Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Itinerant Flora of a City

Every year the cityscape of Newcastle changes, as old buildings are demolished and the legacy of polluting industries from the past is cleared away. This site is in the Lower Ouseburn valley, once the location of a devil's caudron of industrial pollution but soon to become the site of 76 energy efficient 'green' homes. 

The patch of land in this picture has been derelict for several years - just a pile of broken bricks and earth bulldozed and then left, so that temporary colonisers took over.

Two years after the land was bulldozed, in the summer of 2011, it hosted the finest display of dyers rocket aka weld Reseda luteola that I've ever seen.

The site was so densely covered with this bee-friendly biennial that I wondered whether it might be the legacy of these plants being used in dye production in the 19th. century; in his New Naturalist book Weeds and Aliens Sir Edward Salisbury suggests that the plant's abundance and distribution often suggests that large populations are relicts of the plants' former cultivation. They have a vast seed output (Salisbury quotes up to 76,000 seeds per plant) and it's possible that the seed could have remained dormant for many decades.

There was also a good display of corn poppies amongst this temporary urban field of wild flowers. Their seeds germinate in even the smallest area of waste ground in Newcastle when they are brought to the surface by soil disturbance and exposed to light and moisture. 

Now that the site has been levelled and the rubble taken away, these plants will be on the move again - carried as seeds in rock, bricks and soil that have been taken away and probably used at another site in another part of Newcastle - part of the itinerant flora of the city.


  1. Very interesting post ~ amazing to think of so many seeds ~ prolific plants indeed. When conditions are right, up they pop!

  2. I remember a saying in Sanskrit that the Earth conserves seeds in her bowels.