Urban Botany on the Ouseburn

Despite it's urban location, Ouseburn is home to some of the best wildlife in Newcastle.

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of leading my first guided walk for Wild Intrigue, a fantastic ecotourism enterprise seeking to bring people in the North East closer to nature. Focused on urban plants (my favourite subject) the walk saw a small group of us head down to the Ouseburn Valley in Newcastle to see what we could find.

Much of Ouseburn consists of what some may describe as fairly typical urban habitats: walls, pavement, verges and neglected flower beds. Befitting this, the usual species were there in abundance, among these, Oxford Ragwort (Senecio squalidus) with its black exterior bracts, Henbit Dead-nettle (Lamium amplexicaule) and of course, plenty of Ivy-leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis) draped over walls.

More interesting was what appeared to be an abundance of Eastern Rocket (Sisymbrium orientale), while the odd plant of Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) was also found.

Walking inland along the Ouseburn, it was the formerly cultivated yet recently neglected beds that held the most intrigue. In one particular patch, we found four poppy species growing together, including the Long-headed Poppy (Papaver dubium) which I don’t see all too often. Viper’s-bugloss (Echium vulgare) and Kidney-vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) were found here too – plants not so frequent in the city!

On the opposite side of the Ouseburn, some long-abandoned grow beds held plenty of Fiddleneck (Amsinckia micrantha) and small amounts of Small Nettle (Urtic urens) and Wild Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum). Again, quite interesting given the location.

Spending a little time admiring the waterside plants of Ouseburn, together we found Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and a figwort species, alongside the much more exciting addition of Gypseywort (Lycopus europaeus). Less welcome was Himlyanan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) which alongside the similarly thuggish Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) and Chinese Bramble (Rubus tricolor) spotted during the trip highlighted clearly the issue of invasive non-native species.

Chinese Bramble (Rubus tricolor)

Towards Ouseburn Farm we paused to test out some handy plant identification apps and admire a few of the trees on site. Aspen (Populus tremula), White Poplar (Populus alba) and their hybrid Grey Poplar (Populus × canescens) in particular. In the area around the farm, we also stumbled across Hedgerow Crane’s-bill (Geranium pyrenaicum) and an interesting escapee in Lemon-balm (Melissa officinalis).

Planted in some cases but gradually escaping, I had also not appreciated that it was possible to admire all three of the UK’s common ivy species around Ouseburn. English Ivy (Hedera helix), of course, is the most abundant but Persian Ivy (Hedera colchica) and Algerian Ivy (Hedera canariensis) can also be seen in places. Together, these made for quite a nice comparison!

Many thanks to Cain and Heather at Wild Intrigue for inviting me to get involved in this new series of walks. I look forward to the next one!

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