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SĂœFFOLK FIVE-FINGERS AND ASSOCIATE PLANTS

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SUFFOLK FIVE-FINGERS AND ASSOCIATE PLANTS. BY FRANCIS W .

SIMPSON.

UPON several occasions I have had the pleasure of exhihiting before this Society examples of the true of Bardfield* Oxlip Primula elatiur, Schreb., as well as its many natural hybrids with the Primrose P. vulgaris, Huds. and the Cowslip P. veris, L. But the typical species is apparently ill-known and, more often than not, specimens shown me as the true type-form are mere varieties of the Common False or Hybrid Oxlip, which is a Cowslip x Primrose hybrid that is frequent wherever the two species intermix (cf. Proceedings 1934, p. clxii).

As far as my experience goes, the common names of Fivefingers and Lady's-fingers seem popularly applied in these days to forms that appear to be neither primroses nor cowslips and bear handsome umbels of flowers, of various shades between the two species, on peduncles like the cowslip. But Five-fingers is the old SufTolk title for the True Oxlip, and certainly a more appropriate description for the flowers of this plant than any of those of the false hybrids. The oxlip bears its flowers in a nodding umbel with a characteristic one-sided droop, and a resemblance to the human hand can be shown by raising the fore-arm upright and permitting the hand to fall with slightly expanded fingers. Characters of the Oxlip, PRIMULA ELATIOR, Schreb., until recently called Jacquin's Oxlip P. elatior, Jacq. Flowers several, usually drooping in peduncled umbels, very rarely singly i.e. as thev are produced in the primrose and some hybrids ; blooms smaller and deeper vellow than in the primrose ; petals notched, somewhat rounded, distinct and but slightly overlapping; fragrance of peaches ; calyx cylindrical, throat open without folds ; jeaves elliptical, variable, type sharply contracted to the petiole ; jeaves, calyx, pedicles and peduncle rather hairy ; height 2-18 inches; flowers March-May; distribution as outlined below. Hybridises with both Primrose and Cowslip, but characters of the crosses produced are too variable to here detail, for almost every conceivable gradation between the parents is found. * T h e name 'Bardfield Oxlip' is traceable to Henry Doubleday [of J-PPing, an original M . E . S . from 1833 to his 1875 decease, and brother of the lepidopterist Edward.—Ed.], the nineteenth Century entomologist who, in 1842, detected Oxlips growing abundantly around Great Bardfield in Essex, and was the first to recognise them as the distinct species occurring on the Continent.


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SUFFOLK FIVE-FINGERS AND ASSOCIATE PLANTS.

The Oxlip has a very restricted distribution in the countrv, where it occurs in two well-defined areas within Essex and Suffolk and Cambridgeshire*, occupying the highest elevations of the calcareous boulder-clay of the EAnglian Ridge, mainly at over 200 ft. o.d., though occasionally descending to lower level's along river Valleys. Within these areas it is found, often in immense abundance in suitable habitats such as are afforded by the ancient woods and copses, alder-carrs, swampy meadows, stream-sides and occasionally wet ditch-banks, where it is a survival from felled woodland. Wherever it comes into contact with the primroses, usually along the fringe of its distribution, a profusion of showy hybrid forms is produced, intermediate between the parents. Other hybrid oxlip X cowslip are only rarely found in swampy meadows and edges of woods, always within the boundaries of the Oxlip's distribution. In instances where all three species grow in close proximity, a bewildering assortment of back-crosses and segregates occur, some showing traces of all three parents. In Britain the Oxlip is a decadent species, and it is true that it is hybridising itself out of existence with the much stronger Primrose. Only Spurious Oxlips, i.e. cowslips X primrose and not true Five-fingers, are to be found in Suffolk outside a line drawn from Haverhill through Cläre, Melford, Sudbury, Hadleigh, Flowton, Needham, Gipping, Ixworth, Fakenham, Culford, Tuddenham and Gazeley to the county-boundary. Old botanists failed to recognise this hybrid and so considered it a sub-species or var. of the Primrose, giving it a great number of such names as Primula variabilis, Goup. and P. caulesrens, Bab., under which localities are instanced in Hind's excellent 1889 Flora of Suffolk, for he believed it merely an exuberant State of the Primrose : all the east Suffolk sites there given for P. elatior, Jacq., are referable öt this hybrid. On the right-hand margin of the upper photograph is the True Oxlip, with its characteristic one-sided nodding umbels; the central position is occupied by a fine example of a typical form of the hybrid Oxlip X Primrose ; and, associated with them, is the Wild Hyacinth Scilla nonscripta, L. and H., a very unusual occurrence. Woods in the Oxlip area present a brilliant appearance in springtime, when it is no uncommon sight, during the second season after coppicing, to witness carpets of these flowers interspersed with the hybrids, Primroses, Anemones, wood Violets, Bügle, Myosotis sylvatica and early Orchis mascula. Unfortunately birds are very appreciative of the flower-buds, just as they are *Primula elatior has been recently f o u n d in Bedfordshire, together with t h e X P. vulgaris: this locality is south of its main area.


HYBRID,

OXLIP

X PRIMROSE,

AND T R U E

OXLIP.


HERB

PARIS.


SUFFOLK FIVE-FINGERS AND ASSOCIATE PLANTS.

251

developing in March or early A p r i l : in certain localities not a bud escapes their keen vision, after one of those bitterly-cold spells when a drv and dreary wind blows from the north-east and overcasts the sky with a monotonous cloud-layer : hence a flowerless season has to be patiently borne. I shall be delighted to hand over to any Members some seed, saved from various mixed hybrids, that has been found very fertile if sown upon the surface in pots of loamv soil and kept moist. Such seed germinates slowly and the majority during the first spring, but seedlings will continue to appear for several successive seasons and should be pricked off as soon as possible with no disturbance of surface soil. Having been thus raised in pots or boxes until large enough, they should be transferred to a moist and shady spot in the garden, that has had a liberal dressing of chalky Boulder Clay and leafmould. A very singular plant, somewhat associated with the Oxlip's distribution is Paris quadrifolia, L. This Herb Paris looks a very modest object in its woodland environment, and yet its glossy whorl of dark green leaves is fascinating. Athough the specific name implies four-leaves, the number may vary from one in seedlings to as many as eight. Dung-flies Scatophaga stercoraria, L., are the main fertilising agents of the terminal flower. These blossoms are well displayed in the lower photograph. One of the finest floral displays of England I consider to be the Oxlip raising its umbels among acres of the drooping purple-pink flowers of Water Avens, Geum rivale, L. and the rich-orange one of the hybrid, G. intermedium, Ehrh. i.e. G. rivale X urbanum. In Suffolk the latter species and hybrid seem entirely confined within the Oxlip area ; and definite similarities exist in the need of both with regard to soil, temperature and humidity. G. rivale is a distinctlv northern type of plant, ascending to 2,800 feet in the highlands, as also does the Oxlip on the Continent. There can be no doubt that both, occurring as they do in well-defined areas, are survivals of a relic-flora pertaining to a colder epoch of our present climate, and that they are enabled to persist to the present day only under the cool conditions offered by the most unbroken and elevated parts of the Boulder Clay with its high water content. Any Naturalist, strolling through a glade in some Oxlip-wood in springtime under clear blue skies amid the verdant freshness of unfolding leaves in air that rings with a ceaseless avian song and the call of the Cuckoo anew, will pause to feast his senses upon the unsurpassable beauty of the Primulaceae and their associates.

Suffolk Five-fingers and Associate Plants  
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