Whilst out and about either surveying professionally or for fun I often come across plants that are described as ‘common’ in their vernacular name but are often not so common in Cheshire. In 2010, Andy Harmer and I spent a sunny day walking over Stretton Airfield, now mostly disused. Stretton Airfield was at its busiest during World War II. It has been closed since 1958, although light aircraft do use it occasionally, and its three runways are visible to this day.

Common Cudweed. Photo: Andy Harmer

Abandoned synanthropic (man-made) habitats are a real passion of mine, particularly old mines/quarries or railway lines. The concrete slabs which made up the runways and perimeter roads at the airfeld are slowly becoming encroached with vegetation, particularly where cracks have appeared. It didn’t take me long to find an interesting plant; Filago vulgaris or Common Cudweed. This small plant (see photo) is covered with white woolly hairs and has strap-shaped leaves which tend to lie parallel to the stem. The flowers are fairly inconspicuous in a globular flower head at the top of the stem and are yellow coloured.

Common Cudweed is a member of the Asteraceae (the daisy family). Species from this family are extremely successful at colonising areas of bare ground due to the prolific amounts of seed they produce and, on average, their high germination rate (for example, one plant of Common Ragwort Senecio jacobaea can produce between 50,000 and 60,000 seeds with a germination rate of 80%. (Salisbury, 1961)). Many seeds of species of the Asteraceae can remain viable in the substrate for many years. Moreover, some of the most successful non-native plants in the UK are from the Asteraceae, such as Canadian Fleabane Conyza canadensis.

Few records exist for Filago vulgaris in Vice County 58. Prior to my sighting, the last record I could find was from 2002 at Moore Nature Reserve. A dozen records exist from the 1990s in the rECOrd database. Looking at the NBN Gateway, data gleaned from a BSBI dataset shows that F. vulgaris was recorded from up to 9 hectads in Cheshire, interestingly none from central Cheshire and some of this data is from the 1930’s. There are no existing records for the hectad which Stretton Airfield lies within.

So Common Cudweed is not so common in these parts. Please feel free to send me any information of more unusual plants you see on your travels. rachelhacking@yahoo.co.uk