Flora and Fauna

THE county of Nottingham has an exceptionally brilliant record in the botanical branch of its natural history, as no less than three county floras have appeared, one of them being among the earliest of British local floras. As long ago as 1738, Dr. Charles Deering published a work consisting of 231 octavo pages, entitled, ‘Catalogus Stirpium, &c.; or, A Catalogue of Plants Naturally growing and commonly cultivated in divers Parts of England, More especially about Nottingham.’ Although written at a time when botanical nomenclature was very different to what it is at present, the work must be acknowledged as a valuable record of the flora of the district. Its pages may be searched with interest to see the enormous changes which have taken place during the century and a half which have since elapsed. It may further be observed that it will always possess a more than local interest, because in it the two Nottingham meadow crocuses are for the first time introduced to the British flora.

In 1807 Mr. Thomas Ordoyno, nurseryman and seeds-man of Newark, published his ‘Flora Nottinghamiensis; or, A Systematic Arrangement of the Plants growing naturally in the County of Nottingham.’ The work consists of 344 pages, and is arranged after the Linnean system of classification. The list of plants, with their stations, is very full; and the work bears evidence of the intelligence and industry of its author. It is interesting to observe in the preface the remark that, since the appearance of Deering’s work, ‘the busy hand of human industry . . . has altered the face of nature, and expelled many of these inoffensive tribes from the habitations which they formerly occupied.’

In 1839 Dr. Godfrey Howitt published , The Nottinghamshire Flora,’ a small work of 124 pages, with a geological map of the county. It is arranged according to the natural system, and in most cases a reference to the coloured plate in Sowerby’s’ English Botany is given ; but each species is restricted to the smallest possible space, and not a word of preface or introduction is given.

A series of papers which cannot be omitted in any account of Nottinghamshire botany is one entitled , Botanical Calendar for Nottinghamshire,’ by ‘Il Rosajo,’ which appeared in a local paper in 1826. They are twenty-eight in number. In the first (for January), we read:

‘Our design is to give weekly a calendar of all the indigenous plants of the county of Nottingham, according to their time of flowering,’ and in the last (for December) : ‘We may prepare a "County Flora" on a popular plan: we mention it only as a probability,’ etc. Whoever ‘Il Rosajo’ may have been, these papers are full of very interesting matter, and are evidently written by someone thoroughly conversant with the subject.*

There are in addition a number of scattered papers relating to Nottinghamshire botany in various works, but as the information was largely drawn from the above sources, they may be passed over in silence. One other work, however, calls for a brief notice, namely, the new edition of Hewett C. Watson’s ‘Topographical Botany,’ edited by Baker and Newbould. In this work the distribution of British plants is traced through the different counties of Britain. The number accredited to Notts as truly indigenous is just under 750 species; that is, including the flowering plants and vascular cryptogams. Howitt’s enumeration includes 866 species, so that nearly 120 species have been rejected as introductions, errors, or doubtful. The number given for the whole of Britain is 1,428 species, so that, if we accept 750 as the total for Notts, it will show a proportion to that of Britain of little over one-half. Probably this is too low an estimate, and considering the great advance made in our knowledge of British botany during the last half-century, and the changes effected in the district by the exigencies of cultivation, the breaking up of waste land, and the drainage of bogs and swamps, it seems desirable that a systematic re-examination of the county flora should be undertaken by local botanists, in order to supplement the work so well begun by Deering, Ordoyno and Howitt.

In a brief sketch like the present it is impossible to say much about the flora of the county itself; but it may be interesting to compare it with that of Britain as a whole, and afterwards to mention a few of the plants of specially local interest, which may serve to stimulate further inquiry into this interesting subject.

Investigating the origin of the flora of Britain, Professor Edward Forbes showed that traces of five distinct floras were represented. The first (and oldest) consists of a few species, found only in the West of Ireland, which creep up from the Spanish Peninsula, owing to the ameliorating effect of the Gulf Stream on the climate of our western coast. The second consists of species of South-west France, extending through the Channel Islands to Devon and Cornwall, and thence to South-east and part of South-west Ireland. The third consists of species of the North of France, which occur also in the south-eastern counties of England, especially in the chalk districts. Prior to the Glacial Epoch these three groups of plants probably occupied a far more extended area in Britain. The fourth group consists of Arctic-alpine plants from the mountains of Scandinavia, which migrated southwards during the Glacial Period, occupying an extensive area, but have now retreated to the mountains of Scotland and the northern parts of England. The fifth and last group, as it is also by far the most numerous and widely diffused, is known as the Germanic type. It consists of species from North Germany and the neighbouring parts of the Continent, which, with the close of the Glacial Epoch, extended westward over the great plain which then existed, and were finally isolated by the hollowing out of the Irish Sea, and later of the German Ocean. To these may be added a sixth group, consisting of a considerable number of plants which have been accidentally introduced, as it were, in the footsteps of commerce.

A very different division was adopted by Mr. Hewett C. Watson. Britain was primarily divided into two botanical regions, the Agrarian, or Region of Cultivation, and the Arctic-alpine. The latter is characterized by a climate too cold for the successful cultivation of cereal crops, and is chiefly confined to the northern and elevated parts of the island, with some outlying peaks farther south.

The general features of its vegetation are the absence of trees and herbaceous plants, and the predominance of true alpines. The Agrarian Region is subdivided into three altitudinal zones, or sub-regions, each characterized by wellmarked differences in its flora. Taking them in ascending order we have, first, the Infer-agrarian zone, marked in its upper limit by the cessation of the clematis; the Midagrarian, marked by the cessation of the buckthorn (Rhamnus); and the Super-agrarian, marked by the cessation of the bracken and of cultivation generally.

We may now compare our Nottinghamshire flora with these divisions. In the first place it consists entirety of plants of the Germanic type. Secondly, as the highest land in the county is under 6oo feet above sea-level, it mostly falls into the Infer-agrarian zone. Lastly, owing to its position, it is naturally devoid of those species which are peculiar to a maritime region.

These facts will serve as a guide to those who may be investigating the plants of the county by the help of our British floras, and also to explain why a considerable number of rare British plants cannot be enumerated.

* I should explain here that my knowledge of these papers is derived from a series of cuttings, mounted and bound in a thin volume, in the library of the Herbarium of the Royal Gardens, Kew. There is no clue to the newspaper in which they appeared, but I have been able to ascertain the date from an advertisement on the back of one of the cuttings. Nos. 3, 19, 22, 23, 24, 25, and 26 are also unfortunately missing. Possibly local records may furnish the missing information, and even serve to discover the author. Howitt’s , Flora’ did not appear until thirteen years later, or the closing remark by ‘Il Rosajo’ would suggest a possible clue.