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Wild Flower Fellowship

Yellow rattle Pot Experiment

Published by lucy grove on Fri 16 September 2016

 

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In the last couple of years I’ve heard a lot of talk about Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) and the important role it can play in helping supress coarse grass growth and support the restoration of species rich meadows. 

The plant is quite interesting looking, with two lipped, bright yellow flowers behind which the sepals inflate to form a green bladder. It is in this bladder in which a seed capsule forms, and once matured it rattles around in this now brown and papery chamber.  Yellow rattle has another common name of ‘Hay rattle’ as it was said that once the seeds were rattling within the seed heads it was time to cut the meadow for hay.

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Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor)
Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor)

Yellow rattle is termed a ‘hemiparasitic’ plant. This means it has quite and unique strategy of acquiring the resources it needs, combining parasitism of other plant species and also photosynthesising itself.

Several scientific papers have been published on the competitive ability of Yellow rattle, and many other smaller scale pot experiment studies have been undertaken. These studies have provided some information of those species that seem to be susceptible and those tolerant of Yellow rattle.

I was tasked with recording the results from the 2015 planted experiment and helping design and set up 2016’s study. The scientist in me loved undertaking this task, as I love collecting and analysing any data to help contribute to our knowledge of our natural world.

The pot experiment, ready to collect data from
The pot experiment, ready to collect data from

 

The advantage of undertaking pot experiments is its simplicity. Many different treatments can be investigated in a small area (for example growing Yellow Rattle with Perennial rye grass, and Yellow rattle with Perennial rye grass and Creeping thistle). In addition, these treatments can be replicated (several pots with the same treatments). However there are a couple of drawbacks. The majority of pot experiments are conducted under environmental conditions that are different to ‘natural’ field conditions. Also such experiments can be a little sparse in data to allow levels of significance to be established and relationships to be determined with great confidence. However these experiments are wonderful pilot studies and the stepping stones to testing theories and undertaking more rigours scientific studies in the future, and can be undertaken by anyone, anywhere. 

 

Measuring the heights of different species across all of the pots
Measuring the heights of different species across all of the pots

 

Preliminary results, although data deficient, do seem to indicate that creeping thistle may be susceptible to yellow rattle.  Much more data is needed to be able to draw any firmer conclusions, and for the 2016 study we will be increasing the number of replicates of each treatment, and also trialling some other combinations of plants to investigate their relationships. 

 

2016\\\'s experiment set up, with lots more replicates. Now the wait....
2016\\\'s experiment set up, with lots more replicates. Now the wait....