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Limestone scree and grassland, Gundale 19th July 2009

This was a trip to see dodder, a very peculiar parasitic plant that is rare in Ryedale. The site is also known for another rarity, the little basil thyme which despite its name is not aromatic. The site is a small area of unimproved grassland on a steep limestone slope, some of which has bare rock and scree – I suspect this is the tailings from an old quarry. At some time in the past the site may have had sheep on it, but now the only grazing is by rabbits, of which there are plenty.

The area has an abundance of wild flowers, common as well as rare, and is very colourful with predominantly yellows and purples at this time of year. It was a joy to see numerous butterflies in the meadow-like areas. There were many species including whites, a common blue Polyommatus icarus and painted ladies Vanessa cardui, but I was particularly delighted to see a good number of both dark green fritillary Argynnis aglaja and marbled white Melanargia galathea, both of which paused long enough for pictures.

I confess that this page is largely an excuse for some “pretty pictures”.

Scree slope with colourful flowers acree slope with colourful flowers
Carline thistle
There were numerous plants of carline thistle Carlina vulgaris on the barer slopes and scree, mainly the south-facing ones. This was a particularly impressive plant.
carline thistle Carlina vulgaris
One of the many colourful flowers growing here: basil Clinopodium vulgare.
basil Clinopodium vulgare
There were lots of these very colourful butterflies flying fast over the meadow; occasionally they landed long enough for a portrait – almost always on purple flowers such as knapweed or spear thistle as here. Dark green fritillary Argynnis aglaja. There is also a marmalade hoverfly Episyrphus balteatus in the picture.
dark green fritillary Argynnis aglaja
Fritillary underside
The underside of the fritillary, showing the greenish background. Unfortunately this was the only clear shot I got, and that cut off the top of the wings....
dark green fritillary Argynnis aglaja underside
I think this is the female, with the much paler spots round the edge and the generally yellower colouring.
dark green fritillary Argynnis aglaja underside
Marbled white
There were also a lot of marbled white butterflies (Melanargia galathea). These are a relatively new addition to Ryedale, moving north from the Wolds in recent years, perhaps a sign of global warming.
marbled white Melanargia galathea
Still on insects: this hoverfly is a female Sericomyia silentis
hoverfly Sericomyia silentis
Wasp’s nest
This wasp’s nest seemed to have been dug out from the rabbit hole where it was built, and bits of it scattered about on the ground. I suspect badgers may be the culprits. There were still one or two dazed wasps crawling over the destroyed cells in a confused fashion.
wasps' nest
A close-up of one of the confused wasps. I don’t know which species it is, probably either the common or German wasp.
Pyramidal orchid
There were half a dozen or so nice spikes of pyramidal orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis, mostly near the bottom of the slope. This is one of only two pink British orchids with a very long, slender spur (fragrant orchid is the other).
pyramidal orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis
Dodder threads
This shows the string-like threads which are the stems of dodder Cuscuta epithymum; the plant has no need of leaves since it is parasitic on other vegetation, in this case apparently rockrose.
dodder threads Cuscuta epithymum
Dodder mat
A mat of dodder covering the ground flora. It is not clear how many dodder plants this represents.
dodder mat Cuscuta epithymum
Dodder flower
Dodder has no leaves but it does produce small bell-shaped flowers in small round clusters.
dodder flower Cuscuta epithymum
Dodder twining
This shows the dodder stems twining up a knapweed stalk. The threads have projections into the host plant through which they draw water and nutrients.
dodder twining Cuscuta epithymum
Dodder plant
This shows the dodder plant in its flowering stage; at this point the reddish threads tend to wither away, having drawn enough goodness from the host plant to produce viable flowers and seeds. The host is severely weakened or even killed.
dodder plant Cuscuta epithymum
Basil thyme
Just as we thought we weren’t going to find the basil thyme at all, we saw this one – close to a carline thistle I’d approached to photograph. The basil thyme Clinopodium acinos is tiny with flowers only about 3-4mm across, but a real gem. Despite its name, and indeed appearance, it is not aromatic, unlike the wild thyme growing nearby.
basil thyme Clinopodium acinos
Burnet moth
Finally, a colourful burnet moth – the 6-spot burnet Zygaena filipendulae
6-spot burnet moth Zygaena filipendulae

Gill Smith June 2009

© Gill Smith July 2009. Pictures © Gill Smith 2009 & Jane Smyth

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