Way back in 1918 J. W. Heslop Harrison wrote a paper on a survey of the Lower Tees Marshes in which he describes the “Trollius Bog” at Billingham Bottoms.
This exciting marshy area contained such delights as Marsh Helleborine, Grass-of-Parnassus, and Meadow-rue (which is rare with us up north) alongside plentiful amounts of Globeflower. Heslop Harrison was intrigued by the globeflower growing at only ten feet above sea-level when normally it is found high up in the hills at the head of the River Tees and to the north in Scotland. His friend Bolam sent him some roots from 1000 feet and 1800 feet from near Alston and others from about 500 feet at Wark in Northumberland, all of which he grew with plants from the Tees Marshes. Side by side he immediately notices differences; the upland form has greenish flower buds, the lowland has reddish brown. The upland has a short and rarely branching flower spike, the lowland was the opposite… and so it continues with a list of morphological attributes (see at end of blog). So different are they that he proposes for the lowland plant the name relictus.
Would you be surprised to hear that the bog was filled in during 1955 and the area around it made into a golf-course in the 1960’s? There’s no Globeflower left there now.
Then, in 1986, a small colony was discovered in a wet flush on the edge of a wood about 3.5miles (6km-ish) away to the west and on the same river system, at a height of 60m above sea level.
In 2003 a work colleague, Helen, went to visit the site, later collected seed and we grew it on into small plants. In 2006 she obtained a grant to start an introduction programme into the nearby woodland park owned by Stockton-on-Tees Council. We selected suitably marshy spots in which to plant it out but also so local people could easily see the plants as they walked around the park, and then we monitored the sites for a few years.
Ten years on and the plants are flowering in three of the six sites where we planted them, looking strong and healthy and flowering well in 2016. They don’t appear to be spreading – no obvious seedlings …but they are still there and seen by all who walk past.
The flower stems are branched and tall, some of the buds a bit reddish brown and so could well be the same genetics as Heslop Harrison’s lowland form, but then some are more greenish…though still with branched flower stems.
On the same day I went to visit the site of the small colony discovered in 1986 but there were no flowers to be seen; I had to hunt hard to find any plants and those were few and small. Why the change? Well, at some point in the 1990s more trees were planted on the valley side and they have now grown so large that their roots perhaps dry out the soil in the summer, or maybe the shade is now simply too oppressive.
|Character.||Upland Form.||Lowland Form.|
|Flower Buds.||Greenish.||Reddish brown.|
|Colour of flowers.||Yellow.||Slightly deeper.|
|Bracts.||Not so leaflike and few.||Leaflike and many.|
|Flowering Spike.||Short and rarely, if ever, branching.||Long and branching frequently enough.|
|Seedpods.||Rich deep purple in colour.||Only very faintly so.|
|Leaves.||Much more compact owing to the closeness of the segments; on average not so long.||Freer in growth in all these characters.|
Heslop Harrison’s table of the main differences between the two extremes of Globeflower.
Postscript:a week after writing the above I went to visit the garden at Tees Valley Wildlife Trust at Margrove where two years ago I transplanted a few large Globeflower plants from the recently shut plant nursery which grew the above Globeflowers (so they are of the same genetic stock). You can see how much they resemble the Upland form, which makes me wonder if it was the transplanting that made them grow like that…