The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Botanical Waifs and Strays

by W. M. Hind, LL.D.
Volume 4, 1893/94, pgs. 415-420

[The Rev. William Marsden Hind, LL.D. 1815-1894, "Formerly Perpetual Curate of Pinner Church" edited the nature book "Flora of Harrow" by J. Melvill. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and married Anne Wheelton in 1856. Their son Dr. Wheelton Hind TD was a geologist.]

It is a common experience of collectors of wild plants to fall in with foreign species unexpectedly, and, not infrequently, with home species at a distance from their natural localities. That these strangers should present themselves to professed botanists as a rule, and not to the world generally, has in some cases exposed the finders to the suspicion of reporting fictions rather than facts. Facts they are notwithstanding, witnessed by the contents of many Herbaria. It is a collector's business to use his eyes, to recognize the forms which experience has made familiar to him and to greet with pleasure a new face among old friends, or a well known face in a strange locality. Meeting with a foreign plant on our shores, or, a well known species in a strange locality, the natural inquiry is, How came it here? A satisfactory reply however is not always forthcoming. In some cases the stranger can give no account of itself; while in other cases a sufficient answer may be found.

Man's hand has, in most instances, been the instrument by which the plant of foreign origin has been introduced to a new home. Not necessarily with a conscious knowledge and of set purpose, yet by his agency, does the stranger find a home in our soil and grow among the wild plants of our land. A considerable number of species, which have obtained a permanent standing in our British Flora, owe their position to human agency. They were at one time strays from cultivation, either from the garden or the farm. Other species still occupy only a debateable position among our British plants. The Apennine and Crowfoot Windflowers can in almost all cases be traced to a neighbouring garden. The Pheasant's Eye, though occasionally found in a cornfield, is more at home in the garden. The Winter Aconite has strayed from the shrubberies, where it was once planted; but finds its most congenial home in them still. The Welsh Poppy, indigenous in Wales and the Lake district, is only a garden stray in most other parts of England. The Many-podded Hedge Mustard was thrown out of a garden in Bury St. Edmunds about 1785 A.D., and established itself in the neighbourhood for about 100 years. Monkshood, gathered by the late Rev. E. A. Holmes at Southelmham, Suffolk, must have been a garden outcast. Larkspur and Columbine, though native plants, occasionally occur as garden strays. In the summer of 1891 I found some plants of the Greater Astrantia in a dell at Middleton in Teesdale, which must have come from some garden in the neighbourhood. The garden Chervil has been established on a bank, near Halesworth in Suffolk for about 100 years, and was no doubt originally a garden stray. I have three times found the Michaelmas Daisy apparently wild, at Dunadry, Co. Antrim, at Gorelston and at Peasenhall, Suffolk, in all cases as strays from cultivation. An Aster has been established in Redgrave Fen for more than sixty years, which may possibly be the Michaelmas Daisy. If so, there is no clue to its occurrence there, being at a considerable distance from any garden. The fragrant Butter-bur occurs in various places as apparently wild. In most cases it will be found to have come from a neighbouring shrubbery, having swarmed over its boundary and established itself in the neighbouring hedge banks. The same is likely the case with the White Butter-bur, which I have not seen in any of its British localities. Mahonia aquifolia occurs in Hartest, Suffolk, at a distance from a garden. Birds have likely been the means of conveying the seeds to the place where it grows. Symphytum orientale and tauricum are occasionally found seemingly wild: likely they are strays from gardens. Strawberry Blite, found near Bury St. Edmunds, was likely an escape from cultivation. Crocus argenteus and aureus have been long established in a pasture at Great Barton, Suffolk. They are believed to grow on the site of an old garden, where they must have been originally planted. Narcissus poeticus and biflorus occur in quantity in a pasture at Pinner Green, the likely site of an ancient garden. Crimson and Alsike Clover, Brank, or Buckwheat, the taper, spreading and field Brome Grasses, and Italian Rye Grass have become more or less established in the country as strays from cultivation.

