The Plants of Bush Wood

The following is based on an article published in 1981 (FERRIS, P.R. 1981. The Flora of Southern Epping Forest. Part 2: Wanstead Flats and Bush Wood. Lond. Nat . 60: 6-19). It has been updated and changed to some extent for reproduction here to provide an introduction to the plants to be found in Bush Wood.

When the survey was published in 1981, it only included that area of Bush Wood south of Bush Road, referred to here as Bush Wood South. It stated that a 173 species of vascular plants had been found in this area. This update includes some notes on Bush Wood North (ie north of Bush Road).


For an introduction to Bush Wood - click here

For a Map which shows Bush Wood - click here

For a list of the Plants found in Bush Wood North and South - click here


1. Bush Wood South

The Woodland

The close spacing of the trees of Bush Wood give it a very different character to Wanstead Flats, and the fact that these trees are neither pollarded nor coppiced make it quite unlike much of the rest of Epping Forest. Because Bush Wood is relatively small and lacking in diverse habitats, it has considerably fewer species than either Wanstead Flats or Wanstead Park. The woodland is dominated by English oak Quercus robur with thickets of hawthorn Crataegus monogyna and holly Ilex aquifolium. There is also much hornbeam Carpinus betulus, as mature trees and seedlings. These hornbeams, unlike many in other parts of Epping Forest, have not been pollarded and so are of natural shape. One or two of them are aberrant specimens, being tall and narrow instead of having the more usual rounded outline. These four species give Bush Wood its overall character, though in all 22 species of trees have been found. Some of the largest trees are sweet chestnuts Castanea sativa, of which there are about eight specimens. Between Bush Road and the larger pond is particularly impressive tree, even though many of its upper branches are missing; the soil on one side has been eroded, exposing giant roots under which children can sometimes be seen to crawl; it has sometimes been called the Witches Tree. (photo). Horse chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum occurs mainly in the northern part of the wood; for example there are about five specimens near the Keeper's lodge. Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus is common, though more often as a seedling than as a mature tree. Field maple A. campestre is less common. Norway maple A. platanoides is not common; one has been found near the south boundary fence in Bush Wood south, and another in Bush Wood north. Another tree which, like sycamore, regenerates readily in the wood is grey poplar Populus canescens; the greatest concentration being on the south edge of the clearing. Of the less common trees, beech Fagus sylvatica is only to be found as a group of four near Bush Road to the west of the wall around the Quaker Meeting House. Further south along the edge of this wall are a whitebeam Sorbus aria and some saplings. In a few scattered locations in the wood rowan S. aucuparia may be found. Just south-east of the Keeper's lodge is a single crack willow Salix fragilis. Silver birch Betula pendula occurs in some parts, often together with bracken Pteridium aquilinum. A hazel Corylus avellana occurs near the south boundary fence, but no others of this species are known even in surrounding areas. Apart from elms Ulmus spp., which persist now only in the form of suckers, mainly around the edge of the wood, the remaining tree species have a generally more 'planted' appearance. The avenue of trees (Evelyn's Avenue) that runs from Wanstead Flats consists in Bush Wood of common lime Tilia x europaea. There are one or two limes elsewhere in the wood that are not part of the avenue. London plane Platanus x hybrida lines Bushwood roadside and part of Blake Hall Road. Here again specimens that are not part of the roadside plantings are present elsewhere in the wood. Also by Bushwood roadside is a large yew Taxus baccata, others in the wood are much smaller. A number of specimens of cherry plum Prunus cerasifera are found along Bushwood roadside, with a small number occurring further into the wood. Notably, these trees tend to be in the vicinity of a large specimen in the front garden of a house across the road. Also near here, and only recognised in 2006 by Fred Wanless, is a specimen of manna ash Fraxinus ornus. Elder Sambucus nigra is quite common and widely scattered, often growing amongst the thickets of holly and hawthorn. It has been noted subsequent to the survey in 1981 that there is an increasing occurence of laurel Prunus laurocerasus within the woods.

