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Appleton Woods: Looking for the Star of Bethlehem, April 11th 2009

led by Nan Sykes, notes by Gill Smith

Yellow Star of Bethlehem Gagea lutea About 20 members met for the first field outing of the year, to look for one of Ryedale’s special plants, the Yellow Star of Bethlehem (Gagea lutea), which grows in old woodland on limestone – oddly either at the very top of a steep slope or at the bottom near the springline. [This picture was in fact taken at Kirkdale a couple of weeks earlier, as I did not manage a good shot of the ones we saw today.] Species lists are at the bottom.

We met at the phone box in Appleton, where Nan introduced Mrs Madge Allison, co-owner of the woods, who kindly allowed us to explore. She told us a little about the history of the wood and that it was now being managed in a traditional, sustainable way to benefit the ground flora and produce timber, including coppicing and production of hazel for wattle fencing at Ryedale Folk Museum. We then walked along the footpath across the fields to the top of Hell Bank Wood, down the steep valley side and then back up through Ridings Bank Wood and returned to the village via Dogcroft Hill. Nan showed us a small colony of the Gagea right at the top of the steep slope alongside the footpath, but sadly there was only one plant in flower, and that over its best. The leaves are similar to those of bluebells but finer and with a charactersitic ‘hooded’ tip, and each individual bulb tends to have only one – and one flowering shoot. Interestingly it was growing close to an expanse of the fascinating moschatel or town hall clock (Adoxa moschatellina) just as it does at Kirkdale near the railway viaduct.

We then proceeded down through the woods, which are a magnificent example of ancient woodland, which at some time in the past has been managed as lime and oak coppice: there are still a number of very large coppice stools of both, some still thriving although others are doing less well. However, the Allisons are now re-introducing coppicing, which as well as being good for wildlife (by opening up the canopy and allowing light in, and producing a mosaic of different habitats as the coppice poles grow) gives them timber for their wood-burning stove and a marketable product, which can be used to make hurdles, pea-rods and to stabilise river banks. I only wish more ancient woodlands were managed in this sympathetic way.

The ground flora was rich and included a good show of wild daffodils which were at their best. I suspect a return in a couple of weeks will show early purple orchids and perhaps herb paris as well. There were plenty of wood anemones in flower, with bluebells to come later, as well as spreads of wild garlic (ramsons) which was showing flower buds. We noticed how these three plants seemed to grow in their own patches with very sharply demarcated boundaries and wondered why; presumably there is something in the soil they are senstive to, perhaps moisture levels. On slightly more acidic areas we found wood sorrel as well. Both this and the anemones were sometimes quite a deep pink – another puzzle, which we thought might be related to the soil’s acidity levels.

Wood anemones (pink) Anemone nemorosa

Lower down the slope there were different plants, including wild and barren strawberry (actually a potentilla) growing almost together, so Nan could give us a master class on the differences between them. She also showed us the differences between the two common dog violets (mainly in the flower shape and the colour and form of the spur at the back of the flower, that of the wood violet being dark purple, thinner and not notched, on a flower taller than it is wide, whereas the common dog violet has a thicker, pale creamy spur with a distinct notch and ‘square’ flowers as wide as tall with more overlapping petals). One of the highlights was toothwort, a strange plant that is parasitic on tree roots, usually those of hazel. It has no need of chlorophyll or leaves, and so all one sees is rather fleshy, pinkish flower spikes with tiny flaps on the stem representing the leaves. (Thanks to Nan for the photo.) Toothwort Lathrea squamaria

We were lucky to have not only Nan as our expert guide but Gordon Simpson, who is not only a founder member of Ryenats but a walking encyclopaedia for plants including forest trees, galls, fungi and rusts, lichens, birds and insects. We also had our fungi recorder Rhona Sutherland, and the two of them showed us many interesting fungi such as birch polypore and the hard hoof fungus, also growing on dead birches. And last, but not least, we warmly thank Mrs Allison.

General view across the valleyGeneral view across the valley
photo by Tom Denney
Daffodils in the woodDaffodils in the wood
photo by Tom Denney

Plants seen

Some of these were not in flower; I am grateful to Gordon in particular for identifying several grasses and trees for me, and confirming my id’s for many of the other species not in flower – I have a long way to go when it comes to nailing down plants from their leaves!

