Exploring Alien Plants in Newcastle

A short round-up of an excellent few days spent recording alien plants in Newcastle.

Last weekend was a busy one on the botanical front. On Saturday, alongside members of the Northumberland Botany Group, I spend a good few hours rummaging around Jesmond Dene and on Sunday, another urban flora square found Matt and I botanising the banks of the Tyne at Elswick. Both trips yielded a range of interesting sightings and of course, a great many fascinating alien plants.

Jesmond Dene

Jesmond Dene first and aside from a whole host of interesting ferns, our walk was dominated by exotics. Starting out, a quick look at spring bulbs proved productive with three species of crocus: Early Crocus (Crocus tommasinianus), Yellow Crocus (Crocus x luteus), and Spring Crocus (Crocus neapolitanus), by far the commest urban species. It was nice too to note a single Greater Snowdrop (Galanthus elwesii) too.

Nearby, the more established aliens were on full show. Milling around near Pet’s Corner, we noted Wilson’s Honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida), Himalayan Honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa), and Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) and by the Ouseburn, the first leaves of Abrahem-Isaac-and-Jacobs (Trachystemon orientalis) were just starting to emerge.

Further into the dene, a far larger patch of Abrahem-Isaacs-and-Jacobs was in full flower and we were surprised to find both Bear’s-breeches (Acanthus mollis) and a large patch of Italian Lords-and-Ladies (Arum italicum) by the Ouseburn. A lone patch of Kidney-saxifrage (Saxifraga hirsuta) draped across the riverside stones by the stepping stones was also looking lovely. Add to this Winter Heliotrope (Petasites pyrenaicus) and some introduced Wood-spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides subsp. robbiae) showing signs of absconding and there was certainly lots to see.

The Victorians and later, successive generations of park managers have displayed a tendency to plant random things in the dene. This is starkly apparent in the trees present – Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) to name but one – but also in the shrub layer. Looking closer at a few of these, we noted Sweet Box (Sarcococca confusa), Yellow Azalea (Rhododendron luteum), and a new one for me in American Holly (Ilex opaca).

Jesmond Dene is an odd place but an interesting one from an urban botanist’s point of view.

Elswick Riverside

Fast forward to Sunday now and keen to keep progressing with the ongoing and slightly daunting Urban Flora of Newcastle, Matt and I headed for Elswick for a potter along the riverbanks there.

Now, there were a few interesting native species to be seen here – Cut-leaved Dead-nettle (Lamium hybridum) was certainly welcome and Wild Celery (Apium graveolens) isn’t common in the city. Despite this, however, it was the aliens that drew attention. Mere minutes after leaving the car, we were greeted by a huge patch of Stinking Helleborine (Helleborus foetidus) growing in the riverside walls and further upstream, a surprise in Spurge-laurel (Daphne laureola) in full bloom.

Many of the shrubs growing in the walls here have clearly escaped the confines of the nearby industrial estate. Ignoring any that seemed planted, we recorded Laurustinus (Viburnum tinus) and more notably, Chinese Barberry (Berberis julianae) growing seemingly wild. There was even an Oleaster in there too but alas, I struggle with those.

Of course, when speaking of absconding shrubs, you cannot help but touch on cotoneasters. Here, there were a good 6-7 species growing in close proximity. Among these, some like Wall Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horozontalis), Willow-leaved Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster salicifolius) and Waterer’s Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster x watereri) are commonplace in Newcastle. Others, however, were more noteworthy. Here too there was Swedish Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster x suecicus), Small-leaved Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster microphyllus) and Late Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lacteus) at what seems to be only its second local site.

All in all an interesting few days and a handful of urban flora ticks to boot…

Leave a Reply