In some parts bramble Rubus fruticosus agg. which is plentiful, assists the holly in making the wood difficult to walk through. The trees and bushes grow too thickly to allow much smaller plant-life, though the shade and damp encourage mosses, liverworts and fungi. These, however, are the subject of a separate study. Rosebay Chamaenerion angustifolium does grow well in the wood, as does bracken Pteridium aquilinum, which is common. Male fern Dryopteris filix-mas is present but much less common. One other plant of interest is enchanter's nightshade Circaea lutetiana which grows in a large patch in the south-east corner. This is relatively uncommon in the neighbourhood outside Bush Wood except for some in neighbouring Wanstead Park, particularly in Reservoir Wood which is of a similar character to Bush Wood.

The Open Areas

The more open areas of the wood support generally common species of plants which may be found on grassland and disturbed land throughout the area, such as Oxford ragwort Senecio squalidus, yarrow Achillea millefolium and greater plantain Plantago major. The clearing in the centre of the wood does not contain many plants other than grasses, whereas the clearing running parallel to the tree avenue has nettle Urtica dioica, red clover Trifolium pratense and common cat's-ear Hypochoeris radicata, as well as an abundance of creeping thistle Cirsium arvense. The open area in the north-west corner has a similar flora; both sheep's sorrel Rumex acetosella and common sorrel Rumex acetosa occur here. One or two specimens of cultivated apple Malus domestica are also present in the grassland. The ditch and bank alongside Bushwood has something of its own plant community, including lesser burdock Arctium minus, common figwort Scrophularia nodosa and prickly lettuce Lactuca serriola. Garden outcasts, as would be expected, are also found here. These include a large patch of greater periwinkle Vinca minor.

The Ponds

There are two ponds in Bush Wood, both surrounded by trees and nowadays prone to drying out. Indeed, the smaller of the two hardly deserves to be called a pond any more, being often little more than a mud-filled hollow.

The dominant plant of the larger pond (photo) is soft rush Juncus effusus, which used to be chewed and trampled by the cattle that roamed freely in the wood. Amongst the rush grows branched bur-reed Sparganium erectum. Particularly at the muddy west end of the pond, red shank Polygonum persicaria is abundant, and amongst this marsh cudweed Gnaphalium uliginosum and many-seeded goosefoot Chenopodium polyspermum have been found. Bulbous rush Juncus bulbosus and heath rush J. squarrosus both occur very near the pond. The smaller 'pond' is a hollow filled predominantly with soft rush.

2. Bush Wood North

This is on the other side of Bush Road from Bush Wood (South). It comprises about 7.5 hectares, much of it open grassland, but with spaced trees lining the roads and a more wooded area which stretches from the east edge of the area from Blake Hall Road along the garden walls - which form northern boundary - until the Hackney Link Road is met. The embankment of the link-road forms the north boundary as far as the Green Man roundabout, although there is a cycle/footpath which runs eastwards towards Blake Hall Road near the junction of Cambridge Park. The small landscaped meadow which has been created here is now known as Blake Hall Meadow or Wanstead Meadow, and its seeded grass contains a variety of wildflowers including Cowslip Primula sp. Near the east end of Bush Wood North is an Epping Forest Keeper's lodge.

Common lime formed something of an avenue by the footpath which led westwards as a continuation of Woodcote Road. However, the avenue was truncated with the coming of the link-road, and the meadow mentioned above was created. In the remains of the wood near Woodcote Road, Spanish bluebells Hyacinthoides hispanica are plentiful, and in 2008 three-cornered leek Allium triquetrum was gaining a strong hold. By Bush Road, London plane is planted, and English oak is also present. At the east end of the wood, grey poplar is plentiful and regenerating, with a thick scrub layer which includes hawthorn, holly and elder, all of which are plentiful here and elsewhere in the wooded area. Particularly at the corner of the south and east house-walls, a variety of specimens of trees is present, including beech, a red oak Quercus rubra and a large horse-chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum with a number of saplings. In various other locations field maple Acer campestre, rowan, silver birch and ash Fraxinus excelsior, as well as the ubiquitous sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus, are all present more as saplings than mature trees. Just away from the wood into the grassland, a sapling sweet chestnut was about 2 metres high in 2008.

