Rob Duffy: Sidewalk Botanist – Side-walk Botanist goes Walkabout


The plants in the cracks of the pavements and brickwork begin to lose their fascination with the arrival of those early harbingers of summer –the Swifts (May 9th)- and thoughts of trips farther afield come centre stage.

A trip to Ness Gardens, with friends, over the May Day Bank Holiday, reminded one that even here spring had barely begun for some of the trees, such as the exotic Zelkova and the more mundane Ash. The usual problems arose for me of telling apart Swamp Cypress and Dawn Redwood, having tried to invent a mnemonic based on the fact that one has alternate leaves and the other opposite.

I tried to impress my friends with my mnemonic but came unstuck-I got off lightly as they were more interested in the arresting, nearby Handkerchief Tree.

Actually it was quite easy to separate them; Dawn Redwood was in vibrant leaf and Swamp Cypress barely started.

Confidence in identification provided some lessons at the Liverpool Botanical Society outing to the Bluebell woodland of Chapel Brook, Cronton, at the end of April. What was not in doubt to any of us was the finding of an exotic fern on the banks of said Brook (Japanese Holly Fern, thanks to Wendy).

Strawberries were coming into season around the base of the historic St. Michael’s Church, in Huyton, reminding me of untutored and unsatisfactory attempts by my grandfather to grow it more than 50 years ago.

Winding my way back homewards, the survey of Court Hey Park revealed some interesting items; not least Public Enemy No.1,  Japanese Knotweed. The parent colony-if it be such- was further downstream behind Paschal Baylon School.  A tiny colony of Bugle caught the eye in the rockery around the base of the old Beech Tree (which has created its own myth-but that’s another story!), the rockery being overrun by weeds-including Bromus tectoruman attractive, long awned, grass, with inky purple tips.

Veronica filiformis and persica can be spotted here and there unostentatiously in the grassed western perimeter. The heads fall off as soon as they are picked.

Back to the cracks- I seem to see Shepherd’s Purse everywhere and Common Mouse Ear, amidst last month’s  noted Thale Cress and Chickweed. One plant that has caught my eye this year is Corn salad, more a lover of brickwork. One of those odd plants that has a scattered distribution, miles apart. It is colonial and the flowers are tiny.

Rowan is just coming into flower; more exotic varieties in Court Hey will flower later in the month.

Rob Duffy

11th May