Besides the strays from plants purposely introduced from abroad, either for ornament or use, other plants have followed the march of cultivation, and have become common weeds in our cornfields and among our green crops. Agricultural seeds, brought from other lands, have frequently weed seeds mixed with them, which are sown with the crop and spring up with it. In some cases the weeds are carried off with the crop and disappear. In others they become established as permanent occupants of the soil. Buxbaum's Speedwell is a case in point. According to Mr. H. C. Watson this plant began to attract the attention of our agriculturalists and botanists about 1825. Now it is a common denizen of our fields and gardens. About thirty years later another Speedwell, Veronica peregrina, attracted the notice of Mr. J. Sim at Perth. A few years later I first found it at Belfast, where I observed for several years in succession. In 1860 I found it at Pinner Hill, Middlesex, and in 1871 at Gweedore, Co. Donegal. It has not yet become common, but it has obtained a place in the London Catalogue of Plants and in several Florae. Oriental Wormseed has been known as a casual for about 170 years, yet without permanently establishing itself. In 1881 it was found at Nayland by my friend, the Rev. J. D. Gray, in a clover-field. In 1890 I also found it with clover at Honington. It may fairly be assumed that in both cases it was introduced with foreign seed. In 1859 I found Caraway in East Kent, where it evidently was a remnant from a former crop. In 1888 I gathered it in meadowland in Newmarket, where it doubtless had been sown with the grass seed. Hoary Mustard, a plant from the Channel Isles, and Yellow Star Thistle I found among sainfoin in Euston and Bowbeck, Suffolk, evidently having been sown with the crop. Montpelier Trigonella from Cockfield, Suffolk, was no doubt introduced with other seeds. In 1883 a specimen of Nicandra physaloides was brought to me from Somerton, where it grew in a beanfield, probably from stray seed. In neighbourhoods where the Flax of Commerce is cultivated, strays are frequently found growing by the wayside and in other places, seeds having escaped from the packages in which they had been carried. Hemp at one time was frequently met with as a stray, when it was an article of home culture. Nowadays it usually results from the sweeping of cages, where it is used as food from birds. Canary Grass may be generally accounted for in the same way, though in some districts it occurs as a stray from cultivation. Coriander is now rarely found, as it is no longer cultivated in Britain. Branched Broomrape, parasitically on Hemp, is wholly or nearly extinct with us, through Hemp no longer being sown in this country. Flax Dodder is now seen only in the districts to which flax culture has become restricted.

The importation of wheat and other cereals from abroad has been the means of introducing a number of strange plants in this country. Nearly forty years ago the late Mr. A. Irvine gave an account in the pages of the Phytologist of a large number of strange species, which he had found in a small enclosure on the south bank of the Thames, near Wandsworth. I had an opportunity of visiting the place with him, and found the ground thickly covered with strange plants. With a few exceptions, such as Artemisia campestris, they were exotics. The explanation of their appearance in that locality is very simple: A large quantity of foreign grain had some time before been cleaned on the ground, and the separated seeds had taken root and produced a flourishing crop. A somewhat similar case came to my knowledge, while collecting information for the publication of The Suffolk Flora. I and my friend Rev. J. D. Gray, on various occasions met with several casuals on the banks of the race of Nayland Flour-mill. These were chiefly found on heaps of mud which had been at times from the stream. Among them were Alyssum incanum Verbascum phaniceum, and the Loose, Green, and Glaucous Panic grasses. The most interesting find occurred in 1884. On a spit of land lower down the river we noticed about a dozen strange plants, not in flower, but evidently belonging to the Natural Order Compositae. Some of these roots were brought home and grown on. When matured they attained a height of four to five feet, and produced a large number of light blue blossoms. A specimen was submitted to the Authorities at Kew, and it was declared to be Mulgedium tataricum, a native of south-western Asia. In this particular case, the presumption is, that the seed was brought from Batoum, or some other port on the east coast of the Black sea, with wheat, the cleanings of which had found their way into the Mill stream, and in the end the Asiatic weed took root on the bank of the Stour. Last year Mr. Gray sent me a specimen of Silene dichotoma, a Hungarian plant, likely from foreign grain taken to Wiston Mill on the Stour.