Acer campestreMaple, field
Acer pseudoplatanusSycamore
Adoxa moschatellinaMoschatel or Town hall clock
Aegopodium podagrariaGround elder
Ajuga reptansBugle
Alchemilla xanthochloraLadys mantle
Allium ursinumRamsons
Anemone nemorosaWood anemone
Anthriscus sylvestrisCow parsley
Arctium minusBurdock
Arum maculatumLords and ladies
Bellis perennisDaisy
Betula pendulaBirch, silver
Circaea lutetianaEnchanters nightshade
Cirsium arvenseThistle, creeping
Cirsium vulgareThistle, spear
Conopodium majusPignut
Corylus avellanaHazel
Crataegus monogynaHawthorn
Cruciata laevipesCrosswort
Cymbalaria muralisToadflax, ivy leaved
Deschampsia caespitosaHair Grass, Tufted
Dryopteris dilatataCommon Buckler Fern
Dryopteris filix-masMale Fern
Euonymus europaeusSpindle
Fragaria vescaStrawberry, wild
Fraxinus excelsiorAsh
Gagea luteaStar of Bethlehem, yellow
Galium aparineCleavers
Galium odoratumWoodruff
Geranium robertianumHerb robert
Geum rivaleAvens, water
Geum sp. (G. × intermedium)Avens, hybrid [probably present]
Geum urbanumAvens, wood
Glechoma hederaceaGround ivy
Hedera helixIvy
Heracleum sphondyliumHogweed
Hyacinthoides non-scriptaBluebell
Hypericum hirsutumSt Johnswort, hairy
Lamium purpureumDeadnettle, red
Lathrea squamariaToothwort
Lonicera periclymenumHoneysuckle
Luzula campestrisWoodrush, field
Luzula pilosaWoodrush, hairy
Luzula sylvaticaWoodrush, great
Malus sylvestrisCrab apple
Melica unifloraMelick, Wood
Mercurialis perennisDogs mercury
Myosotis sylvaticaForgetmenot, wood
Narcissus pseudonarcissusWild daffodil
Oxalis acetosellaWood sorrel
Pinus sylvestrisScots pine
Polystichum aculeatumHard Shield Fern
Potentilla reptansCinquefoil, creeping
Potentilla sterilisStrawberry, barren
Primula verisCowslip
Primula vulgarisPrimrose, common
Primula x polyanthaFalse oxlip
Prunus aviumWild cherry
Prunus domesticaWild plum
Prunus padusBird cherry
Prunus spinosaBlackthorn
Pteridium aquilinumBracken
Quercus sp.Oak**
Ranunculus auricomusButtercup, goldilocks
Ranunculus ficariaCelandine, lesser
Ranunculus repensButtercup, creeping
Rosa arvensisRose, field
Rosa caninaRose, dog
Rubus fruticosusBramble
Rumex obtusifoliusDock, broad leaved
Salix capreaWillow, goat
Stellaria holosteaStitchwort, greater
Stellaria mediaChickweed, common
Taraxacum sp.Dandelion
Tilia cordataLime, small leaved
Trifolium repensClover, white
Ulex europaeusGorse
Ulmus glabraElm, wych
Urtica dioicaNettle, common
Veronica chamaedrysSpeedwell, germander
Veronica officinalisSpeedwell, heath
Viburnum opulusGuelder rose
Vicia sepiumVetch, bush
Viola odorataViolet, sweet
Viola reichenbachianaViolet, early dog or Wood dog
Viola rivinianaViolet, common dog

** at least some of the oaks were Q. robur, identified by Gordon from fallen leaves.
Plus Grand Silver Fir (Abies grandis) and Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii).

Gordon also recorded a beech tree damaged by grey squirrels, and an insect seen on a thornless leaf from a holly: the leaf miner Phytomyza ilicis which is classed as a gall. He kindly sent me a list of other species too:

Calloria neglecta, the orange fungus on dead stems of nettle.
Daldinia concentrica, King Alfred’s cakes on dead ash wood.
Diatrype stigma, forming black sheets on dead ash wood.
Disciotis venosa, a large cup fungus growing on the ground and it smells of chlorine.
Fomes fomentarius, a bracket like a horse’s hoof on dead birch trees.
Ganoderma adspersum, the artist’s fungus, a bracket on a dead lime stump.
Hypoxylon fuscum, brown lumps on dead hazel.
Hypoxylon multiforme, black lumps on dead birch.
Leptosphaeria acuta, the black fungus at the base of dead stems of nettle.
Piptoporus betulinus, the birch bracket.
Rhopographus filicinus, forming black lines on dead bracken stems.
Trametes versicolor, turkey tails on dead broadleaved tree logs.
Uromyces dactylidis, forming orange dots under celandine leaves.
Uromyces ficariae, forming black dots under celandine leaves
Xylaria hypoxylon, candle snuff on dead broadleaved tree logs.

Rhona added to this list the slime mould Fuligo septica.

Mnium hornum.
Rhytidiadelphus loreus.
Thuidium tamariscinum.
Grimmia pulvinata on the wall near the start of the walk.

Pertusaria corallina on the wall near the start of the walk.
Hypogymnia physodes on a dead, fallen ash twig.
Xanthoria parietina on a dead, fallen ash twig.


Thanks to Tom Denney for this list: Swallow, House Sparrow, Dunnock, Yellow Hammer, Wood Pigeon, Starling, Collared Dove, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Robin, Chaffinch, Carrion Crow, Black Cap, Chiff Chaff, Nuthatch, Green Woodpecker, Wren, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Pheasant, Red-legged Partridge, Goldfinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit.


In addition to the evidence of squirrel damage recorded above we also saw a stoat and evidence of fox, roe deer and badgers, including paths and this large, obviously active sett towards the southern end of our walk.

badger sett

© Ryedale Natural History Society 2009; Photos © Gill Smith, Nan Sykes, Tom Denney 2009