Cot­ton on to en­joy top flower

Macclesfield Express - - WILDLIFE -

THE red rose is fa­mously the county flower of Lan­cashire but do you know which plant is syn­ony­mous with Greater Manch­ester?

Plantlife In­ter­na­tional’s County Flow­ers Cam­paign held a poll in 2002 and com­mon cot­ton-grass came out on top.

While this is not a flower you would grow in your gar­den it is abun­dant on our mosses and moors. This week I was wan­der­ing past fields of the stuff on Cadishead Moss and, more re­mark­ably, Lit­tle Wooden Moss.

Lit­tle Wooden Moss is a re­cent peat ex­trac­tion site, in fact work is still go­ing ahead, now in the own­er­ship of The Wildlife Trust for Lan­cashire, Manch­ester and North Mersey­side.

Restora­tion work has been tak­ing place for two years and the area still looks black with peat, but there are ar­eas of growth where sphag­num moss and cot­ton-grass are thriv­ing. Step across to Cadishead Moss and you will see these plants in a more nat­u­ral, green en­vi­ron­ment. Com­mon cot­ton-grass stretches out across both mosses and hare’s-tail cot­ton-grass also ap­pears in smaller clumps. The lat­ter is an im­por­tant food source for the lo­cally ex­tinct Manch­ester Argus but­ter­fly.

Spot­ting cot­ton-grass is easy as you walk on moors and moss­lands. Ini­tially it looks like some­one has rather care­lessly thrown a bag of cot­ton wool balls across an area of spiky green plants. It is like a fluffy cov­er­ing of snow on the bogs and moors close to our homes.

If you take a closer look you will find that these white cot­ton tops are the heads of the plants. When they blow in the breeze they do look quite dra­matic, like an old heavy me­tal star caught in a wind ma­chine.

Those seed­heads are ex­tremely dis­tinc­tive, mak­ing it a hard flower to mis­take and this will be around for some weeks lead­ing into sum­mer. The heads sit atop dark green, nar­row leaves and droop­ing flower heads. In the Arc­tic re­gions of the world, the head serves as a blan­ket to pro­tect the plant.

In many ar­eas of the world cot­ton-grass serves as a warn­ing to walk­ers on boggy ar­eas of moss, re­mind­ing them to steer clear.

Ob­vi­ously, on the ex­posed moors, winds help to dis­perse the seeds, so, if the con­di­tions are right, cot­ton-grass will con­tinue to thrive.

Cot­ton-grass is a sign that these ar­eas are be­ing man­aged cor­rectly and need our con­stant care. It’s hard work but look­ing at the won­der­ful cot­ton-grass makes all that labour by Wildlife Trust staff and vol­un­teers worth­while.

The ro­man­tics of Here­ford can wax lyri­cal about their flower, the mistle­toe, Kent tip­plers favour the hop, cheesy Som­er­set folk like the Ched­dar pink and Cum­bri­ans rave about their Grass-of-Par­nas­sus. But in Greater Manch­ester we are warmed by the com­fort­ing blan­kets of beau­ti­ful cot­ton-grass.

The Wildlife Trust for Lan­cashire, Manch­ester and North Mersey­side is ded­i­cated to the pro­tec­tion of the wildlife in Lan­cashire, seven bor­oughs of Greater Manch­ester and four of Mersey­side. It man­ages around 40 na­ture re­serves and 20 lo­cal na­ture re­serves, cov­er­ing acres of wood­land, wet­land, up­land and meadow. To be­come a mem­ber, go to www. lanc­ or call 01772 324129.

●● Com­mon cot­ton-grass in fields on Cadishead Moss and Lit­tle Wooden Moss, Manch­ester

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