I called in for a walk around Barnack Hills and Hollows today – it’s so close to the A1 that it’s always a good bet for an opportunistic stretch of legs near Stamford!
Following the New Year Plant Hunt, I had thought there might be a few flowers to be seen – this is a National Nature Reserve and is highly floristically diverse in the summer – but a perennial sowthistle and a white deadnettle were all I had to show for it. Plenty of deadheads signal exciting species waiting below the surface however!
The main thing which caught my eye was the mistletoe (Viscum album) plants growing on the hawthorns. The mistletoe is a hemiparasite which grows from the branches of trees. At first sight, you might mistake this bundle of green for a part of the tree itself as the mistletoe attaches directly into the bark of the branches where it presents like an un-seasonal offshoot.
Mistletoe is in fact a separate organism from the tree, stealing nutrients from its host. This explains the yellow-green hue of the leaves – they do photosynthesise but rather lazily and not enough to sustain themselves without deriving nutrients from their host. They are known to parasitise over 200 different tree species, but hawthorn is the third most common.
The mistletoe at Barnack still had berries on, but the flower buds are looking well developed and they can’t be far behind!