Road Trip

Road tripping around England: Gloucester, Worcester and Shropshire

Going on a road trip by myself has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. When I started my PhD, I made the decision I would go on a road trip around England when I handed in my thesis. Well, on Friday 28th August 2020 I successfully completed and handed in my thesis, so you know what comes next!

For two weeks, I’ll be travelling around England and identifying some iconic plant species in each of the places I stop in. In this post, I’ll cover a few of the plants I spotted in Gloucester, Worcester and Shropshire, including a recipe for instant love, an unlikely member of a cathedral garden and a soul guiding fruit.

Bourton-on-the-Water: Ivy-Leaved Cyclamen

During my time in Gloucester, my friend recommended I visit a place called Bourton-on-the-Water. He described it as a lovely little village that I’d really enjoy, and it was exactly that. As the name suggests it might, the village sits on the River Windrush, and there are five adorable stone bridges that cross the river from one side of the village to the other.

As a side note, Bourton-on-the-Water featured the first shop I found on my travels that catered for lactose intolerant humans. So, for the first time in months, I was able to enjoy a salted caramel milkshake with cool whip. If you happen to be visiting the village, I cannot recommend The Den enough!

As I wandered through the village, enjoying my vegan milkshake, I stumbled upon tiny purple and white flowers growing by the side of the road. Ivy-Leaved Cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) growing wild could confuse you (as it did me) into thinking they’re a native species.

Although this species evolved in the much warmer climate of the Mediterranean, as the hardiest Cyclamen species it has become naturalised in much of Northern Europe. If you want a surefire way to have someone fall deeply and madly in love with you, folklore tells us that Cyclamen cakes can achieve just that.

Worcester: Pokeweed

After a wonderful morning stroll in Bourton-on-the-Water, I continued my journey North to Worcester (pronounced “wuh-ster”). I applied for a job here and had gotten through to the interview stage, and so wanted to investigate it as a potential home. Without being too dramatic, I fell instantly in love with this city, making it my favourite city in England so far.

Worcester is in Worcestershire (pronounced “wuh-ster-sher”) and sits beside the river Severn. This beautiful city features, what I can only describe as, the most beautiful (without being garish) cathedral I have ever seen. Inside the cathedral is a small Cloister garden, where you bet I spent most of my time photographing flowers.

While I was busy snapping flowers, I stumbled upon a plant I hadn’t had the good fortune of meeting before. Pokeweeds (Phytolacca sp.) are native to the Americas and Asia. Their other common name Inkberry might give away one of their uses. In fact, even their Latin name describes exactly what they are, with “Phyto-” meaning “plant” and “-lacca” meaning “red dye”.

The species of Pokeweed I stumbled upon was Indian Pokeweed (Phytolacca acinosa). So, how does an Indian dye plant end up in the Cloisters of a cathedral in Worcester? Cathedral gardens are home to many medicinal plants, and Pokeweeds have been used in traditional medicine to treat skin ailments, muscle pain, stomach complaints and much more.

Shrewsbury: Chinese Lantern Plant

Travelling further up the River Severn, I stayed the night in the county town of Shrewsbury, in Shropshire. The town is just a few miles East of the Welsh border and has a medieval layout, with over 600 listed buildings, some dating back to the 15th century. Shrewsbury itself has been recorded in history as early as 800 AD.

One of Shrewsbury’s most famous residents is the Father of Evolution himself, Charles Darwin. Darwin was born in Shrewsbury in 1809 and attended Shrewsbury School as a boarder. Shrewsbury Library was home to Shrewsbury School until 1882 and is still open to visitors. I went along to get my photo of the Darwin statue which sits proudly outside.

I stayed just outside the town centre in a wonderful little Air BnB. As I pulled up onto the driveway, I was instantly fixated by the stunning orange foliage growing along the garden wall. The plant in question was a Chinese Lantern Plant, a name I didn’t know belonged to Physalis alkekengi until pointed out to me by one of my Twitter fronds.

The name is derived from their beautiful, red, papery calyces which closely resemble Chinese lanterns. In Japan, the calyces are a traditional part of the Bon Festival, and are believed to help guide the souls of their ancestors. The calyces disintegrate over winter to reveal a stunning white skeletal structure, surrounding a red berry.

And with this blog post going out in October, I’ll use this “heart in a cage” looking beauty to say that this month, you have a very spooky edition of “Plant science in…” to look forward to!

Next week, will feature the final post of my road trip series, as I take you through West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and Leicestershire. If you’d like to see it, be sure to follow Fronds with Benefits here, on TwitterInstagram or Facebook.

Image source

Chinese Lantern Plant disintegrated calyces: Hüseyin Cahid Doğan / CC BY-SA

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