Saturday, 1 April 2017

Churchyard Plant Survey - Holy Cross, Uckfield

After the hustle and bustle of the working week, it was lovely to spend some time in "God's acre", the churchyard of Holy Cross Church, which is very much the beating heart of Uckfield.  I was recording the wild plants in the churchyard as part of the Sussex Botanical Recording Society's Churchyard survey.

Holy Cross churchyard, with established garden daffodils.
With Helen acting as a guide and mentor, we recorded 74 species of plant.  Most of these are natives but some were garden varieties that had become established in the churchyard.  We included everything from tiny Speedwells to big Yew trees.

Slender Speedwell in the grass by the East Wall.
The Slender Speedwell (Veronica filiformis) was originally from Turkey and was introduced in the early 19th Centaury as a rockery plant. However, it was prone to establish itself in the grass, much to the annoyance of Victorian gardeners.

Good Friday Grass, throughout the churchyard. 
One of the plants we found was the Field Wood Rush (Luzula campestris).  This is a tiny rush that grows in the grass. The individual plants are inconspicuous but in their hundreds they make a pretty yellow haze above the neatly-cut grass.  Pleasingly, for a plant found in a churchyard they are also called Good Friday Grass, because the flowers come out just in time for Easter.

The gravestones and hedges are habitats too.
Grassland is just one of the habitats to be found in a churchyard. The gravestones support colonies of colourful lichens and mosses, as well as perches for curious robins. There are also hedges as shown in the background of photo above.  These provide a home to hedge plants such as Hazels, Hawthorns and Yew, as well as the little plants that live in their feet.

Wall Rue fern (Asplenium ruta-muraria)
Even the walls provide a habitat for plants such as the delicate Wall Rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria), which is a tiny fern. This was my favourite find. It is such a pretty little thing, clinging to the tiny crevices in the old wall.

Primroses hiding under some roses.
There are just a few primroses (Primula vulgaris) in the churchyard, tucked away in odd corners. The photo shows one of a group nestling under a rose. Another spring favourite, the Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), is just starting to flower amongst the gravestones.

Thale Cress, which grows in disturbed ground.
One plant, which I have never noticed before, was Thale Cress (Arabidopsis thaliana). It is a fairly widespread weed of disturbed ground and I must have walked past it many a time without really seeing it.

A solitary bee, which is a good pollinator but does not make honey.
The churchyard supports a community of plants, insects and birds just as the Church supports the community of Uckfield. Even the humble Dandelion is providing a welcome meal for a hungry bee.

Survey done and I was off to the Farmers' Market to pick up some samosas for lunch and a jar of Sussex honey. I found myself wondering if the honeybees, who had made my honey, had visited any churchyards.

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