Image of Cowslip on Park Field April 2021. Seeds were sown on Park Field as part of the Cheshire meadow creation project.
Wildflower enthusiasts are being encouraged to take part in a citizen science survey of cowslips to help monitor the health of threatened meadows.
Nature charity Plantlife is urging the public to continue the legacy of Charles Darwin by taking a close look at the inside of cowslips to judge the genetic diversity of the flowers and the wider health of their meadow habitat.
The yellow spring flower, whose local names include cowslops, fairy cups and bunch of keys, were once as prolific as buttercups, Plantlife said.
But they suffered marked declines between 1930 and 1980, as their ancient meadow and species-rich grassland habitat was converted to intensively managed pasture and silage fields, or ploughed up for crops.
Traditional meadows and grassland now cover just 1% of the UK’s land area, and they are fragmented and neglected, Plantlife warned.
The charity is launching a UK-wide cowslip survey this April, as part of a European study which started in Estonia, looking at the centre of flowers and recording which of two types of cowslip they are.
"S morph" Cowslip "L morph" Cowslip
Image from plant life.www.plantlife.org
The two types of cowslip: S morph with stamen or male parts of the flower easy to spot, and L morph with female part or stigma visibleCredit: left
The “S-morph” or “thrum” has male parts of the flower visible and the “L-morph” or “pin” has only the top of the female part visible.
This difference promotes cross-pollination between unrelated plants, keeping populations healthy and robust, in a phenomenon found in some flowers which was first understood by Darwin, Plantlife said.
In healthy fields of cowslips there should be a 50:50 ratio of the two types, but it can become imbalanced when populations become small and isolated due to loss of habitat, or because of changes to the way the land is managed.
Knowing the ratio of the cowslips in an area will help experts understand more about the quality of those grasslands, Plantlife said.
Reports from researchers in Estonia suggest greater instances of the S morph than the L morph in cowslip populations, which could indicate pressures from land use change and declining habitat.
Declining genetic diversity within populations could also make cowslips more vulnerable to climate change as they will be less able to adapt.
If you wish to help with the survey please follow the attached link for instructions.
Reference; Plant life. ITV article. April 13th.