Development and change in the vegetation

The longer one monitors flower meadows, the more one will notice that species composition as well as vegetation patterns and composition are not static, but are in constant change. These changes do not occur abruptly but very gradually. It is one of the fascinating aspects of flower meadows.

One determining factor is climate. A very dry hot summer, for instance, may defoliate or occasionally even kill species in the sod and create open spots. Drought-resistant species will keep on flowering longest, for example Silene vulgaris, Centaurea scabiosa, Malva moschata and Hypericum perforatum will contrast strongly with the yellow-brown ‘burnt’ grasses. Others may not survive the drought and disappear as a plant but persist as a soil seed bank. Moist and wet summers not only encourage the development of grasses but also encourage the proliferation of flowering plants. Species like Veronica austriaca spp. teucrium, Saxifraga granulata, Stachys officinalis, Agrimonia eupatoria, Polygonum bistorta and Geranium pratense will seed themselves prolifically if there are a few wet summers in a row. Lathyrus tuberosus may proliferate along road verges.

The open spots in the vegetation caused by dry years will be colonised by other species, immediately after droughts by annuals—for example the wellknown poppy – effect of dikes and road verges—later followed by perennials. A year after a drought period, wet meadows may suddenly be massively invaded by Juncus conglomeratus as an indicator of recent disturbance. Continuous shifts and changes in species composition are thus occurring, although causes are not always known. Animals may exert a

Development and change in the vegetation

10.4

(a) Those areas where there is a heathland vegetation develop into a mosaic of different foliage colours and textures with purple Marsh

Orchid (Dactylorhiza majalis) emerging through dwarf shrubs

(b) a heathland glade amongst oak woodland

(c) Lady’s Smock (Cardamine pratensis) makes a dramatic display in this spring meadow alongside a canal

considerable influence, for example mice love to eat starchy rhizomes, bulbs and corms (Crocus tommasinianus, Dactylorhiza and Orchis species).

One aspect of managing flower meadows is to continuously ensure the availability of sufficient colonisation spots for plants. Natural causes have been discussed above, and human intervention can add some more. Some of these opportunities may be created involuntarily: slight, local damages to the sod caused by mowing, raking off hay and the like, offer new opportunities for plants to colonise. Light and very shallow tracks and scratches caused by the raking machine are examples of a mechanical nature. Translated into small-scale activities, it means that it is not a bad thing if every now and then the scythe is cutting through or under the sod when mowing. The local removal of less attractive species or spots through digging up or cutting the sod may have the same effect.

Flower meadows frequently require one’s attention, the more so if one has the impression that a situation is ready for the introduction of specific species. One may try to speed up the process by sowing some seed of the species. This is a good method for introducing Saxifraga granulata, Orchis species, Fritillaria meleagris and even rarities like Carum verticillatum into the meadow. Planting out one or a few individuals of a species may work equally well. If one’s intuition was right they will proliferate by themselves. Conversely, one may remove unwanted species appearing spontaneously by cutting them out completely or just below the soil surface as soon as they are noticed. One should always take care to cause as little damage to the sod as possible. By using such a method of ‘guidance in the background’, a very refined, harmonious and valuable flower meadow may evolve through the years.