Our first coastal meeting turned up our first new county record! Debs and I spent ages looking at a sow-thistle in one of the ditches on Norton Marsh before concluding it was a mystery plant – a hybrid, perhaps. We both went up to it thinking it was going to be field sow thistle Sonchus arvensis on account of its overall size, look and large flowerheads. But no. Where were the massive glandular hairs for which this plant is famous amongst botanists? Seriously, the hairs are legendary, you can see them from across the street they are so large and abundant. No hairs. Back to the drawing board. Debs took the specimen home and spent a while poring over it before tentatively concluding it could be Sonchus arvensis subspecies uliginosus – basically field sow thistle without the hairs. Now neither of us knew this subspecies existed before, and it adds to our collection of “hairy plants which have non-hairy subspecies”, including hairy sedge Carex hirta which helpfully has a glabrous form (!) In addition to being news to both of us, there were no previous records for Cheshire for this taxon, so we were not feeling confident at this point.
Debs had the very good idea of sending photographs to expert botanist Tim Rich, as he enjoys tricky identification conundrums. Here they are (pdf):
Happily, Tim agreed that this was indeed S. arvensis ssp uliginosus and the good news has been shared with the BSBI recorder for the county. If you want to see the specimen Debs collected, it’s now in Liverpool Museum for posterity (well done Debs :))
Additional fun plants from our day out included various garden escapes along the Ship Canal, and these: