Cotton on to enjoy top flower
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. lancswt.org.uk or call 01772 324129.
●● Common cotton-grass in fields on Cadishead Moss and Little Wooden Moss, Manchester