The Flora of Queen’s Wood

The Flora of Queen’s Wood

Introduction

Queen’s Wood is a 21-hectare ancient oak/hornbeam woodland lying near the western edge of the London Borough of Haringey (TQ 288 886). Silvertown (1978) gives a useful account of the Wood’s early history, Game (2000) prepared a detailed Management Brief, and Bevan (1992) and Graham-Brown (2006) cover aspects of the Wood’s ecology. The Wood is a statutory Local Nature Reserve (declared in 1990). In 2006, the Friends of Queen’s Wood commissioned the author to carry out a botanical survey of the Wood. This survey was undertaken during 2007, and provides a “snapshot” of all the flowering plants and ferns found growing in the Wood during that year. 225 species were recorded. In addition, following an extensive literature search, the Flora includes a wide range of earlier botanical records from the Wood extending back to the Seventeenth century. These historical records add a further 140 species to the total. Finally, the Flora includes recent records of plants recorded from the coppice that was cut in compartment P in February 2009. These include 34 species that are new to the Wood which, together with two new records from outside the coppice, give a grand total of 401 species.

The 2007 Survey

The detailed distribution of flowering plants and ferns within the Wood was based on a map drawn up by Dr Meg Game for her Management Brief prepared for LB Haringey in 2000 (Game, 2000). This map divides the Wood into 24 compartments demarcated by major paths. 19 visits were made, involving 32 hours of recording, between October 2006 and October 2007. Efforts were made to ensure that there was even recording coverage between the compartments. Each was visited at different times of the year, and more time was spent recording in the larger ones. 225 species were recorded during the course of the year. Their distribution within the Wood is also shown on the map. For each compartment, the number of neophytes (non-native species, first recorded in the wild in Britain after A.D. 1500), and the total number of species are indicated. As can be seen, numbers vary widely between compartments, with those at the edge generally supporting greater numbers than those more centrally placed. A total of 89 neophytes were recorded – nearly 40% of the 2007 flora. These were particularly well represented in the edge compartments as would be expected in an urban wood largely surrounded by gardens. Their overall influence on the native flora is likely to be small. However, a number of neophytes do give cause for concern. Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus, present in 19 compartments, has penetrated to all but a few central ones. Its seedlings are shade-tolerant and can out-compete native species. Norway Maple A. platanoides (8 compartments) was largely confined to the perimeter and, unlike sycamore, seldom grows to any size. Horse chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum was also widely scattered (11 compartments) in the form of seedlings, but these rarely grow to maturity.

The Highclere holly Ilex x altaclerensis, is the fertile hybrid between the ubiquitous native holly Ilex aquifolium, and the Canary Island holly Ilex perado. Widely grown in gardens (as a range of cultivars), these were present as a “hybrid swarm” throughout the Wood (19 compartments). The holly leaf miner Phytomyza ilicis prefers to mine the leaves of the native holly, and is less frequently seen on the hybrid (Mark Spencer, pers.com.). These tiny larvae are a source of food for tits and other woodland birds, so there would be some advantage in preferentially removing the Highclere hybrids whenever work is carried out on controlling holly in the Wood.

The native bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta was rather scarce in the Wood (4 compartments), whereas its hybrid with the Spanish bluebell H. x massartiana was widespread and increasing (13 compartments). There are concerns that the native species may be suffering from competitive exclusion, and that introgression may be an increasing threat. The few populations of native bluebells will be carefully monitored.

The introduced cherry plum Prunus cerasifera was widespread (9 compartments) and more frequent than native blackthorn Prunus spinosa (5 compartments). Cherry laurelPrunus laurocerasus was also well established as a bird-sown introduction (12 compartments). It casts a dense shade and needs controlling in some parts of the Wood.

Of particular note, as they are rarely reported as naturalised in woodland elsewhere in Britain, are the following ornamental trees and shrubs: honey locust Gleditsia triacanthos, Indian horse-chestnut Aesculus indica, Indian-bean-tree Catalpa bignonioides, and the shrub stranvaesia Photinia davidiana.

By contrast with these exotic introductions, Queen’s Wood also supports a wide range of native species known to be associated with ancient woodland. Rose (1999) listed 100 species that he believed were characteristic of ancient woods in SE England. 38 of these were recorded in Queen’s Wood in 2007, and a further 5 occurred there historically.

