Friday, 28 April 2017

Toothwort hunt

Having failed to find any toothwort on my last trip around Nettlebed I decided to investigate some local places where both Toothwort and Purple Toothwort have been noted in the past. From the records for Purple Toothwort (Lathraea clandestina) I found that some had been recorded for 40 years at a pond in a local public park (Prospect Park). I went earlier in the week but found no trace. So, determined to do my best to find some in the short period it is visible, I toured three separate areas. The first location I visited was Inwood Copse on the River Enborne south of Brimpton. The record (1986) did not give a precise reference just saying it grew on Black Poplar.

Inwood Copse had a very good range of Spring woodland flowers. There were nice patches of Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) also known as Ramsons.

wild garlic,ramsons

The wood had a considerable amount of Soloman's Seal (Polygonatum multiflorum). Dozens of plants spread over a wide area. Other plants I saw were wood anemone; redcurrant; gooseberry; dog's mercury; moschatel; wood sorrel; wood spurge and pignut (now in flower). However purple toothwort eluded me, it is an inch or two tall and grows near the base of trees so it is not possible to check every tree in the wood in a reasonable time! Here is a specimen of Solomon's seal with the flower buds just open.

solomons seal,Polygonatum multiflorum

While walking back to the car I found along the edge of the lane quite a few nice plants including what I think Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys).

Germander Speedwell,Veronica chamaedrys

The next location was Newtown Common just south of Newbury; here I was hoping to see purple toothwort. I followed a marked circular route down from dry heathland into a boggy stream. Here some Marsh Marigolds or King Cups (Caltha palustris) were brightening up the day.

marsh marigold,Caltha palustris

I expected to see the Purple Toothwort (Lathraea clandestina) in this wet area and looked around without any luck but just as I was giving up and checking with the map I found the plant. It is parasitic on poplar/hazel/elm trees - taking nutrient from the host and only appearing briefly above ground to flower. There were about 20 flowering clumps spread over about 10 sqm.

purple toothwort

I took quite a few shots of this curious flower.

purple toothwort

Continuing on the path to another location where it had been seen previously I saw Cuckoo pint (Arum maculatum) coming into full flower.

arum maculatum,Cuckoo pint

I looked around for Purple Toothwort at a second location at the southern end of the common but could not find any. Near the suspected location was a bank covered in common horsetails (Equisetum arvense) showing their strange flower spikes.


My third location which was noted for toothwort was around Ashmansworth; where it had previously been seen at three separate locations. On the way I found this unusual variegated form of Dog's mercury (Mercurialis perennis). It was in the middle of a wood and unlikely to be caused by weed-killer spray.

dogs mercury,variegated

In the margin of a field was a range of arable weeds struggling in the dry conditions. I think this may be field madder (Sherardia arvensis). I initially thought it could be something more exciting but can't think what else it could be.

field madder,Sherardia arvensis

I scanned around the edge of Privet Copse for toothwort (Lathraea squamaria) and reached the far edge with no luck and then I found it! It was close to the edge of the wood with some old field maples. The native form is a bit more shabby looking than the exotic purple species. It is vaguely pink and does resemble a string of teeth - hence the name.


The flowers only last a week or two and then become even more strange and tooth-like.


I continued on and found one more location for toothwort, but not at the third place. However the woods there did have a good carpet of bluebells.


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