Friday, July 1, 2011

Feet in the grass

On Wednesday, I walked a footpath I've not visited before, which starts right next to a sand pit just north of Potton, on Potton Road The Heath. 

The pit is fenced off, annoyingly, so no botanising there. A sign on the fence grossly exaggerates the danger.

The 'cliff edge' is barely a 3 foot drop and is a vegetated slope! Not exactly Beachy Head. (And I'm not quite clear why anyone falling off a cliff would choose to spend, possibly their last few moments on earth, in such a ridiculous pose.)

As it happens I didn't get far down the path before I was drawn earthwards. I think I suffer from that rare form of paroxysmal reactive positive geotaxis which affects the botanically inclined. There at my feet was that fluffy little charmer, haresfoot (or rabbitsfoot) clover (Trifolium arvense).

Small and slender, with an erect growing habit; its delicate pinky-white flowers are almost obscured by long, fluffy calyx teeth. The leaves are narrow, grey-green and hairy.

This seemingly insignificant clover might be doing its bit to reduce global warming.

Clovers are nitrogen fixers, important in pastures to increase the amount of available nitrate. All well and good. Trouble is, cows on clover-rich grassland, get, well there is no way to put it politely, bloated full of gas. And there are only 2 ways for the gas to get out. Eructation or flatulence. Copious amounts of bovine gas may exacerbate the greenhouse effect.

Apparently scientists in New Zealand are working on a way to engineer white clover (Trifolium repens) to produce condensed tannins (which reduce the bloat-effect in cows on clover-rich pastures), by inserting a gene from haresfoot clover into white clover. Perhaps more comfortable cows and a cooler planet in the not too distant future?

Growing alongside haresfoot clover was striated or knotted clover (Trifolium striatum).

Knotted clover has baby pink flowers, striated calyces and downy leaves.

A few more plants here than down our lane :) 

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