Thursday, August 06, 2015

Lysimachia, etc, in Mälarland July 2015

A stand of Lysimachia vulgaris

Above, Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris).

At the end of July I spent a few days in Kallhäll, a Stockholm suburb on the eastern shore of Lake Mälaren.  These lake environs were, it turned out, the perfect home for Lysimachia, a genus that likes water in the vicinity.

Appropriately, it was here that I finally learnt to put right my long-standing misconception about Yellow Loosestrife, which was that the "yellow loosestrife" found in gardens (and regularly escaping from them) was the same as the wild plant.  I noticed lots of it around here, but also lots of the native plant shown in these photos, and when I saw them side by side it was immediately apparent that they were two different species. The garden plant is properly called Dotted Loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata): it comes from SE Europe. Even from a distance it's easy to tell the two apart, since the flowers of the garden species tend to form erect yellow spikes, whereas the flowers of L. vulgaris, as shown here, make a more haphazard impression - smaller and on longer pedicels. Besides, L. vulgaris produces lots of pretty round fruits whereas L. punctata never forms seed, at least not in the north.

Lysimachia punctata in the herb garden at Almare Stäket
Lysimachia vulgaris

Flowers of Lysimachia vulgaris

Lysimachia nummularia

A third member of the genus, the low-growing Creeping-Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) was also very noticeable in these parts. I've never seen it before in such quantity. Under some of the trees it turned the whole ground yellow.

Lysimachia nummularia

Lysimachia vulgaris

"Loose strife" is a loose translation of Lysimachia. So it's a learned name, not a popular one. It seems to have been introduced by the herbalist William Turner in 1548.

OED:  1548   W. Turner Names of Herbes sig. E.ijv,   Some cal it Lycimachiam may be called in englishe yealow Lousstryfe or herbe Wylowe.

The legend of one Lysimachus, a king of Sicily, who calmed a raging bull by waving loosestrife in its face, is commonly repeated in books by plant-lovers, but I've yet to track down its origin, and I don't even know if any such king really existed. (This was not Lysimachus of Thrace, the bodyguard of Alexander the Great and governor of Thrace after Alexander's death.)

Silver tetrobol of Lysimachos, king of Thrace from 305 BCE

Pliny, Natural History, Bk XXV, 35, gives a variant story.

XXXV. Lysimachus too discovered a plant, still named after him, the praises of which have been sung by Erasistratus. It has green leaves like those of the willow, a purple flower, being bushy, with small upright branches and a pungent smell. It grows in watery districts. Its power is so great that, if placed on the yoke when the beasts of burden are quarrelsome it checks their bad temper.

In Pliny's variant the origin of the name is over-determined: it is explained both by its discoverer's name and by its power of dispelling strife between oxen.

Pliny's plant, of course, sounds rather like Purple-loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), another tall lakeside plant with opposite leaves that was once thought to be related to Yellow Loosestrife.

So the generic name Lysimachia may have been stolen from an unrelated plant. Its reach continues to extend: apparently there are now moves afoot to bring the Scarlet and Blue Pimpernels (still known to my generation as Anagallis) under its umbrella, thus bringing them back together with Yellow Pimpernel, which despite its English name has always been considered a Lysimachia.

Alternatively, Pliny's description might vaguely suggest a Willowherb. Lythrum (Purple-loosestrife) and Epilobium (Willowherbs) are indeed nearly related. Lysimachia, on the other hand is considered to be part of Primulaceae.

Purple-loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)

Fruit of Lysimachia vulgaris

But, to add to the confusion, the Swedish name for Yellow Loosestrife is Videört, which means "Willow-wort". (William Turner, it will be noted, made the same connection.)

Perhaps this is because of the leaf shapes. The leaf shapes of Salix, Lythrum, and the taller Lysimachia species, are all fairly similar, and make you wonder if this is a convergent adaptation in freshwater habitats.

