Monday, 1 November 2010

Molina caerulea - Purple Moor-grass

Newby Moor Looking to Ingleborough
 Late Novemeber 2009

Purple Moor-grass leaves start to die in October.

By November hillsides dominated by Purple Morr-grass appear white in the distance.

I love to plunge my hands into the dead leaves and lift a pile high in the air, scattering the leaves in the wind. The blades are spiralled  like spiral wood savings, like curly ribbon prepared for a parcel.

"This is Britain's only deciduous grass" I say and watch as the leaves flutter away.

In autumn the nutrients go down from the leaves to the swollen shoot bases and shoot dies.

The nutrients are there  for use in future years. And the wide flat leaves which would otherwise loose water through transpiration, at a time when it is too cold for photosynthesis, are gone.

 You can see a swollen shoot base on the right.

Sit on the ground and pat the ground. The  Molina feels like a hedgehog - there are the remains of the shoots from previous years

I examined this "hedgehog".  Look also at the very thick whitish roots. I took the photo on the right two days ago (30 Oct) as I drove over from Settle towards Airton

View from Settle-Airton road
.  The grass in the foreground is mostly Mat-grass but the pinker patches are the Purple Moor-grass.

In the back ground (centre) you can see the far hillside is whitish and has similar vegetation. This is The Weets. To the left of the Weets is the road going up from Gordale to Lee Gate/Newhouses and to the left of that green grassland with limestone outcrops.

Grassland dominated by Purple Moor-grass with few other species is difficult to walk on because of the tussocky nature. In the National Vegetation Classification system this type is given the number M25 - Purple Moor-grass Tormentil grassland. - easy to remember this number as the M25 motorway round London is usually very slow progress too.

Wetter areas of M25 can reveal interesting Bog-mosses - this red one on the right (back at Newby Moor again) is Sphagnum capillifolium.

Purple Moor-grass can grow in basic flushes and then accompany plants such as Quaking Grass, Northern Marsh orchid and Bird's-eye Primrose.

Purple Moor-grass flowers late - July - August and has purple anthers.

In September through to November I look out for Ergot of purple Moor-grass - this is a fungus disease. Where the grain should be instead there is a large purple fruiting body (Sclerotium). these are poisonous and can cause madness and gangrene.

It will be another five months till the green leaves of next year's Purple  Moor-grass appear.  On the right you see a group of students looking at a tuft in late May at Headley Heath - In Surrey it is an uncommon plant. - Even here you can see last November's dead leaves scattered like wood shavings in the foreground.

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