Oxfordshire Flora Group


Apium graveolens, Wild Celery

Wild Celery at Marcham
Photo by Phil Cutt

Wild celery Apium graveolens is a biennial, that produces umbels of white flowers in its second year, with flowering peaking in early August. As the name implies, it is edible and very palatable to grazing livestock.

Oxfordshire site

In Oxfordshire there are formal records for only one site, at Manor Farm in Marcham, where it occurs within the corner of an arable field at the site of a diminished salt spring. The name Marcham is in fact derived from the Anglo-Saxon name for Wild Celery (merece = celery; hamm = meadow by a river) and marks a long history of the plant at this site. Crawley documents the first formal record for the site from 1881, describing it as a local speciality.

The Wild Celery site
Photo by Frances Watkins

Other UK sites

Wild Celery is a halophytic species, which is typically found by the coast “on sea-walls, beside brackish ditches, on tidal river banks and drift lines, and the uppermost parts of saltmarshes.” Its distribution inland is much more limited, but “it occurs on disturbed ground in marshes, by ponds and ditches and occasionally in gravel-pits.”

Conservation status

Wild Celery is a native plant. This species is not subject to any legislative protection, and whilst there has been some decline nationally, it is listed as ‘Least Concern’ in the Vascular Plant Red List for England. In Oxfordshire, however, it is formally known only from the Marcham locality, hence its inclusion on the Oxfordshire Rare Plants Register. The site itself is designated a Local Wildlife Site, known as ‘49N15 Marcham Spring LWS’ in recognition of the local importance of the Wild Celery population and the historical saltmarsh community.

History of wild celery in Oxfordshire

Druce described the Wild Celery site in the Flora of Berkshire (1897) as a “flat marshy meadow… [where] a small spring is thrown out … Apium graveolens is the most conspicuous plant by the stream and marks out its course through the field…”. The spring, stream and ditch channel are no longer visible, and most of the other species recorded within the saltmarsh community have not been recorded in recent years, although saltmarsh rush Juncus gerardii and distant sedge Carex distans have persisted in low numbers.

By 1964, Bowen stated “The Marcham colony numbers about 100 plants” but that “the saline meadow at Marcham still survives, though heavily grazed and threatened by ploughing” . The species was then thought to have disappeared following land drainage operations of the 1960s; however, Killick subsequently reported that “The colony just inside vc22 at Marcham salt spring survives (1992-96) despite ploughing and the cultivation of a cereal crop”.

In 1998, the farmer’s late wife Janey Cumber noticed the appearance of the plants after a winter fallow and recalls that “One plant was moved to the safety of a telegraph pole, and an area was set apart to encourage seed to set and seedlings to grow”. Since that time, annual counts of the plant have fluctuated from zero to 3000, although numbers in the hundreds are most typical.

Present Management

It is thought that in Druce’s time the colony would have been maintained via low-intensity grazing, with poaching of the stream margins creating bare conditions into which the plants could seed.

Current conservation management is focused on ensuring that this biennial plant is maintained as first and second year plants, and with bare ground into which the seed can germinate. This is achieved by means of a rotational ploughing regime, where the celery patch is divided into six, of which two strips are ploughed each year; such that each strip contains either seed, seedlings or flowering individuals. The management has been secured since October 2011, via a 10-year Higher Level Farm Stewardship agreement with Natural England.

Wild Celery
Photo by Frances Watkins

Further reading

  • Ann Cole, Janey Cumber & Margaret Gelling, (2000). Old English merece ‘Wild Celery, Smallage’ in Place-Names. Nomina, 23, p141-148.
  • Ann Cole, (2000). Marcham, merece and the millennium: the wild celery story. Fritillary, 2, p24-29.
  • Ann Cole, (2007). News from the celery patch. Coral Rag: The Marcham Society Journal. 7, p28-34.
  • Michael J Crawley, (2014). Berkshire Plants: an Update to the Flora of Berkshire 2005-2014.
  • Chris Preston, David Pearman & Trevor Dines, (2002). New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora: An Atlas of the Vascular Plants of Britain, Ireland, The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Oxford University Press.
  • Stroh, P.A., Leach, S.J., August, T.A., Walker, K.J., Pearman, D.A., Rumsey, F.J., Harrower, C.A., Fay, M.F., Martin, J.P., Pankhurst, T., Preston, C.D. & Taylor, I. (2014). A Vascular Plant Red List for England. Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, Bristol.
  • George Claridge Druce, (1897). Flora of Berkshire. Clarendon Press, Oxford.
  • Humphrey J M Bowen, (1968). The Flora of Berkshire. Holywell Press, Oxford.
  • John Killick, Roy Perry & Stan Woodell, (1998). The Flora of Oxfordshire. Information Press, Oxford.