With their bright yellow blooms and fluffy seed heads, dandelions are among our most familiar plants. By blowing their spherical seedheads, generations of children have helped make dandelions one of Britain’s most common plants. Often viewed as troublesome weeds, dandelions have many herbal uses and are an important early source of nectar and pollen for insects such as butterflies and bees. Perhaps surprisingly, the humble dandelion is not a single species, but hundreds of very similar micro-species. Incredibly, there are estimated 250 different species of dandelion in Britain!
During a recent guided walk led by Liam Olds (Colliery Spoil Biodiversity Initiative) at Cwm Coal Tips, near Beddau, Rhondda Cynon Taf, the botanist Dr Tim Rich noticed a lightly-spotted dandelion. A picture of this dandelion was sent to Prof. John Richards, who identified it as Bertha’s dandelion (Taraxacum berthae). Bertha’s dandelion is a rare British endemic and this discovery at Cwm Coal Tips is the first time it has been recorded in the vice-county of Glamorgan (VC41). Key identification features are the pale spots on the leaves, the long terminal lobes, the dark reddish purple ligule stripes and the glaucous, appressed bracts.
During a second follow-up visit, Dr Tim Rich found Bertha’s dandelion quite widely around the site, especially on the slightly disturbed, damp muddy sides of tracks where the soil was grey clay, and occasionally on dryer ground. A total of 32 plants were recorded widely around the site, though Tim notes that it is certainly more frequent than that. It therefore appears that Cwm Coal Tips are an important site for this rare dandelion that was only found in one out of six sites surveyed in Northern England and Southern Scotland in 2017.
Discoveries such as this show just how special coal tips are. On a daily basis, we continue to learn more about the unique flora and fauna that these sites support. I urge anyone with an interest in natural history to visit your local coal tip or colliery site – you will not be disappointed. My thanks and congratulations are sent to Dr Tim Rich for this amazing discovery.
Colliery Spoil Biodiversity Initiative