Skip to main content

"a bad plant": A perspective.

How absurd, the idea that a plant is anything other than a life giving, life preserving entity, the essence of life, without which there is no life.

Richard Mabey provides a terrific account in 'A Cabaret of Plants' (BOTANY AND THE IMAGINATION) PROFILE BOOKS 2015.

And whilst many of us celebrate plants intensely and joyously, some are preoccupied with total disdain towards certain species; the 'Triffid syndrome' might be applied here as a concept approaching an 'irrational fear leading to a concern that certain plants will, if left to their own devises, consume human babies'.

A few local 'triffids' are evident at this time of year, notably Japanese Knotweed, Himalayan Balsam and the most recent traveller, Giant Hogweed.

Side by side, Rea Valley Hogweed at Ten Acres (foreground left) and the giant cousin (middle ground and left) Photo 8th June.
Our friendly hog, Heracleum sphondylium, seems to be an accepted plant at the edge of river, woodland or meadow, but is often reported as 'Giant' because of its ability to grow up to 2 metres. But THE Giant, Heracleum mantegazzianum can grow up to 5 metres, with a somewhat imposing and threatening glare alongside; leaf, flower and stem have an aggressive appearance. Both are members of the wonderful carrot family, which boasts many species locally including Wild Carrot, Hemlock and Ground Elder.

There is certainly a mixed reception with this family of plants, currently classified as Apiaceae and previously Umberlliferae; and whilst Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) might be a relatively new addition to Highbury Park, like all members of this family, it should be recognised for its photo-sensitive properties, as the sap of the plant contains photo-sensitive chemicals (Furanocoumarins) such as Xanthotoxin.
Wild parsnip
at Highbury pool (photo 20th June)

Hemlock, (Conium maculatum) likewise, can be found at Highbury and has received persecution for fear that it will be consumed.

The 'Wildlife Trust website suggests that Hemlock is "A notoriously poisonous plant". This notoriety is largely due, I suspect,  to the story that the Greek philosopher Soctates was executed with a potion of Hemlock; but I find few accounts of modern day incidents. The Poison Garden website provides some interesting accounts -

To learn more about Japanese Knotweed check out the following link

Himalayan balsam details can be found here -

and for general hogweed chat try this -


Popular posts from this blog

Highbury Park Friends January 2017 newsletter

Join Highbury Park Friends to get up to date information about this wonderful park - follow the link above for the latest newsletter.

There's so much going on already and this is set to increase as the Chamberlain Highbury Trust look to bring many new and exciting ideas to the Highbury estate and adjoining park land. Check out their website on the links below

Weekly and monthly activities incuding 'Woodland Wednesdays' with the Rangers and B&BCWT, supported by NIA (Nature Improvement Area) funding.

Woodland Play after school club, every Wednesday at the Orchard - Highbury Orchard Community Interest Company oversee this -

A visiting student from Virginia asks -

Q1 What do you think are the biggest benefits of teaching and using traditional woodland management techniques in city parks?
A1. The essence of a Ranger’s role is to engage the community at large with the aim of encouraging more people to use parks and green spaces. Therefore a range of themes, topics and activities are employed to meet the broad interests and diverse nature of the public, involving people of all ages, abilities, ethnicities etc. 
The ‘woodland’ theme seems to have universal appeal and is steeped in history, ecology, science, spirituality, mythology and culturally, much more.
So generally we can assume people want to learn something new, make something using natural resources and have an involvement in their local green space, so that a few basic skills, some knowledge and a morsel of understanding related to ecological principles allows people to feel good about themselves and enables them to share these good feelings, acquired skills and gained knowledge with…

Ecotones and Succession = TENSION

The term 'ecotone' cropped up this week as a Tree Officer colleague and I looked at Holders Woods in an exercise to describe the woodland structure, composition and current management.
The word ecotone was coined from a combination of eco(logy) plus -tone, from the Greek tonos or tension – in other words, a place where ecologies are in tension. (Wiki)

Ecotones are generally recognised for ecological richness and a good place to observe the 'tensions' and interactions between certain animals and plants.

A woodland edge for example is often regarded as the richest part of a woodland, especially if the edge is bordered by grassland meadow or water.

The Rea Valley in this regard is a wonderful mix of urban ecosystems and ecotones, and one of my favourite locations is the developing oak woodland at the edge of Holders Woods. Undoubtedly the result of acorn planting Jays, we find oaks ranging from year 1 to year 50, but with a majority of young trees around 10-20 years, sugge…