August 4th - Cookstown Area - Ardboe and Brookend.


Conductors; Ronnie Irvine and Ian McNeill

BNFC members were joined by members of Cookstown Wildlife Trust for this excursion led by local botanist Ronnie Irvine on one of the rare sunny days in the wet 2012 summer. Ardboe (from Irish: Ard Bó meaning "height of the cows") dates back to St Patrick’s time as a religious centre and the 9th/10th century High Cross was part of a monastic site on the shore of Lough Neagh. The site is noted botanically for a Mediterranean plant, Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) – the white blotches and veins on the leaves are supposed to refer to the Virgin Mary’s milk. Could the seeds have been brought back to Ireland by a pilgrim? Our president has grown it successfully in her garden from seeds collected here.

A tree in the churchyard had coins hammered into the trunk – apparently the Parish Priest had a previous such tree removed regarding this as a pagan practice. Ronnie Irvine and the botanical secretary had each seen a tree trunk with hammered coins at Malham Cove in the Yorkshire Dales.

Ian McNeill, BSBI recorder for Co Tyrone and author of the recently published “Flora of County Tyrone”, showed us 3 different species of Deadnettle near the ruins of the medieval church – the common Red deadnettle (Lamium purpureum), Cut-leaved Deadnettle (Lamium hybridum) and Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule); Amplexicaulis means “embracing the stem” which its leaves do.

A large amount of soil dumped in the field next to the churchyard had good shows of Corn Marigold (Chrysanthemum segetum), now generally only seen in “wildflower” mixtures, Dog /Ox-eye Daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare), Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) and the rarer Lesser Swine-cress (Coronopus didymus), an American plant. A wet area had 2 buttercups - Lesser Spearwort (Ranuculus flammula) has spear-shaped leaves and Celery-leaved Buttercup (Ranunculus sceleratus); sceleratus means “wicked” and it can cause ulceration.

We walked along the Lough shore where we compared 2 Nightshades – Bittersweet /Woody Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) with purple flowers and yellow anthers and Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum) with white flowers and black berries; both are members of the same family as the potato and tomato, and like them poisonous in parts. The showy purple-pink flowers of Great Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum) contrasted with the blue of Water Forgetmenot (Myosotis scorpoides) and the yellow of Nodding Bur-marigold (Bidens cernua). It is surprising how an ordinary-looking field can produce such an array of interesting plants.

Ian Mc Neill retrieved aquatic plants from the lough, including Fennel Pondweed (Potamogeton pectinatus), Canadian Waterweed (Elodea canadensis) which arrived over 100 years ago and Rigid Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum) which only appeared in Co.Tyrone in the 1980s.

We picnicked at the Battery harbour where Trailing St John’s Wort (Hypericum humifusum) was spreading on the mown grass and by various routes the group re-assembled at Brookend Nature Reserve, where Polish Konik ponies prevent rough vegetation taking over. Our main quest was for Irish Lady’s Tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana) a North American orchid, first found in Europe by Praeger at Brackagh Bog, Co. Armagh in 1892. Orchid seeds are tiny and numerous - could they have been carried across the Atlantic by the prevailing winds?  Most years several plants appear at Brookend but we found no sign this year. However we enjoyed a great variety of wetland plants. New to many was Skull-cap (Scutellaria galericulata) with pairs of bright-blue flowers. Widespread in the marshland was Sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica) which grows in wetter places than its near relative Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and has larger disc florets. ‘Ptarmica’, a Greek onomatopoeic word, means “causing sneezes” and it was once used as a substitute for snuff. ‘Wort’ is an old English word for plant and is often used in the names of medicinal plants. Members wondered about the name Marsh Woundwort (Stachys palustris) and Liam McCaughey has found a reference to it in “Mrs.Grieve’s Herbal”; it was used to staunch bleeding, as an antiseptic, anti-spasmodic and to relieve gout and joint pains. Gipsywort (Lycopus europaeus), a relative of Mint, was reputedly used by gipsies to stain their skin. Among other colourful plants were Purple Loosestrife (Lysimachia salicaria), Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris), Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia), deep-pink Marsh Lousewort (Pedicularis palustris) and Marsh Cinquefoil (Potentilla palustris) with its dark-purple star-shaped flowers.

Ronnie and Ian were thanked for sharing their great botanical knowledge and enthusiasm with us in an area new to many BNFC members.

In May we had visited the Bangor Walled Garden walled garden and admired the sculptured urn designed by Diane McCormick, so our President had arranged for us to visit her in her studio in Brookend Road to see more of her acclaimed ceramic work, the wildflower meadows, lake and lovely garden. It made a special end to a very rewarding day.

Margaret Marshall

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