Churchyard Nature Note with Andrew Tompsett

September 2016

Montbretia, a colourful ‘alien’ plant

One can scarcely miss seeing the brilliant orange flashes of Montbretia as one travels the roads of Cornwall in high summer. Over the last 100 years this garden escape has spread more and more widely along roadsides and areas of waste ground throughout the land but in Cornwall it excels.

Our churchyard currently has eight patches of Montbretia with nectar-rich flowers which are good for late summer insects. It is suggested that the dense patches of its arching leaves provide shelter for small mammals and, later on, are a good habitat for winter hibernating hedgehogs.

It is said to be named Montbretia after Coquebert de Montbret (1780-1801) who was a French botanist who accompanied Napoleon when he invaded Egypt in 1798 and who died there at the age of 20!

Our non-native Monbretia Crocosmia x crocosmiflora originates as a hybrid of two South African parents C.aurea x C.potsii and it grows better here than in its native home where it is confined to gardens, although there are several other species across the grasslands of Southern and East Africa and Madagascar. With narrow sword-shaped leaves like a small Gladiolus, it is not a hugely rampant plant, unlike the generally hated Japanese knotweed, and we can enjoy its colourful display.

The introduction of Montbretia to the wild seems to have been started when its small corms were discarded with garden rubbish, since when, any soil movement is very likely to add to its wider distribution. It is also suggested that seeds, which may be produced in our cooler climate, could be a contributory factor.

Some botanists feel that it has spread too far and may overwhelm many of our native wildflowers. Steps have been taken to eradicate this plant in some places and you may recall seeing it in large patches on the embankments of the A30 Hayle bypass at one time. These have gone and one wonders what the cost of its eradication was.

There are a number of other species of Crocosmia regarded as more welcome in the flower garden but each could become a problem if allowed to stray. Perhaps the most dramatic is the spectacular variety called ‘Lucifer’ which grows to a height of 5-6 feet each year. The moral of this story is, avoid the temptation to discard unwanted plants in the countryside. One never knows whether they may become too successful and threaten our much –loved hedgerow flowers.

Andrew Tompsett

 

Churchyard seat restoration

If you have ever visited the new burial area you may recall a seat which had become too dilapidated to use. Thanks to the sterling efforts of nonagenarian Eric Cooper, over several months, this has been restored and offers a robust and comfortable place to rest awhile: his efforts will be greatly appreciated by all who use it.

Ash tree removal

One of our large ash trees against the cemetery wall had died and thanks to our local contractor Andrew Bastiani, has now been safely removed.