Talking of convergent evolution, there was another prominent plant around here whose fruits remarkably resembled those of Yellow Loosestrife. (Perhaps round fruits are a good shape for dispersal on water.)

This other plant, shown in fruit below, is Bunias orientalis, known in the UK as Warty-cabbage. (It is a crucifer with yellow flowers.)

This is a plant that has spread inexorably north and west from an uncertain native region (possibly Armenia). It arrived in Sweden (Uppsala) in the eighteenth-century in grain or fodder from Russia, and hence its Swedish name is Ryssgubbe (Russian Old-guy). It can be found throughout S./C. Sweden but Mälarland is definitely its stronghold.

Bunias orientalis in fruit

Stand of Cicerbita macrophyllum

Here's another Russian emigrant, Cicerbita macrophyllum (EN: Common Blue Sow-thistle, SV: Parksallat).

As the Swedish name implies, this decorative plant was introduced delibrerately and is often found in park-land. It spreads invasively, but impressively, by underground rhizomes.

This particular stand was at Ängsjö Friluftsgård (these spacious "open-air parks", a sort of combination of nature reserve and leisure park, are a legacy of Sweden's influential fresh air movement).

When I saw it I at first mistook it for C. alpina (EN: Alpine Sow-thistle, SV: Torta, Tolta), a common sight in mountain regions (and the preferred food of bears).

Cicerbita macrophyllum

It surprised me how different the range of plants I noticed was from what  I'd seen the previous summer in Roslagen (also in Uppland). The cow-wheat Natt och Dag was just as eye-catching here, but this time I saw no Bloody Cranesbill, no Laserpitium, and no wild roses.

But I saw plenty of other things. One highlight was this Epipactis helleborine (EN: Broad-leaved Helleborine, SV: Skogsknipprot). This is a species that, for some reason, I never see in England. Well, to be more precise I do find the occasional spindly plant in woods but I never seem to catch them in flower. I had forgotten, if I ever knew, how spectacular it can be.

Epipactis helleborine in the distance

Epipactis helleborine, inflorescence

Epipactis helleborine, flowers (and aphids)

Epipactis helleborine, close-up of flower

Pteridium aquilinum

The climate around here is mild enough to find Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum, Sw: Örnbräken) growing in the woods. As often happens when I see a familiar British species for the first time in Sweden, I was struck by its comparative neatness and elegance, the result of colder winters and shorter growing seasons.

Sambucus racemosa

Here was another striking sight. It looks pretty much the same as a common elderberry, except for the berries being bright red, not black. This is Sambucus racemosa (EN: Red-berried Elder, SV: Druvfläder). Both the Red- and black-berried elders are complexes with several subspecies around the northern hemisphere. This is is ssp. racemosa, the European Red-berried Elder. It is another introduced species in Sweden. It was first noticed in the wild on Djurgården (Stockholm's pleasure-island) in 1837. Its Nordic heartland is a stripe that slants SW-NE through northern Denmark, central Sweden, and southern Finland; a very common distribution pattern (e.g. see Vincetoxicum hirundinaria below).  In the UK it's much more common in eastern Scotland than anywhere further south. It's rather strange that this species, with its evident liking for these more northerly parts of Europe, is not native to them; its native range is central Eastern Europe. (Some of the other subspecies of Red-Berried Elder grow high up in Siberia and Canada.)

Red-berried Elder is mildly toxic. In its native region, the berries are considered edible but only after cooking. The berries ripen earlier than the common Elderberry (Sambucus nigra), so happily they're unlikely to end up in your elderberry wine!

Lonicera xylosteum in fruit

Another fruiting shrub that gave me that "the-same-but-different" feeling. This is clearly a honeysuckle but it isn't the usual sort (speaking from a British perspective). It is Lonicera xylosteum, known in English as Fly Honeysuckle and in Swedish as Skogstry or even simply Try.

