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SOME PLANT RECORDS OF 1959 b y J. C. N .

WILLIS

has been an unusual year for stränge plants. The fabled Upas Tree has sprouted under a new name in the populär press as Datura stramonium. I was told when I was young that no living thing, beast, bird or man, could approach it and live. I have heard that there was once, perhaps still is, a Upas tree in Kew Gardens. I have never seen any corpses lying about there and wonder how the gardeners disposed of them without being killed themselves. THIS

Many people have called, written and telephoned to me about what they call " This nonsense ", that the Thorn Apple is a " NEW ALIEN, deadly poisonous, lately introduced from America ". All we old people have known it all our lives in Suffolk and most know that Gerard got it from Constantinople and "despersed it", as he says in his Herball of 1597, " throughout this land ". It may interest them to hear a little more I have gleaned from correspondents. Mr. Harold Deane, a director of Stafford Allen & Sons, of Sudbury, to whom I wrote after seeing his letter in T h e Times, says it came from Asia Minor and has been cultivated in this country since the 16th Century and that though it is very poisonous it is ridiculous to say it is as dangerous as the Deadly Nightshade. I thought myself that Gerard was not lying about its origin, for the name Datura is Arabic or Indian from the Sanscrit—it is as old as that in the East—and stramonium is mediaeval Latin. If it came recently from America why did it not enter under its American name Jimson Weed, instead of under the 400 year old name that Gerard invented for it ? Mr. Deane teils me that his firm has cultivated it since 1899 at Ampthill and also at Hitchin and Long Melford, but gave it up after the war when foreign competition in the drug stramonium made it unprofitable. Solanum dulcamara and S. nigrum, he says, are generally agreed to be poisonous as they contain solanine which is also responsible for the poisonous quality of green potatoes : this does not seem very dangerous, though there have been reports of fatalities, but in newspaper reports one cannot be sure that the plants have been correctly identified. In belladonna berries it is only the seeds that are poisonous, the juice is quite innocuous. A friend of his once prepared half a pint of the juice and drank it without ill effects. This may be the case with S. dulcamara and S. nigrum, but as far as he is aware no work has been done on the subject.


247 Miss Whiting saw Datura stramonium in a damp place on a hillside in Penang. She writes again to say she has consulted a German botanist now attached to the staff at Kew. He says Datura stramonium L. is a native of India and Arabia— white—var. tabula with violet flowers. Datura innoxia, Miller (1768), synonym D. metel auct. non L. is a native of Mexico and Central America. Datura metel L. is a synonym of D. fastuosa L. This generally has double corollas. The fruit of D. stramonium is upright and prickly, that of D. metel (D. fastuosa) is drooping and watery. D. innoxia (note the word) also occurs in this country as an alien and has droopi • ng fruits somewhat prickly. Miss Cobbold of Stowupland, who called this week to bring me some Buckthorn from a ditch on her farm, is unperturbed by the presence of Thorn Apple there, as it has always been; the cattle do not touch it any more than they browse on the Yew hedges that bound the meadows. But she is most careful that green potatoes are not fed to the pigs. Abutilon avicennae, Presler = A. theophrasti, medic. Miss Whiting writes that this alien from the Mediterranean was brought to her from a Walberswick garden withflowerand fruit, where it occurred as a weed in September, 1959. It is thought that it may be from bird-seed thrown out in cleaning a cage. At Kew, she says, they have had quite 50 reports of it lately. The following week Mr. Boreham wrote that a friend had found it growing on his allotment at the Tayfen Meadows at Bury St. Edmunds. " Atfirstit looked like some kind of Sunflower, but the leaves are soft as velvet and when I saw it it had reached the height of 3 ft. 3 inches." They sent it to Wisley where it was identified as Abutilon avicennae, a native of Southern Europe, not grown as a garden plant in this country but occasionally appearing in gardens and perhaps introduced with vegetable seeds from abroad. It has been sent to Wisley from one or two other places this hot summer. Plumbago europaea, Mr. Boreham teils me this has an English name, Toothwort, from its curing tooth-ache if the bruised root is chewed. It stains the teeth a leaden colour, hence its name Plumbago. The other Toothwort, (Lathraea squamaria), is I suppose so called from the resemblance of its ivory-white scales to a row of teeth. We have no record of this in Suffolk, but many years ago I saw it on the roots of elm suckers in the Bucklesham lane, but the bank was cut back and I have not seen it there since. I have seen it in other counties on roots of Hazel. PLANT RECORDINGS


