August 25th - The Quoile, Downpatrick.

Conductor; Graham Day

Members assembled at the Quoile Countryside Centre for a botanical walk along the path beside the Quoile Pondage Basin. The Barrage was built in 1957 to prevent flooding in Downpatrick at high tides, so it is now a freshwater habitat and noted for its birdlife in the winter.

Graham is the Botanical Society of the British Isles Recorder for County Down and has embarked on a plant list for the county by 1 kilometre squares. As it has been a very wet summer the water levels were very high so Wellingtons were useful.  Some of the Angelica (Angelica sylvestris) plants were over 2 metres tall and we compared various other umbellifers (Apiaceae) – the coarser Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium), Cow Parsley (Anthriscus  sylvestris), the finer Hedge Parsley (Torilis japonica) and plants growing in water such as the poisonous Hemlock Water Dropwort (Oenanthe crocata), Fool’s Watercress (Apium nudiflorum) and Lesser Water Parsnip (Berula erecta). Fortunately there was no sign of the aggressive alien from Asia, Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) which can make the skin photosensitive.  Many of our vegetables such as carrots and celery and herbs like parsley and dill belong to the umbellifers but other species are deadly poisonous. Our ancestors must have learned to distinguish them by trial and error.

The rare Wood Vetch (Vicia sylvatica) was growing in a hedge along with Bush Vetch (Vicia sepium) and the bright purple Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca) and yellow Meadow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis). Graham fished out of the water Common and Greater Duckweeds (Lemnae minor & polyrhiza) and the invasive sub-tropical American Water Fern (Azolla filiculoides). Although the Quoile is now a fresh water area, there was a large clump of Sea Club-rush (Bolboschoenus maritimus) growing at the water edge along with Bulrush (Typha latifolia) and Common Reed (Phragmites australis).

Graham showed us how to identify ferns by examining the leaflets and spores of Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas), Golden-scaled Male Fern (Dryopteris affinis/borreri), Broad Buckler Fern (Dryopteris dilatata), Hard Shield Fern (Polystichum aculeatum) and Soft Shield Fern (Polystichum setiferum). There were large patches of Fragrant Agrimony (Agrimonia procera) with its spikes of yellow flowers – it was used to treat cataracts. The Steam-boat Quay from where cross-channel boats used to set off provided a different habitat. In the mortar crevices were lime-loving plants like Field Madder (Sherardia arvensis) and Wall Rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria); the ivy on the wall was the Irish sub-species Hedera helix ssp. hibernica. A magnificent stag on the other side of the water at Finnebrogue was admired.

We picnicked in sunshine in the gardens at the Quoile centre where Peacock, Large White, Small Tortoiseshell and other butterflies were enjoying the many flowering plants and the Moth experts identified species recently photographed. In the afternoon we walked towards the old Harbour. A road verge had a variety of wild-flower meadow plants with Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor), Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) and Orchids (Dacytloriza fuchsii) in seed. By this time the rain was becoming heavy, so we returned to the car-park. The President thanked Graham for a very informative and rewarding visit to a variety of habitats.

Margaret Marshall

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Bee on Knapweed (Centaurea nigra)

Enchanters Nightshade

(Circaea lutetiana)

This is named after the Greek goddess Circe, and early botanists apparently believed that this was in the potion which Circe used to charm Odysseus' companions and then turn them into pigs.

(See the redware pot picture below).

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