A sucker from a garden forsythia F. x intermedia also intrudes into the Forest, and in this locality, stone parsley Sison amomum has been found, and one or two plants of nettle-leaved bellflower Campanula trachelium. Peach-leaved bellflower C. persicifolia occurs near the keeper's lodge, but is certainly a garden escape or deliberate introduction. Mostly within the wooded area, and particularly near to the house fences and walls, species such as lesser celandine Ranunculus ficaria, dog violet Viola riviniana, herb robert Geranium robertianum (including a white-flowered form) and ivy-leaved toadflax Cymbalaria muralis are present. A variety of species that have presumably been deliberately introduced or outcast from gardens occur. Only those that appear to be established have been included here, and some might prove not to persist. They include Welsh poppy Mecanopsis cambrica, upright yellow-sorrel Oxalis europaea, hyacinth Hyacinthus orientalis and Chionodoxa sardensis and C. luciliae.

Although the wooded part of Bush Wood North has produced a variety of species not or rarely found on nearby Leyton Flats, the large grassland area is mostly similar to that of particularly the south-east corner of Leyton Flats. The two areas have many species in common, but some of those present in Bush Wood North should be mentioned. The grasses include some sheep's fescue Festuca ovina and wavy hair-grass Deschampsia flexuosa. Amongst the grasses are patches of heath bedstraw Galium saxatile, creeping cinquefoil Potentilla reptans and heath rush Juncus squarrosus. Soft rush occurs in a damper area near Bush Road, and nearby is some honeysuckle Lonicera sp.

With the re-configuration of the Green Man roundabout during the construction of the Hackney Link Road (opened in 1999), the west end of Bush Wood North was changed considerably. Part of the wood west of Woodcote Road was lost, and near to the roundabout an underpass for pedestrians and cycles was created. This involved movement of much soil, and certainly soil was imported and used here. Whether or not it was seeded in any way is not known. However, this has given rise to a new community of plants, and changes will take place as plants colonise the area. In July 2005 wild parsnip Pastinaca sativa - a species which is not common hereabouts - was brightening up the area. Wild carrot Daucus carota was also much in evidence. Chicory Cichorium intybus, a species which has never been found in the area before, is now found near the roundabout system. A substantial embankment with planted shrubs protected by a wire fence separates the link-road from Bush Wood hereabouts, and whether or not to include plants found on this embankment is a problem. Just intruding through the fence are a number of patches of pot marigold Calendula officinalis. In the Spring of 2008 a substantial amount of vegetation and earth was scraped from this area to provide for the laying of a pipe-line to convey water from Beckton to the waterworks at Walthamstow. This may well have a considerable impact on the plant-life, and it will be of interest to see what develops here.

The west end of Bush Wood, apart from the area of woodland mentioned, comprises mostly grassland. Here is found some patches of lady's bedstraw Galium verum, which in the 1981 survey was omitted from the list although it had been recorded by Guglielma Lister in 1941 as being present in Bush Wood. Field bindweed Convolvulus arvensis is another of the more common plants of the area that may be found here too. Found in 2007, greater knapweed Centaurea scabiosa is a new species to the whole area. There are some hawthorns, some cultivated apples, and both gorse and broom scattered in the grassland here.

A colony of small-flowered balsam Impatiens parviflora noted by Guglielma Lister (1941) and known then to have been established for thirty years or more has not been found in either section of Bush Wood; nor indeed have 22 other species (including three Rubus species covered in this survey by R. fruticosus agg.) mentioned in that paper. These are listed in Table 1 below.

TABLE 1. Species included in The Flora of Wanstead Park District (Lister 1941) as being present in Bush Wood, but not found there during the present survey.

(G. Lister. "The Flora of Wanstead Park District" Essex. Nat. Vol 27 pt 4 (1941))

Ranunculus flammula lesser spearwort
Lepidium ruderale narrow-leaved pepperwort
Cerastium glomeratum sticky mouse-ear
Oxalis acetosella wood sorrel
Impatiens parviflora small balsam
Trifolium hybridum alsike clover
Rubus cardiophyllus
Rubus pallidus (Weihe) bramble
Rubus radula
Waldsteinia trifolia barren strawberry
Rosa arvensis field rose
Prunus amygdalis almond
Prunus cerasus sour cherry
Peplis portula water purslane
Epilobium parviflorum hairy willow-herb
Callitriche platycarpa water starwort
Callitriche hermaphroditica autumnal starwort
Ligustrum vulgare common privet
Stachys sylvatica hedge woundwort
Bidens cernua nodding bur-marigold
Sparganium emersum unbranched bur-reed
Carex nigra common sedge
Glyceria plicata plicate sweet-grass