The Corky Fruited Water Dropwort (Oenanthe pimpinelloides) has been getting a lot of press in the last couple of days. It would appear to be the only barrier preventing deployment of a Rapier Missile Battery near the cafe in Oxleas Woods. The plant mainly grows in the west country, Devon, Somerset, Dorset and Hampshire but also in a few places around London. My New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora says it is a “tuberous perennial herb, found in hay meadows and pastures, especially those which are horse-grazed, and on roadsides. It grows in both damp and dry grassland.” It sounds like like an innocuous plant to have the power to deter missile batteries. The Devon Wildlife Trust describes it as follows:
Grows up to about 100 mm tall. The stem is solid, ridged and un-spotted, and it has a swollen corky base (hence the English name). The lower leaves are 2-pinnate in spring, but wither by the time of flowering. The upper leaves are 3-pronged and lanceolate, persisting into flowering. The roots terminate in rounded tubers.
Flowering takes place from June to August. The flowers are in umbels (2 to 5 cm across), on stout rays (1 to 2 cm across), which are flat-topped when in fruit. The flowers are white or pink, 2 mm across, with the outer petals unequal. Bracts and bracteoles are present. The fruits are cylindrical, ribbed, and thickened at the top with 2 erect styles.
I first heard of the proposal to site missile batteries in the woods and on Blackheath through the Blackheath Bugle blog. It sounded so bonkers that I had to quickly check that it wasn’t 1st April – could anyone really be thinking of shooting down a couple of hundred tons of passenger aircraft over London? Surely they would have closed the airspace around London and stopped flights at London City Airport well before they got to that? But it does seem to be under consideration and has been reported in the Mail Online, the BBC News and News Shopper.
Local MP Clive Efford is objecting to the plans because there is a risk of damaging the ancient Oxleas woodland, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. As the Mail Online said
Mr Efford said five troop carriers had driven into the woods last Thursday, with the rockets pulled behind them on a trailer, to carry out a military exercise.
He said: ‘The missiles have a range of only ten miles so any plane they target would come down over a densely populated part of the capital. It seems to me they can be used only as an absolutely last line of defence.’
Mr Efford added that as the Rapiers were set to be placed by the Oxleas Wood cafe, ‘at least the missile operators would eat well’. Olympic security planners fear that terrorists could mount a repeat of the 9/11 attacks by flying a hijacked civilian plane into packed Olympic venues.
I’ll be keeping an eye out for any Corky Fruited Water Dropwort next time I’m walking in Oxleas Woods. Oh, and any Rapier Missile Batteries.