Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Replanting salvias along Roman roads?


Back in June, at Bix Bottom, Kew botanist Mike Fay was excited to see a single plant in flower. It was this species, Salvia pratensis, the Meadow Clary.

It has been transplanted into Bix Bottom (there, I said it again) by some kindly soul. Possibly once common in the Bix valley, Meadow Clary had presumably become locally extinct as it has in many places across the UK. Although it's 'natural' distribution is hotly disputed, particularly its tendency to grow in tracks through the landscape.


On the weekend at Wakehurst Place (the country estate of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) this species, along with the Stemless or Picnic Thistle, was one of the few flowering in the newly opened UK Native Seed Hub. This means that soon you'll be able to have good quality seed of Meadow Clary to sow in your restored meadow or native grassland where ever you live in the UK.

The question is, should you introduce Meadow Clary into your local paddock?

There's plenty of information on this species at the Plantlife site. Including the fact that Meadow Clary occurs over much of Europe, through to the Caspian Sea, but is rare and protected in the UK where it now occurs without replanting in only 19 places, mostly in the Cotswolds.

There are various views about where it once grew and why, but I like the Roman story. Mostly, I have to admit, because I like the Romans (in an intellectual rather than empathetic way).


The Plantlife report makes it clear that both present and past distributions of this species are disjunct - i.e. it grows here and there, with gaps in between. There are almost no records of Meadow Clary from southern and central England in the late 19th century so the question there (or here) is did it grow here naturally or was it helped along its way.

The first record of it as a 'wild plant' in the south is (according to Plantlife) 1699, and by the early 1800s it is already considered to be rare, attributed then to the increased ploughing of meadows.

The fun bit is that all present or recently extinct records of Meadow Clary are near Roman (or pre-Roman) roads. So perhaps these Latin visitors deliberately or accidently introduced the species into England. Its rather linear distribution in these parts supports this theory.

It may have been other visitors, using similar roads, and Meadow Clary seed may have fallen from hay being carted on these roadways. More recently these tracks have been replaced by motorways and different approaches to farming.

The best alternative theory (to the Roman one) is that good habitat - particularly unploughed banks - occur alongside these ancient roads so that's were if would have found a place to flourish in modern times.

For now, I know where there is a lovely linear display: the UK Native Seed Hub in Wakehurst Place.



No comments: