An annual of damp, winter-flooded hollows in somewhat acidic, unimproved grassland on New Forest `lawns`, on commons and village greens, and on rutted tracks. Extant sites are usually pony-grazed, this disturbance creating the open conditions needed for seedling survival. Lowland.
Most sites for this species were lost before 1930. More recently, outside the New Forest (S. Hants.), it was lost from Wiltshire in the 1970s and the remaining sites in N. Hampshire and Surrey are very small. Losses are largely due to lack of grazing on commons, the infilling of ponds and drainage.
Eurosiberian Temperate element; it is declining throughout Europe and now reaches its northern native limit in Surrey.
Light (Ellenberg): 9
Moisture (Ellenberg): 8
Reaction (Ellenberg): 6
Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 7
Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0
January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 4
July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 16.5
Annual Precipitation (mm): 696
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 121
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 5
Atlas Change Index: -0.55
RDB Species Accounts
Pulicaria vulgaris Gaertner (Asteraceae)
Lesser fleabane, Cedowydd Bach
Status in Britain: VULNERABLE. WCA Schedule 8.
Status in Europe: Vulnerable.
P. vulgaris is a plant of winter-flooded hollows in grassy places (Hare 1991), an unostentatious plant and a victim of the changes brought to the English countryside during the twentieth century. In the past, typical sites for P. vulgaris were village greens and cart tracks, in damp ground which was well-hoofed, well-grazed and fertilised by animals. It has declined drastically, except in the New Forest, and is elsewhere exceptionally rare and localised.
The New Forest has always been a stronghold for P. vulgaris, where it grows mainly in depressions in the grassy lawns where ponies graze, along with smaller numbers of other livestock including geese. These irregular depressions hold water through the winter and dry out in spring. Their origin is obscure, though they may be old wallows dug out by pigs, which were once turned out into the Forest in their thousands (Tubbs 1986). Other haunts of P. vulgaris include cart-tracks and ditch-edges. In the New Forest it grows with an interesting assemblage of species, which give a tantalising glimpse of what the greens and waysides of England must have been like a century or more ago. The closest associates are Alopecurus geniculatus, Bidens tripartita, Gnaphalium uliginosum, Lythrum portula, Polygonum aviculare, Potentilla anserina, Senecio aquaticus, and it occurs occasionally with the much rarer Chamaemelum nobile, Polygonum minus and Mentha pulegium.
P. vulgaris is an annual. Germination takes place chiefly in spring, in areas of open mud or sandy soil exposed by falling water levels, though a few plants probably overwinter, having germinated in late autumn. The yellow disc-like capitula appear in August and September. Seeds are unlikely to be blown far by the wind, but may get carried on the feet of domestic animals. In the era of unmetalled roads, dispersal by these means was probably common, but now such opportunities are few. Its seeds are long-lived, as experiments with buried seed have demonstrated (Hare 1986).
Outside the New Forest, P. vulgaris has recently occurred in just one site in Surrey (a sandy-gravelly pond edge), and two in North Hampshire, though it has not been seen in one of the latter for several years. Fewer than ten plants may occur in these sites. The New Forest population is spread between some ten more or less discrete sites, and consists of thousands of plants, though even here it seems to have declined in recent years. A review of populations in 1985 suggested that more than 100,000 plants occurred in the New Forest, but in 1990 the total decreased to about 10,000. This national decline in numbers was, however, mainly because of changes in a single sub-site. In 1995, a comprehensive survey revealed a total of 28,000 plants, four populations having increased significantly (FitzGerald, et al. 1997). P. vulgaris was formerly widespread across southern England and the Midlands, and must once have been frequent or common around London where working horses were fed and rested. There are many old records from Middlesex and Surrey, especially to the south-west of London, and it was also found in such places as Hampstead Heath and Islington, improbable locations indeed today. However, because of the long viability of buried seed, reappearances at old sites have occurred. For instance, at the present Surrey site it was rediscovered in 1979 after a gap of about seven years. Heavy poaching by livestock had restored the quite open, disturbed conditions that favour the plant, and presumably had brought seeds to the surface.
Current management of sites in the New Forest and south-east England seems to be suitable, though habitat restoration or selective reintroduction may locally give the species more security. A full account of the species is given in Prince & Hare (1981), and other details given in Chatters (1991).
P. vulgaris is distributed throughout Europe from England, southern Sweden (now extinct) and central Russia southwards to the Mediterranean, and Turkey. It is declining rapidly across much of its range, and the New Forest populations are probably the most important in western Europe.
A. D. R. Hare and F. Rose
PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
Atlas text references
1986. Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
1992. Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 3. 2 vols.
1981. Lactuca saligna and Pulicaria vulgaris in Britain. The biological aspects of rare plant conservation. :379-388.
1999. British Red Data Books. 1. Vascular plants, edn 3.