Ancient woodland, indicator species

There are several lists of plants which indicate that a woodland is ancient. However some seem to me to have species missing which are always quoted as indicators of ancient woodland and others include quite a lot of bryophytes which most people find difficult to identify.

Painting of Professor Oliver Rackham in Corpus Christi Cambridge.

Painting of Professor Oliver Rackham in Corpus Christi Cambridge.

So I referred to the  acknowledged authority on woodland Oliver Rackham, (Professor of Historical Ecology; Cambridge) who has published many excellent books on woodlands. In his recent book ‘Woodlands’ he has published a list, which as he says is made up from 18 regional lists. He presents the list in the order of how many local lists a particular species appears on. So top of the list is the grass Wood Mellick,  Mellica uniflora which scores 18 as it is the only species which was recorded on all 18 regional lists.

Here is his composite list Common name first, Latin name next and the number out of 18 indicating how many regional lists it appears on. I have only represented species which score 4 or more. His list is longer and includes all species.

If the common name is printed in blue then by clicking that name it will link through to a page dedicated to that species.

Wood Melic                      Mellica uniflora                         18

Woodruff                         Gallium odoratum                     17

Wood Anemone                Anemone nemorosa                  15

Hairy Woodrush                Luzula pilosa                           15

Wild Service Tree              Sorbus torminalis                    15

Common Cow-wheat          Melampyrum pratense            14

Wood Millet                       Milium effusum                       14

Small-leaved Lime             Tilia cordata                            14

Moschatel                          Adoxa moshatellina                 12

Wood Spurge                     Euphorbia amygadaloides        12

Herb Paris                         Paris quadrifolia                       12

Thin-spiked Wood Sedge     Carex strigosa                         11

Pale Sedge                         Carex pallescens                     10

Pendulous Sedge                 Carex pendula                        10

Remote Sedge                     Carex remota                         10

Bird’s Nest Orchid                 Neottia nidus-arvis                 10

Wood-sorrel                         Oxalis acetosella                     10

Wood-speedwell                   Veronica montana                   10

Ramsons                              Allium ursinum                       9

Lilly of the Valley                   Convallaria majalis                 9

Yellow Archangel                    Galeobdolon luteum               9

Bearded Couch Grass              Agropyron caninium              8

Smooth-stalked Sedge             Carex laevigata                    8

Yellow Corydalis                      Corydalis claviculata             8

Crab Apple                              Malus sylvestris                   8

Early Purple Orchid                  Orchis mascula                    8

Wood Sedge                            Carex sylvatica                    7

Pignut                                     Conopdium majus                7

Giant Fescue                            Festuca gigantean               7

Toothwort                                Lathrea squamaria              7

Nettle-leaved Bellflower            Campanula trachelium         6

Scaly Male Fern                        Dryopteris affinis                6

Broad-leaved Helleborine           Epipactis helleborine           6

Bitter Vetch                              Lathyrus montanus             6

Great Wood-rush                       Luzula sylvatica                 6

Yellow Pimpernel                       Lysimachia nemorum          6

Butterfly Orchid                         Platanthera chlorantha        6

Pale Wood Violet                        Viola richenbachiana           6

Hairy Brome                              Bromus ramosus                5

Wood Small-reed                       Calamagrostis epigejos       5

Violet Helleborine                       Epipactis purpurata            5

Water Avens                              Geum rivale                       5

Green Hellebore                         Helleborus viridis                5

Wood Barley                              Hordelymus europaeus        5

Tutsan or Sweet Amber              Hypericum androsaemum     5

Wood Meadow Grass                   Poa nemoralis                     5

Sanicle                                      Sanicula europoea                5

Wood Club-rush                         Scirpus sylvaticus                 5

Wood Vetch                               Vicia sylvatica                      5

Columbine                                 Aquilegia vulgaris                 4

Meadow Saffron                         Colchicum autumnale            4

Midland Hawthorn                      Crataegus laevigata               4

Hay-scented Buckler Fern           Dryopteris aemula                 4

Three-nerved Sandwort              Mochringia trinerva                4

Wood Forget-me-not                   Myostis sylvatica                   4

Wild Daffodil                               Narcissus pseudonarcissus     4

Solomons Seal                            Polygonatum  multiflorum      4

Aspen                                         Populus tremula                   4

Golidilocks                                   Ranunculus  auricomus         4

Figwort                                       Scrophularia nodosa              4

The list continues with plants that only occur in 3 or 2 or 1 of the 18 lists that Oliver Rackham referred to but it gets quite long and less relevant. Surprisingly Bluebells comes in this final section, I would have thought it would have been much higher. Also no mention of Dog’s Mercury which I would have thought was a typical ancient woodland plant, maybe it regenerates too easily.

In any particular wood only a certain number of the above species could possibly exist, because some species are restricted to alkaline soils and others will only live on acidic soils. Also some species are only found in the south so a northern woodland might be too cold to support certain species.

As time goes by I will endeavour to link each species to an in-depth post on that specific species so that you can find out more about each species and check out if it is growing in your woodland or area. If the common name is printed in blue then by clicking that name it will link through to a page dedicated to that species.


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