Friday 28 June 2024

Festuca rubra - Red Fescue

I first wrote this in Jan 2011, but updated it by adding extra at the end in June 2024. I needed extra flower pictures for the FSC Zoom Grasses, Sedges and Rushes Course I was presenting. And when I opened up the flowers... (See end) 

Red Fescue has rhizomes -
 it is a spreading plant.
Here it is placed on 1 cm  graph paper

Grass of the Month for January 2011

Festuca rubra has needle-like leaves - as narrow as a bristle.

It grows in lawns.

Upper blades of Red Fescue
can be held over the finger
and opened out and flattened
The upper leaves can be wider and ribbed,
You  can flatten out the upper leaves with your finger nail, and if you wrap it over your finger you can see grooves.

But the basal leaves you just cannot flatten. They are needle-like.
Basal leaf cannot be opened out

I've chosen Festuca rubra grass because nearly everyone in the UK 
should be able to go out and find some outside their house/flat, 

if not in a lawn nearby, then maybe in a city park, or a road verge.
(It grows in North America and Northern Europe too.)

 January is a cold month - but I just opened the door
and crossed the road
and picked some from the verge opposite,
and some from a little further along, from a three year old pile of soil. 

There are only  four relatively common grasses that have needle-like leaves. So they can be distinguished from all the other common grasses which have broader leaves. 


In the first four months of 2011  I shall show how to distinguish the four grasses with needle like leaves.

Red Fescue is the only one that grows in "ordinary" places. The other three only grow where there are very low nutirents, mostly on bogs or heaths where the soil is acid,  (though Sheep's Fescue will grow on chalk and limestone as well.)

  • Mat Grass- (Nardus stricta) grows on peat or acid sandy soils and moors, especially slightly damper soil.
  • Wavy Hair-grass (Deschapsia flexuosa) grows on acid soils - with Mat grass - but also on drier acid soils and under trees on acid soil, and under conifer plantations - the needles make the soil acid.
  • Sheep's Fescue (Festuca ovina) grows on acid soil as the above two species and also on very basic places (i.e. chalk and limestone)
  • That leaves Red-Fescue (Festuca rubra)- which grows in low nutrient soil that is not acid and medium nutrient soil. (If lots of fertilizer is put on a field it will get out-competed by Rye-grass)

There are actually many varieties of Red Fescue, some having been bred for use in turf, but here we are lumping them all as "Red Fescue" .

Tubular sheath
So what if you are on the border between two habitats? How do you to distinguish Festuca rubra from the other the three species if they are not in flower? 

Answer: Look at the blade-sheath junction

This picture illustrates three useful features:-
1. The ligule is very short
2. The sheath is tubular and the top of the sheath is like a v-necked jumper (as seen more clearly below right)
3. To check that the sheath is a tube, rather than having two overlapping edges, the sheath has been bent - the sheath crinkles a little - but there is no separating of two sides of the sheath. - Next month we'll look at Festuca ovina which has open sheaths.

top of tubular sheath has
the appearance of
a v-necked jumper

I found the remains of a flowering shoot

Here at the tip you can see a complete spikelet on the right, with florets with awns (bristles) and with two glumes at the base of the spikelet - then on the left is the base of a spikelet with just two glumes left. the florets have gone.

Two glumes are all that
remain of the spikelet.
Note that the lower glume
is bigger than
the upper glume

Why not go out and look in a lawn near you, find a needle-like grass and say "Hello - I've found some Red Fescue".

In June 2024 I looked for some Festuca rubra to show my Zoom group.

I opened up a floret:-

I am holding (see finger nail left) a floret of Red Fescue; Left lemma, right palea, centre ovary and stigmas (which will form the grain), and to the upper right of this one anther. But what are all the orange oval segmented blobs - insect larvae - likely to be. Can anyone help?

I am holding (see finger nail left) a floret of Red Fescue; Left lemma, right palea, centre ovary and stigmas (which will form the grain), and to the upper right of this one anther. But what are all the orange oval segmented blobs - insect larvae - likely to be. Can anyone help?

Three and a bit spikelets. There are two green glumes at the base of each spikelet
. There are 4-5 florets in each spikelet. The outside of the floret is made of the scale called the lemma and that is just about all you can see in this picture of the florets.   
I suppose the lemmas that look brown are the ones infected with these orange insect larvae.
Two glumes - the rest of the spikelet has been removed.

Saturday 15 June 2024

Embsay 12 June 2024: "Churches Count on Nature:"

St Mary's Church, Embsay with Eastby (near Skipton N Yorkshire) held their fourth "Churches Count on Nature:" event on Wednesday 12 June 2024 : Public sessions: 11-12pm; 3-5pm. ( plus school groups coming at other times).

The school children arrive at St Mary's and are introduced to the project.

It turned out an excellent day. (Lots of pictures at end)

The village school (Embsay CofE Primary School brought a class (year 4 - 8-9yr olds) )  in the morning for an hour and a class in the afternoon (year 3 - 7-8 year olds). The General Public were invited for an hour just before lunch and two hours 3pm-5pm) in the afternoon.

The school groups - each consisting of a class of 23 and 28 children respectively - met and we introduced the sessions. We spent two minutes in silence listening for birds. Each child was asked how many different birds they could hear.

My "Merlin app" recorded: Jackdaw, Wood pigeon, Bluetit, Blackbird, Wren consistently.  We also at some time saw Swifts,   and occasionally recorded Goldfinch  and Collared Dove.

Jackdaw: "Jack, Jack"; Woodpigeon: "Take Two Coos Taffy"

 We then  broke up into groups of 3 to 6 each group accompanied by a teacher or volunteer leader. They set off to one of the 1by1m quadrates (squares) that  Liz Roodhouse had previously laid out. They had score sheets. I wandered from group to group supplying answers about plants, and admiring the millipede, centipede, wolf spider and worms and ants that they discovered.

The people who came enjoyed it and enjoyed discovering things.  I have come away really encouraged by their interest in nature and in the creatures and plants that we found in the church yard. 

I was impressed by the level of interest of the children, and the enthusiasm, helpfulness of the teachers. 

We only had a few people coming to the public sessions. 
But quality not quantity:  par excellence. 
They included: about  4 local people who had been to previous events and  came maybe out of loyalty. They recorded their quadrats (1 m squares). 

Two people who had read about it because I had put it on Facebook  and forwarded it to local Facebook groups. They had already planned a cycle journey so diverted to come to our event!  (At long, long last I had had some reward for effort at social media) 

A family who were already very interested in natural history and who already knew quite a lot of the plants came. This family had already attended on Eco-Explorers session, but lived too far from Settle to come to after school events. .. But Embsay was fine for them.

 A huge thank you to the organisers at the church, and to the organisers at the school who enabled the children to come; to the volunteers and to the people who came.

After the event I stayed on an hour and made a resurvey or the churchyard to record lichens and check the list I had made in March 2022.  I found a total of 30 Species. (plus there are three that I did not see from previous years)

Now rather than spending more time on this post I need to finish my lichen list and send it to Liz so she can send it to the Churches Count on Nature people along with the Embsay Churchyard Quadrat Results.


One boy asked me "How long have you been doing/learning this?" ("Since I was your age - I reflected - My mother used to encourage me to keep a "First FInd book" .

The children were divided into groups of 3 to 6 and allocated a helper-either a teacher from the school or a volunteer from the church/school governors. I was the roving "Expert". THe Church eco-group had prepared a table of resources - leaflets / books and a few labelled grasses .

One member of school staff said "We have walked along this church path before, and just seen green grass. . But we have not looked in detail and found all these things (centipedes, spiders, different grasses, lichens, flowers )
Another said "Our group divided the tasks really well and worked as a team". 

One of the boys said "This was really good - much better than learning!!"

One boy asked me "How long have you been doing/learning this?" 
"Since I was your age - I reflected - My mother used to encourage me to keep a "First Find book" .

See my reports of past events:

Smooth Lady's Mantle  Alchemilla glabra

Smooth Lady's Mantle  Alchemilla glabra

"Baby's Bottoms" - a new term I learned to describe
the shape of the covers of the spore cases
on Male Fern (Drypteris felix mas)


Pixie-cup lichen

Leptogium gelatinosum lichen - note the
abundant fruiting bodies (tiny cups) .
It grows on moss on ledges on limestone stones
in the church-yard wall beside the road


Caloplaca archis 
Chemical tests: left Bleach  right KOH

Slender Speedwell: Veronica filiformis

Wolf Spider

Really tiny spider- c 2mm - Can anyone tell me what it is?

Friday 14 June 2024

Brompsis erecta - Upright Broome - and Bromopsis inermis - Hungarian Brome tallish grass found beside the Leeds Liverpool Canal near Farnhill was suspected to be Hungarian Brome. (It wasn't)  - It had leaves coming of the stem quite high up  the shoot and had awns about 3mm long. B inermis has awns 0 (-3) mm and B erecta has awns (2-) 3-8 mm.

Left- B inermis    Right: B erecta
Bromopsis inermis has long rhizomes with dark red scales. Bromopsis erecta is loosely tufted.  The one shoot I pulled up of the plant by the canal path seemed to have a short bit of rhizome 1cm, slightly pinkish, - but I did not want to dig lots of it up. It seemed to be growing in a patch which implies rhizomes. .. but then sometimes  one sees what one wants to see.