The wood anemone Anemone nemorosa is one of the best known of such plants and it carpets the Wood (18 compartments) with its delicate white flowers in the early spring. Wild service tree Sorbus torminalis is largely concentrated in the NE part of the Wood, where the leaning trunks of mature trees are readily visible. Thin-spiked wood-sedge (Carex strigosa), first found by Mark Spencer in 2002, survives as a single plant near the stream in compartment N. This is very scarce in Middlesex. A small colony of sanicleSanicula europaea persists in dense shade in compartment A. The broad-leaved helleborine Epipactis helleborine occurs along the central stream valley (first recorded here by Ted Bangerter in 1956, and varying in numbers from year to year). Wood millet Milium effusum grows on a shady bank in compartment W. It was known to the seventeenth century apothecary James Petiver “in the moist parts of the woods about Hampstead and Highgate” (Petiver, 1695). Petiver also noted tutsan Hypericum androsaemum “in the woods about Highgate, and by the side of the road from Highgate to Muswell Hill” (this equates to today’s Muswell Hill Road, which forms part of the western boundary of the Wood). Tutsan is still present today, but the plants have probably been bird-sown from local gardens as it is considered extinct as a native in Middlesex (Kent, 2000). Two other ancient woodland species of damp habitats are wood sorrel Oxalis acetocella, and goldilocks buttercup Ranunculus auricomus. These form part of the ditch valley community, running through compartments W, U, T and P. Latimer (1984) described the assemblage of plants here as “the most diverse ‘old woodland’ community of the two woods” (meaning Highgate and Queen’s), and this remains true today. Soft shield-fern Polystichum setiferum occurs here, and in one other part of the Wood. It is increasing elsewhere in Haringey and nationally (Braithwaite et al, 2006).

Historical records

A wide-ranging literature search, stimulated by Duggie Kent’s Historical Flora of Middlesex (1975), has brought to light many early records from the Wood. The documents consulted are set out in the reference section at the end of the Flora.

Two of James Petiver’s records from the seventeenth century have already been mentioned (wood millet and tutsan), but the earliest references found to a plant growing wild in Queen’s Wood were from the court rolls of the manor of Hornsey in the 1670s. These refer frequently to the collecting of bracken Pteridium aquilinum from “Sowwood”, or “Oldfall” – early names of Queen’s Wood (Silvertown, 1978). The bracken would have been used as bedding for animals. No bracken is found in the Wood today, though it still occurs on the edge of Highgate Wood. Petiver (1695) also noted three-nerved sandwort Moehringia trinervia, slender St John’s-wort Hypericum pulchrum, and lady fernAthyrium felix-femina “in the Woods about Hampstead and Highgate”, and it seems likely that these would have included Queen’s Wood where all three are present today.

In more recent times, the early records of members of the London Natural History Society provide information on some of the plants present around a hundred years ago. Prominent among the Society’s botanists at that time was C.S.Nicholson FLS. In 1916 he was chairman of the Botany Committee (Northern district) and a curator of the Society’s herbarium. Some time before 1898, when Queen’s Wood was called Churchyard Bottom Wood, Nicholson recorded sessile oak Quercus petraea (Kent, 1975) – a dominant tree in the better-drained parts of the Wood today. More unexpectedly around this date (K & L, 1955), he noted a number of plants of marshy habitats. They included marsh willowherb Epilobium palustre (K & L, 1953, p.124) and bog stitchwort Stellaria uliginosa (K & L, 1951, p37), both now very scarce and decreasing plants in Middlesex (Kent, 1975 & 2000). In addition he recorded brooklime Veronica beccabunga, and pale sedge Carex pallescens from “Highgate Woods”. This plural name then covered both Highgate Wood and Queen’s Wood and contemporary maps show both Woods under this name. None of these plants of damp open habitats occur in the Wood today, though both brooklime and pale sedge have been found recently in the stream coppice in Coldfall Wood (see comments below under Coppice Flora). It seems possible that these marshland plants may once have grown along the central stream valley before the existing drainage pipes were installed. Square-stemmed St. John’s-wort Hypericum tetrapterum, another plant of damp habitats now local and decreasing in Middlesex, has recently been re-found in the stream valley in coppice P. Prior to this, it was last seen (in compartment W) in 1992, and it is known to form a persistent seed bank.

My own botanical recording from the Wood dates back to 1980, and became more regular from 1989 when I was appointed Haringey’s Conservation Officer with a responsibility for the management of the Wood. All un-attributed records in the body of the Flora are my own.

In 2000, the changing room building adjacent to the paddling pool at the southeastern corner of compartment N was demolished and the resulting rubble levelled and capped with imported topsoil. This site is referred to in the Flora as the pool glade. A wide range of largely ruderal species, presumably brought in with the topsoil, was recorded here in the following few years until the site slowly reverted back to woodland. A total of 96 species were seen here between 2000 and 2009. They included rarities such as the London bur-marigold Bidens connata, and celandine saxifrage Saxifraga cymbalaria var. huetiana (then known from only one other London site). Very few of the plants found in the early years of the pool glade were still present in 2007, but the traveller’s-joy Clematis vitalba climbing into trees by the paddling pool in compartment N is likely to have originated at that time. The buried brick rubble, having a higher pH than the surrounding more acid woodland soils, will have suited this calcicole.

Many of the plants recorded from the Wood in the distant past are unlikely to return. Several of the departed wetland plants have already been discussed. The Wood has grown much darker since regular coppicing ceased in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and this has taken a toll on the ground flora. However, it has been encouraging to record the “return” of a number of seed bank specialists, which had not been seen in the Wood for many years. These are discussed in the section on the coppice, which follows.