248

PLANT RECORDINGS

Mrs. Stephenson writes " Our Jerusalem artichokes are in flower (October), this is a horrible sight I have never seen before. I have not found Basil Thyme this year or several other familiar friends which I suppose have been dried up, Vervain among others used to grow outside our gate (at Falkenham)." " We have been staying in Norfolk where I found Piri-piri Bur for the first time." [" Acaena auserinifolia " says C.T.W. " was probably imported with wool and is now completely naturalised in some places."] Amaranthus

retroflexus, Pig Weed

Mr. Cyril Capp sent a fine specimen of Pig Weed found by a pupil, Jean Hackwell, in a potato field at Blythburgh. We have have only one other record of this rarity in Suffolk, by the Dowger Lady Cranbrook at Snape. So I wrote to her and asked for further particulars. She first saw it in her kitchen garden some four or six years ago. It comes up every year in quantities there and in the border in front of the house. She confesses, " I do pull it up, as it is a fearful weed. I have just been out to see if I can find any more, but only this miserable specimen. The garden was terribly dry this year and there were no big plants as there generally are." Her botanist son, the Hon. Robert GathorneHardy, identified it for her as Amaranthus retroflexus. Lady Mears teils me that when she was staying at Bayonne some years ago she saw masses of Amaranthus in the village of Mougerre in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The Basque peasants were reaping it and she asked them what they used if for. They told her it was for bedding for Pigs. Five species of Amaranthus are described in the French Flora and from the regions named for them I think the Pyrenean one may be A. deflexus, though A. retroflexus is found " here and there ". Another interesting find is that of Mr. G. L. Ransome at Blackheath on September 20th, Verbascum blattaria. We have only one other record of this though Hind recorded it in several localities. Xanthium spinosum. M r . A. L. Bull, a former member, reports finding this at Harkstead last year. I believe that this, with Mr. Simpson's find of the same plant at Felixstowe, is a N E W RECORD for Suffolk. Still another alien of this annus mirabilis is Physalis alkikengi. Mrs. Barton of Cottage Farm, Little Blakenham has sent me a specimen for identification from the garden, but, she says, certainly not ever grown there as a garden plant. She recognised it as a relative of the Solanums but not Thorn Apple which she knew well at Dovercourt. This is the Sugar Ground-Cherry of the Americans and is edible. This is the third time I have received a specimen for identification in the last three years. Miss Rowling


PLANT RECORDINGS

249

found it first along the Hadleigh Road f r o m Ipswich. T h e n M r . Mark R u t t e r f o r d f o u n d it at Lakenheath—each time a single plant. Bonnier says of it " Ca et lä, surtout dans les vignes " and notes it as occurring also in Switzerland. T h e F r e n c h call it " C o q u e r e t " (shell or chrysalis) on account of the three-lobed inflated calyx, difFerent in shape b u t similar to the Chinese Lantern, (Physalis francheti). T h e corolla is a deep purplish blue fading to white at the base. M r . A. L . Bull, on the other hand, has sad news of Gymnadenia conopsea, the fragrant Orchis, Coeloglossum viride, the Frog Orchis and Orchis ericetorum, E . F . Linton, all extinct at one feil swoop when a particularly interesting old pasture was ploughed u p and now seems to yield little but Creeping Thistle. Sisymbrium Orientale had been well established for several years and now has been built upon. Happier news is that Hieracium brunneocroceum, a naturalised escape, and Rapistrurn rugosum and Conringia Orientale, the last two introduced with imported oats, have become well-established. T o m e there is more pleasure in hearing of old and loved natives of this land managing to survive h u m a n ruthlessness, if only sparsely, than in welcoming new arrivals, some of t h e m alreadv showing signs of b e c o m i n g rampageous.

LEP1DOPTERA REARING NOTES, by

S.

1958—59

BEAUFOY

White Admiral (Limenitis Camilla L.). A few hibernating larvae were f o u n d in shrivelled leaves of honeysuckle in Raydon W o o d during the winter. T h e y were kept indoors, b u t all the larvae dried up, probably owing to t h e d r y conditions. T h i s d r y i n g - u p of W h i t e Admiral larvae when kept indoors d u r i n g hibernation has been noticed in previous years. Another larva f o u n d this a u t u m n is being kept out-of-doors, exposed to the rain and t h e cold.

Some Plant Records of 1959  
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