Sid Valley Biodiversity Group’s wildflower hunt continues to find new treasures as they follow in the Victorian footsteps of a local doctor.
Doctor WH Cullen had a keen interest in many branches of science including keeping weather records and cataloguing local wildlife. His 1849 book Flora Sidostiensis lists 509 herbaceous wildflower species growing in the local area. The book also lists 88 different sedges, rushes, and grasses, 47 woody species, and 18 non-flowering ferns and clubmosses.
Back to 2021, one hundred and eighty-six species were recorded flowering in August, but the list changes as the seasons progress. The Snowdrops and Violets of spring are long gone, to be replaced by summer flowers such as Field Scabious, Musk Mallow and Angelica in the Knapp Nature Reserve and various Heathers on Muttersmoor.
Dr Cullen tells us where he found his plants but also describes many with words such as plentiful, common, abundant, and frequent. The modern-day volunteers may be finding many of the same species, but very few could be described with the same language.
There has been some debate about whether it is a good idea to let wildflowers grow in places such as roadside verges and the cemetery. There is a wealth of scientific data to show that our insect populations are in sharp decline and the loss of wildflowers is one of the main causes. I doubt if Dr Cullen would have been complaining in the local media when, according to his records, he saw Pellitory of the Wall in Sidbury churchyard, Sweet Woodruff in Salcombe churchyard, and Yellow Hoary Mullein on roadsides. Perhaps we should follow his example and embrace nature.