So, two days later I collected specimens of each species which (pretty impressively) both grow within 1/4 mile of my home - the Hungarian Brome by the roadside and the Upright Brome on a track next to the railway. Both situations are ungrazed. 

Bromopsis erecta is an abundant plant in the south and east of England. It grows on the Downs and can be a conservation issue if it takes over and outcompetes more delicate plants. 

However it is not a native of the Yorkshire Limestone Dales, and the few places I have found it are all places where "It has come in" - e.g. near the railway or near the canal.

The way I recognise B erecta is that it is one of the very few grasses that have the emerging leaf folded, and that is hairy on the shoot somewhere -either along the leaves or along the sheaths.  The hairs are quite long on the edge of blades (Say 1mm long) stick out from the blade perpendicular to it and are placed regularly say 1mm apart.

(The other grass that has emerging leaf folded, has hairy sheaths (and the newish you vegetative sheaths can also be a bit reddish/ have reddish stripes) is Avenula (Helictotrichon) pubescens - Downy Oat-grass. 

But Downy Oat-grass has very blunt boat-shaped tips to the leaves, whereas the leaves of Bromopsis erecta have a long tapering tip. )

B erecta

B inermis

B erecta a few longish hairs.

 B erecta scattered long hairs on sheath

B inermis - node and stem with microscopic felty hairs.

B inermis  - no hairs, and round sheath.

B inermis

Left- B inermis    Right: B erecta

B. erecta See hairs on sheath

B inermis

B erecta: spikelets slightly flattened, awns 4mm

B inermis: spikelets cylindrical , tidier, negligible awns

B inermis

B erecta - pretty picture of anthers

B erecta

B erecta

B inermis

B erecta

The canal where I found the B erecta

Monday 10 June 2024

30 Days Wild - 7 June 2024: - Inaugural Saturday Settle to Clitheroe Rail Trip.

Saturday 7 June: was a trip on the first day of service of the new Saturday Trains - Settle - to Clitheroe...

and Manchester. (Or from the other point of view, Rochdale and Manchester to the Yorkshire Dales and to the Settle Carlisle Line.)

At Settle Station on Sat 7th June 2024.
The train is approaching from the Ribblehead direction

He highest point of my visit to Clitheroe - the Norman Keep of the Castle - The Keep of Norman origins built on the limestone  outcrop which rises 39 metres (128 ft) above the surrounding land

The rest of the pictures are lower down, and will be finished later.


I went with a group of c. 9 people from Action on Climate Emergency Settle (ACE) by Train to Clitheroe to meet "sister group" Ribble Valley Climate Action Network (RVCAN)

The journey on the train across the border to Lancashire took exactly 30 minutes.

We were given a goody pack on the train by Northern containing a plastic water-bottle some sweets and a biscuit to celebrate the first day of the service.

The sun shone to give good views across the Ribble Valley and acriss the road from Long Preston to Guisburn that several of has have driven on in the past... Views to Ingleborough, to Pendle Hill, and to lots and lots and lots of drumlins.

What would we see at Clitheroe when we got there? We had two hours free before our meeting.
I set off for the Castle.

Here is a list of the things I did:
1. Visited the extensive park.
2. Visited the annual Barbecue day organised by Clitheroe Churches
3. Ascended the adjacent hill up via an "amphitheatre up to the Keep.
4. Walked round the walls: tremendous views
5. Visited the inside of the keep
6. Found the wildflower "Pelitory of the wall" on the Limestone rock
and wall on which the Keep is built.
This plant does not grow in Settle. (It grows on the UK coast and is much more common inland in the area to the south of us)
7. Tried the children's things which did not work below the keep.
8. Visited the Clitheroe Museum
9. Walked down the high street which was being dug up
10 Visited a shop which sold "Smelly" "Ethnic" crafty things.
11. Arrived at the Library and attended our meeting
12. Had a look at the exhibition in the library about Clitheroe wells

And caught the train back!!

Some people had chosen to arrive or depart using the bus and enjoy the scenic 1 and a quarter hour scenic ride.

At Settle Station.
The train is approaching from the Ribblehead direction.
See Penyghent in the distance
On the train

On the train

Complimentary gifts in
honour of the first day of this service

View from the window

Churches Barbecue day in Clitheroe Park

Amphitheatre.. well, open air theatre on slope.

View from the wall around the keep.. continues round for 360 degrees..

Wall lettuce and top right Pellitory of the Wall

Pellitory of the Wall

Pellitory of the Wall

Pellitory of the Wall

Pellitory of the Wall

Inside the Keep

Moss:- Syntrichium sp, maybe intermedia - Intermediate screw moss

Some people used the bus to either go or come back from Clitheroe - I am told it is a very scenic route, but takes considerably longer (maybe one and a quarter hours), visiting villages en route.