This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
Our English roadsides have been noted for their beauty; and this is a subject for praise well-earned in many a district still. But there are factors that are disturbing the conditions that make for the beauty of the wayside to-day. They may be divided into three sections: (1) upkeep of the roadside, (2) traffic of the roadside, (3) hawking and collecting of wayside plants.
The upkeep of the roadside by Urban and District Councils results in the reduction of the wild nature of the vegetation to the clipped and neat appearance of a park walk. Chacun a son gout, and everything in its place, one may say, but the essential beauty of a country lane lies in its natural, not artificial character. So that the trimming of the hedge, which reduces it to a dead level of purely vegetative branches, and also affects the undergrowth, is misplaced enthusiasm. So, also, is the too frequent clearing out of ditches, and the plastering of their contents upon the hedge-banks.
The rooting up of plants for sale along the roadside is another factor. In a few counties, such as Devon, Surrey, Kent, Sussex, and part of Essex, local by-laws have been framed to prevent this. It is hoped all counties will follow suit. Since these lines were written other counties have actually done so.
The macadam is normally the artificial part of the road. It varies in different districts, owing to absence or presence of quarries suitable for roadmending purposes. Over a large area of this country certain quarries distribute their special materials, e.g. quartzite from Nuneaton, granite from Mountsorrel, syenite from Charnwood Forest generally, basalt from Rowley Regis.
These rocks afford, when broken down into grit and dust, siliceous particles, and accordingly, when distributed over the Eastern Counties or east of the Pennines, introduce new soil conditions, and may in this way help to disperse new plants in the district. For the margin of the macadam abuts upon the soil, and plants grow close up to the fringe of turf. Silverweed, White Clover, Strawberry-headed Clover, etc, are plants that grow commonly by the wayside where a siliceous macadam is put down.
The macadam is liable when gritty to get swept on to the greensward, where, indeed, a pile of the sweepings is often laid. When macadam is sandy or gravelly the margin, or in an unfrequented road the grassy ridges between the ruts and the middle area of macadam, is often a special habitat for sand- or gravel-loving plants, as Trifolium filiforme, Mcenchia erecta, Bird's Foot, Subterranean Clover.
A chalky, flinty, or limestone, or oolite road is often made on such rocks which may have shallow soils, and in such cases the macadam is merely the soil exposed. Here the Rock-rose, Horseshoe Vetch, Squinancy Wort, etc, grow.
The maintenance of a road is for traffic, and this factor is one of the most important in determining the type of flora upon a roadside. There are three or four classes of road dependent upon traffic:
(1) Main road with frequent and heavy traffic, much used.
(2) By-road with less frequent traffic, little used, but maintained as a main road.
(3) By-road, where the road is not maintained, and only the effect of vehicular traffic keeps the track open, and this produces ruts, and alternating strips of grass between.
Along the first type the hedges are often close-clipped, and there may be pathways (tarred, etc.) at the side. Dust will almost invariably stick to and clog the leaves of the plants, giving the wayside plants a sickly appearance. But the frequency of agricultural traffic may introduce here a good many fresh plants.
In the second case the first factor is less aggravated, and the wayside flora more luxuriant and less covered with dust, etc. The frequent traffic with wagons, etc, causes a good proportion of cornfield weeds to be dispersed along the way.
In the case of (3) and (4) the effect of traffic is more or less negligible.