Tiptoeing through the nettles at Langley Vale Wood…
Spring is here and this means the longer nights have also returned (hurrah!). Our team of volunteers at Langley Vale Wood have seized the extra daylight to re-start activities in their arable plant surveying group, who have been out and about this week, looking to see what’s growing in the fields. Lead volunteer, Tish Johnson, explains more about a very special plant that they are keeping an eye on…
“I always thought a nettle was a nettle and all nettles gave you a sting if you touched them. The most exciting thing I knew about a nettle was that a company in Cornwall made a cheese called Yarg that it wrapped in nettles. Its very tasty if you haven’t tried it. I guess I had also seen that some nettles had flowers and were really quite pretty.
Out in the fields at the moment, we have carpets of beautiful red dead-nettles, their heart-shaped leaves tinged with red. They are arable plants and that roughly means they need some kind of soil disturbance or ploughing to germinate. As my wild flower book puts it they are: ‘a weed of cultivation’. I think that’s a bit of a harsh description for these pretty plants. The ones with flowers don’t sting and have exquisite flowers when you get up close and personal. They come in a wide range of colours but you’ll most commonly see white and red.
I’m fairly new to this plant malarkey. I’ve been part of the arable plant survey at Langley Vale Wood for four years now and I’ve learnt a lot about these declining plants. Modern farming methods do not favour these plants and their numbers are dwindling especially the rare versions. Here at Langley Vale Wood we are creating the right conditions for them and then recording the rarer ones. Dead-nettles are in the same family as mints, hemp-nettles and woundworts. Many of this Labiate family are aromatic and have distinctively square stems. Some you might think of as garden plants like marjoram or catmint, which is surprisingly rare in the wild.
So next time you pass a nettle with a flower, have a good look at just how pretty these little plants are and if you’re really lucky it might be a really rare Red Hemp-nettle.”
If you would like more information about the arable plant surveying activities at Langley Vale, please contact email@example.com in the first instance.
Thanks again to Tish Johnson for her words and photograph and to all volunteers involved in this special project.