge on.

The book was a mammoth challenge for the group, but in 2009 an updated plant guide for the county entitled Flora of Hertfordshire was published. The book records more than 2,000 species of plants found in the county and is the culmination of 22 years’ work surveying and recording wild flower plants. The book also covers Hertfordshire’s geology, soils and climate and the changing flora in the county, including alien plants.

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Rare flowers.

Special flowers in the county include the pasque flower pulsatilla vulgaris – Hertfordshire’s county flower. During late March to early April, the slopes of Therfield Heath near Royston are vibrant with its purple trumpets. The plant thrives in chalk grassland but many of these ancient habitats in Britain have declined and disappeared. Therfield is now one of only five sites left in the UK where the flower survives and around 60,000 plants have been recorded on the heath in a good year.

The group recently made an important discovery – a plant growing only in Hertfordshire.

The small lesser-tufted sedge is a grass-like plant that grows in boggy marsh conditions.

‘It’s exciting to find a plant that is unique to the county,’ Trevor says. ‘We’ve only found it growing in one area close to the Essex border at the moment, but we hope to find the plant at other sites in the county.’

Join Trevor and other members of the group and you will soon enjoy the delights of wild flowers, get the chance to explore many areas of the county, and, who knows, you may just discover a rare plant.

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