Another source of fruitful waifs and strays is found in the heaps of ballast brought to our ports from other lands. Only a few weeks ago a collector informed me, that he had in the course of years gathered one hundred strays on ballast heaps. Though this statement may require a grain of salt to make it go down, there can be no doubt that foreign plants are occasionally introduced in this way. I have at various times observed both foreign and British strays on ballast at Ipswich Docks. Among these are the One-flowered Lentil and Round-seeded Vetchling; also the British strays Nottingham Catch-fly, Yellow Vetchling, and Canadian Fleabane. Babington's Sand Mustard, which is so common on the Ipswich ballast, I am inclined to regard as a ballast plant. The hermaphrodite form of Annual Mercury found occasionally at the docks may possibly have been introduced with ballast.

In 1842 or 1843 I found a growth of Flax, Hemp and other exotics on some gravel that had been recently laid down on a private road on the outskirts of Liverpool. The gravel had likely served as ballast in a ship which had Flax and other seeds as part of its cargo, and escapes from these vegetated when the opportunity was afforded them.

It is now fifty-one years since the Elodea canadensis or Water Thyme was first observed in the lake at Dunse Castle; five years later it was found near Market Harborough, in Lacestershire; and in 1849 I found it in quantity in the river at Burton-on-Trent, and pointed it out to Mr. E. Brown of that town, who traced it to the Staffordshire Canal. It is not likely that it had its origin in any of the places where it was first observed in Great Britain. If introduced as a living plant from its native home in North America, it more probably found its first British resting place in waters near our western coast. However transported to this country, and wherever its first cradle among us may have been, there is no doubt that in 1840 A.D., it was altogether unknown to the British Flora. At the present time it is widely distributed throughout the country, and is to be found in almost all canals, sluggish rivers and streams. Still more surprising, it occurs in solitary ponds and pools which have no communication with each other, or with the arterial water system of the country. With us it can ripen no seed, being only of one sex, and it depends wholly of its propagation on the division of its stems. Every internode about half an inch in length may become the origin of a new plant. So it has come to pass that a plant of very recent introduction among us has, in the course of fifty years, from a waif or stray, become one of our most common and widely distributed plants.

There are some among our strays of which no clear account can be given of their appearance among us. The most feasible conjecture is that they have been accidentally introduced with other seeds. The following are instances: Crimson Horn Poppy, in a kitchen garden at Pinner. Erucastrum Pollichii, on the roadside at Brandon. Cowherb Soapwert, close to a lime-kiln at Pinner. Small Flowered Balsam, at Bury, and Stutton. Small Flowered Melilot, at Dunadry Co. Antrim, and Southtown, Suffolk. Perfoliate Claytonia, Honington. Oriental Bunias, in a sandy pasture at Elveden. Silene catholica, at Bury St. Edmund's, likely introduced. Two years ago a showy annual appeared in a Ranunculus bed at Honington, which has propagated itself. A friend informed me that it is a Phacelia. It comes near Picirinnata, but that species is not an annual. Verticillate Sage, at Heigham, and Long Melford. Great Brome Grass, in a cart track of a pasture field at Fakenham, Suffolk.

The following strays, collected by other hands, may be classed as unaccountable appearances: Hungarian Hedge Mustard, Lowestoft, Mr. E. Skepper; White Mignonette, Lowestoft, Dr. Trimen; Squarrose Trefoil, Hengrave and Lawshall, Sir. T. Gage; Stellate Trefoil, Southwold, Rev. E. A. Holmes; Resupinate Trefoil, Lowestoft, Dr. Trimen; Hairy Potentilla, banks of Gipping, Mr. H. Haward; Greater Ammi, Cockfield, Rev. Dr. Babington; Achillea decolorans, Drinkstone, Mrs. French; Echinospermum Lappula, Southwold, Rev. E. A. Holmes; Rough Dogtail Grass, Lowestoft, Mr. E. Skepper; House Brome Grass, sandy fields at Theeford, Rev. E. F. Linton. Though waifs and strays belong to the by-paths of Botany, they occur sufficiently frequently to reward the diligent collector's search, and they have the peculiar interest of appearing unexpectedly and as a welcome surprise.

Proofread by LNL, July, 2023