In the UK this is a rare escape. It was once thought to be native, because of a rather isolated population in a remote spot on the South Downs that has been recorded ever since 1801. But English gardeners have been growing Fly Honeysuckle since the sixteenth century.

The situation in Sweden is different. Here the common Honeysuckle (L. periclymenum, SV: Vildkaprifol) is much admired for its heavenly fragrance, but it is a local plant of the south and west coasts only (it's the county plant of Bohuslän). L. xylosteum, on the other hand, is a common plant through most of south-central Sweden, extending up the east coast as far as Ångermanland.

Unlike common Honeysuckle, Fly Honeysuckle isn't a climber but a free-standing shrub. The branches are brittle but very strong. In the past they were used to make tines for rakes and harrows, and the combs ("reeds") on weaving-looms.

As with all honeysuckles, the berries are poisonous.

Lathyrus sylvestris, with Trifolium arvense

This is recently disturbed ground (on the outside of a new railway tunnel). The perfect spot for Lathyrus sylvestris (EN: Narrow-leaved Everlasting-pea; SV: Backvial). Commoner in Uppland than anywhere else in Sweden.

Here. it's growing with Trifolium arvense (EN: Hare's-foot Clover, SV: Harklöver), very common from Skåne to Uppland, but not further north.

Trifolium aureum

On this overcast day (we later hid from steady rain in a pizza restaurant), it was the flowers that supplied colour. And in particular, the bright yellow of Trifolium aureum (EN: Large Trefoil, SV: Gulklöver), a plant I'd never seen before. It's a rare casual in the UK, but is native and common in the southern half of Sweden. Though it may not be apparent from these photos, the flowers are distinctively larger than other yellow clovers, larger even than Hop Trefoil.

Trifolium aureum

Vincetoxicum hirundinaria

One of the great things about going to Sweden is that while the plants I come across are fascinatingly different from what I'm used to in the UK, they are not so radically different that I've totally lost my bearings and have to start learning all over again.

It's a rare thing, therefore, to run across a genus that does not appear at all in Stace's UK Flora, but that was the case here. This is Vincetoxicum hirundinaria (SV: Tulkört, EN: White Swallow-wort) a species that grows right across mainland Europe to Spain, and makes it up into the Baltic (E. Sweden, S. Finland), but stubbornly refuses to come to Britain.  It's a plant of dry stony ground, and I imagine it hates our Atlantic damp.

Perhaps these young trees have no business in a post about wild plants, but as Kallhäll is a suburb of Stockholm (albeit set in miles of lake and forest), you'll forgive me for getting a bit urban.

They are Manchurian Cherry (Prunus maackii), a tree native to Korea and N. China. There was a line of them along one of the principal roads in the centre of Kallhäll, and I was very taken with the smooth yellow-bronze bark, not as spectacular or shiny as Tibetan Cherry but quietly striking, if that isn't a contradiction. This species is resistant to cold. The small fruit can apparently be used in jams, etc. I'd never come across this species before, and was astonished by the unexpected combination of normal cherry features (bark with rings of lenticels, long serrated leaves) and features I associate with the bird-cherry / cherry-laurel group (flowers and fruit in racemes). Possibly this is a more common combination that I had realized.

Finally, here's a series of closeup studies (most of which, unusually, came out OK) of a stem of Galeopsis speciosa (EN: Large-Flowered Hemp-Nettle, SW: Hampdån), one of several hundred in recently turned soil beside the bus-stop at Rotebro station.

It's a showy annual weed found on arable and disturbed ground. Common in most of Sweden, and fairly common (though decreasing) in the north and east of the UK, but rather rare in the south and west (where I live).

As you can see, I took these studies while I was sipping morning tea in the hospitable comfort of my sister Miranda's flat in Kallhäll!

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At 8:25 am, Blogger Michael Peverett said...

Pronunciation? Stress on Lys or mach?. Becomes more problematic when you consider L built a capital city called Lysimacheia. Thoughts? Robin Porecky


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