The Coppice Flora

Queen’s Wood has a long recorded history of coppice management dating back to the first half of the seventeenth century. The practice slowly declined during the second half of the nineteenth century, and it is well over a hundred years since the Wood was last cut. The previously coppiced hornbeam have grown tall, and much less light now penetrates to the woodland floor. As a consequence, many plants known to have been present historically have not been seen in recent years.

In February 2009 the mature hornbeam growing in the eastern half of compartment P were coppiced. Changes to the flora were monitored throughout 2009. 36 species were recorded from the area (c. ½ hectare) prior to coppicing. By the end of the year an additional 105 species had been seen. The majority of these had been found previously elsewhere in the Wood, but 34 species were new. These, and two other new records from outside the coppice, are listed in the Coppice Flora section.

Two plants, mentioned briefly in the historical section as early records made by James Petiver before 1695, made a welcome re-appearance in the coppice. These were slender St. John’s-wort and three-nerved sandwort. They are both ancient woodland indicators (Rose, 1999) that are known to form persistent seed banks (Buckley, 1992; Grime et al., 2007). Another seed bank specialist that appeared in the coppice is heath groundsel Senecio sylvaticus, a new record for the Wood of a plant that is declining in Middlesex (Kent, 2000). The only other Haringey record is from a 1990 coppice in Coldfall Wood, East Finchley (Bevan, 1992). Frequent references are made in this Flora to a later more extensive coppice in Coldfall Wood that was cut in November 2006 along the stream that flows through the Wood. It has been instructive to compare the coppice floras of the two woods.

There were 31 neophytes recorded in the Queen’s Wood coppice in 2009 (c. 29% of the total). They included a number of plants that are known to be increasing in the London area. Several, including pampas grass Cortaderia selloana, Argentinian vervain Verbena bonariensis, Fuchsia Fuchsia magellanica and snapdragon Antirrhinum majus, are likely to have derived from local gardens. Others, such as cockspur Echinochloa crus-galli, yellow bristle-grass Setaria pumila and bread wheat Triticum aestivum, are all components of birdseed. Water bent Polypogon viridis was found in small quantity and is known to be spreading rapidly in London (e.g now abundant in the stream coppice in Coldfall Wood). Narrow-leaved ragwort Senecio inaequidens, also spreading in London, was an unexpected arrival in the coppice in 2009.

In February 1992 an earlier smaller coppice (c. ¼ hectare) was cut in compartment K. Only 16 species were recorded in the year prior to cutting. By the end of 1992, 55 new species had been seen, and this total had risen to 74 by the end of 1997. 18 of these were neophytes (c. 25%). Slender St John’s-wort was seen in 1993, but had gone by 1997 as the light diminished. The appearance (also in 1993) of a few plants of the inconspicuous bristle club-rush Isolepis setacea was of great interest. This is now a scarce plant in Middlesex (Kent, 2000), but is known to form a persistent seed bank. It was listed by Petiver (1695) “in the dryer parts of the woods about Highgate”. He was mistaken about the habitat, as it has always been a plant of damp places. In nearby Coldfall Wood it was seen in some quantity in the stream coppice. It was plentiful in 2007 and 2008, but very scarce in 2009. Rackham (2003), reports its appearance in a coppice in the Bradfield Woods: “I had never seen it in a wood before, and seldom since. It lasted for a year and then disappeared.” This is very much what happened in both coppice K (where it only lasted a year) and also in the stream coppice in Coldfall Wood.

By 2007 (15 years after coppice K was cut) only 31 species remained, but this was nearly double the pre-coppice total, and demonstrates the long-term value of this form of management.

The Friends cut a further coppice (2002 – 2004) in compartment N, which resulted in the welcome reappearance of foxgloves Digitalis sanguineus among other plants.

Foxgloves produce a seed bank that can survive for up to a hundred years (Buckley, 1992).

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Plant Lists and Maps

The plant lists that follow are divided into the three sections described above.

2007 Survey
Firstly, those plants seen during the 2007 survey. These are shown (by following the link) as (i)lists organised by linnean names and by english names, and these are linked to
(ii) distribution maps, and to
(iii)lists of the plants found in each compartment.

Historical Records
Secondly, there are historical records made before 2007.

Coppice
Finally, plants are listed that appeared in the coppice (in compartment P) in 2009 that were new to the Wood. The names used are those adopted by Stace (1997). They are listed alphabetically according to their Linnean (Latin) names. An English/Latin translation is provided for those more familiar with English names.

The provenance of each species is given as follows: native: known to be native somewhere in the British Isles, though not necessarily so in Queen’s Wood. Where native plants are thought to be introduced in the Wood, this is mentioned in the text. Neophyte: an introduced, non-native, species first recorded in Britain after 1500AD. Archaeophyte: an introduced, non-native, species first recorded before 1500AD.

David Bevan

April 2010