Thursday, October 02, 2014

in the business park

I once wrote a post in which I extolled the botanical virtues of my local scruffy industrial estate. And maybe the message of today's post should be, Don't neglect the business park!

The business park environment can be characterized by ample, but highly manicured, green space; many trees and shrubs, often exotic, for reasons of privacy and low maintenance; often some freshwater features (artificial ponds); extensive tarmacked and paved areas. Sometimes the business park may include a "nature reserve" (there's one in mine) but that's a separate topic. In this post I am talking about the business park proper.

The initial impression may be a little unpromising, but nature often does well here and there are several reasons for that.

Though there are many people in the business park at certain times, they spend most of their time working indoors and usually have little incentive to mess with anything they see growing outside. The general public are not encouraged to pass through; this means a lack of dogs, idle teenagers, children, etc (groups that are much more interested in interacting with plants). So plants tend to be left alone, except by the grounds staff.

Though the business park is designed to look manicured to a casual passer-by, and though it certainly is manicured by those hard-working groundspersons, yet the management plan is designed for spending minimal time per acreage. In such a large space there is inevitably neglect, and the closer you look the more ecological niches you'll tend to find. For example, a bare paved car-park may look completely empty of plant life until you notice all the Rat's-tail Fescue (Vulpia myuros) !

A final feature is that there is a lot of full sun in a business park. Car-parks are intrinsically open spaces - so are ponds and lawns. Besides, the preferred tree species are usually short (because untroublesome), and every few years the shrubs are cut back to 1 metre or less, in order to prevent the development of nasty things like bramble thickets or falling branches that could scratch someone's Merc. This environment suits some plants very well.

Sometimes the park produces real surprises, for instance the Corky-fruited Water-dropwort that I wrote about before.

Here's an unexpected outbreak of Yellow-wort (Blackstonia perfoliata) that I noticed last week (late September). I've always associated this plant with semi-natural short chalk grassland (it's a very characteristic member of that community), but here - as apparently in County Durham - it seems to be spreading into urban brownfield sites with calcareous substrate. In this case I imagine the calcareous substrate is a bit of builder's lime. Though West Swindon does in fact lie on a limestone scarp (the Upper Jurassic), the limestone hardly ever outcrops and it doesn't have a big effect on conditions at the surface. At any rate, the area is not teeming with Yellow-wort.

As you can see, my camera played up and all the photos went wrong. The flowers only open in the morning, and anyway now it's too late because the strimmer-man has been round.

Yellow-wort, with its fondness for steepling out of much shorter turf,  is obviously prone to being strimmed, The plants are annuals but have no doubt made provision for this sort of mishap.

In contrast, I noticed that the next plant was completely overlooked by the strimmer-man. Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum) is one of the plants I alluded to earlier as seeming to have a particular fondness for the business park environment.

Solanum nigrum

It's also a plant I like a lot, though I don't really know why. It's something to do with the low scrambling habit and gribbly leaves (both in marked contrast to S. dulcamara, see further down). Also the combination of unripe green berries with ripe black ones - no intermediate shades.

Solanum nigrum, berries

Black Nightshade is considered poisonous in the UK but, surprisingly, is eaten in some parts of the world (apparently non-toxic strains have been bred).

Solanum nigrum, leaves and flowers

Solanum dulcamara, growing as free-standing plant

Here's its big sister, Woody Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara). Technically this is a vine (i.e. it scrambles to 4m on other plants), but you often find it free-standing - as in this pic - , though then it doesn't get much over 1 meter. You can see its shooting ambitions. But the shoots are not quite upright. As they grow taller they start to bend, like a fishing rod with a weight on the end. In the happy event that they come into contact with some solid body, they then go into full-on sprawl mode.

Solanum dulcamara, ripe berries

I have to deprecate the alternative English name, "Bittersweet" - which tends to suggest that the plant is an interesting taste experience. It is a lot more poisonous than Black Nightshade. However variants of this name occur across Europe, e.g. French "Douce Amère", Swedish "Besksöta", etc.

The berries ripen from green through orange to red. Meanwhile the purple-and-yellow flowers are usually still going strong (though not on this plant), producing a range of bright colours that in my eyes gives it a faintly reptilian glitter.

Solanum dulcamara, unripe berries

Solanum dulcamara, leaves

Euphorbia helioscopia, October crown

I agree with C.F. Nyman, who noted in 1868:

Liksom våra Euphorbier i allmänhet har icke heller denna art något prunkande utseende, men väcker dock en viss uppmärksamhet genom sin symmetriska byggnad, regelbundna grening och gulaktiga grönska.

(Like our other Euphorbia species, it doesn't blow you away with its looks. All the same there's something striking about its formal symmetry, regular branching and yellow-green colour.)

The yellow-green colour, of course, is not on show here. On the other hand Nyman wouldn't often have witnessed such a remarkable display of branch-work as this (the season for growth in Sweden being so short). The plants here, with their single "trunk" and elaborate "crown", resemble miniature trees; they must have been growing since the spring. They are of course annuals, making no provision for a personal future and putting all their effort into prolonging the production of flowers and seeds until the last possible moment.

Euphorbia helioscopia, detail

Euphorbia helioscopia, detail of detail
The same plant, on 24th November
The same plant, on 31st March



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