The Great Orme April 19th 2006


Hornungia petraea Hornungia petraea (Hutchinsia)

Llandudno Llandudno Bay and Little Orme (Taken near Green Triangle )

Erodium maritimum Erodium maritimum (Sea Stork's-bill

Morning: Hornungia

Spring meetings always risk bad weather and that the plants expected will not yet have flowered. This was a late Spring with relentless cold weather in March and scarcely higher temperatures in April but we were lucky on this early meeting to have a sunny day on the Great Orme led by County Recorder Wendy McCarthy.

We met at the green triangle, a patch of grass part way up the Great Orme Tram railway which itself is a source of many botanical delights at different times of the year. These include Erodium moschatum (Musk Stork’s-bill), Torilis nodosa (Knotted Bur-parsley), Sherardia arvensis (Field Madder) and usually Scrophularia vernalis (Spring Figwort) which unfortunately was absent from the site this year.

Wendy first enquired if anyone wanted to see Hornungia petraea (Hutchinsia) which was in flower but in the opposite direction to all the other plants she wanted us to see. We certainly did want to see this rare Spring ephemeral which can be in full flower in March leaving no trace of its existence by June. The route took us round the North side of the Great Orme towards some piles of what looked quarrying debris – exactly the sort of site which Hornungia prefers.

Meetings at such wonderful sites as the Great Orme always hold a few surprises and this was no exception. As we walked towards the headland a Snow Bunting in winter plumage strutted across the path in front of us and stayed in the area for a while.

We arrived at our site to find that even in this late season the Hornungia was well into flowering and both flowers and seeds were present on the many hundreds of plants. At this exceptional site Hornungia is one of those plants which can be missed even if you know exactly where it grows. It blends beautifully with its rocky habitat and you need to get quite close to appreciate the delicacy of the leaves and flowers.

Nearby Wendy showed us the rosettes of one of the rarest hawkweeds Hieracium cambricum which on the BSBI atlas is shown as having just one outpost in mid Wales – this Great Orme one would be a second. The Hieracia are a very difficult group to identify and it usually needs an expert like Vincent Jones on our WFS Teesdale meeting of 2005 to show you the distinguishing features and confirm your find.

In the new Flora of Great Britain and Ireland Vol 4 by Peter Sell and Gina Murrell which has only recently been published, all the Hieracia (412 of them) which we usually name “A Hawkweed” have been given English names. Hieracium cambricum is unsurprisingly called Welsh Hawkweed and would no doubt have rated a triple RRR rating had Professor Stace been able to include this level of detail in his widely used flora. Each of the Hawkweeds in this flora has a paragraph of detailed description which will perhaps allow more of us to attempt identification of this difficult genus.

Near the Hornungia petraea were a few rosettes of Erodium maritimum (Sea Stork’s-bill) a plant easily ignored because it doesn’t always produce petals. These examples had no petals either and it was quite hard to take photographs of the green sepals enclose anthers and stigma.