Thursday, April 28, 2016

Bluebell time

Never corny, the flowering of our bluebell woods is always spellbinding.  Despite the erratic weather in the 2015/16 winter the plants seem to be doing just as well as ever.  This is from Killingan Wood in Sedlescombe.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Woodland bee wall

In ancient Churchland Wood just at the end of our garden there is a root plate on  a sweet chestnut that was toppled in the 1987 great storm.

Microhabitats like this can be interesting and are important to species of plants and animals that need the conditions they provide. I have often looked at it for wildlife and this year was pleased to find that there were many females of Clarke's mining bee, Andrena clarkella, digging out nest holes, mostly near the top of the plate, as comfortable, well-stocked quarters for their progeny.  These bees are fond of pollen from sallow flowers and will visit dandelions and other species for nectar.  We have several sallows in the garden and, combined with the root plate, a breeding opportunity is created that is becoming increasingly scarce.  I worry though that in 'well-managed' woodland (now often thought of as a essential conservation requirement), root plates would be levelled (might get in the way of forestry machines) and sallows removed as tree species of little worth.

Andrena clarkella is widespread in the south of England.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Blinks confirmed (maybe)

Late last spring I found some tiny plants among short grass on an earth bank running down from the front garden of a house in a modern estate on the edge of Sedlescombe village.  It was a very dry, sunbaked spot and the plants were brown and dry too, but had clearly been flowering.

I brought a few small pieces home and potted them up, though I had little hope that they would grow. However, some tiny seedlings appeared in the autumn and developed gradually, coming into flower in late March.  They appear to be blinks, Montia fontana, probably the subspecies chondrospermia which grows in drier places, but it is not an entirely accurate fit and I will have to wait for seeds as their outer casing is diagnostic for the subspecies.  There are also various foreign species of Montia and I will have to bear that in mind as members of the genus appear to travel well.

M. fontana is a wintergreen plant and, with its rather larger sister subspecies (which grow in wet places) has been used as a salad, though one would have to pick a lot to get any satisfaction.  In some places it is known as 'annual water miner's lettuce'.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

All that is made?

I found an old hazelnut on the floor of our sitting room today. It might have been something I brought home in my pocket or, more likely a survivor from the bag of Kentish cob nuts we bought in the autumn. From its shape it might be the variety known as Merveille de Bolwiller. Anyway, I drilled a hole through it and threaded it onto green ribbon.  It reminded me, as hazelnuts always do, of the wonderful passage from the writings of the 13th/14th century English anchoress Julian of Norwich in her Revelations of Divine Love:

In this vision he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, and it 
was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and 
thought "What may this be?" And it was generally answered thus: "It is all that is 
made." I marvelled how it might last, for it seemed it might suddenly have 
sunk into nothing because of its littleness. And I was answered in my 
understanding: "It lasts and ever shall, because God loves it. 

Also William Blake:

To see the world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

My hazelnut, as you can see from the photo, is ovoid rather than round. Nevertheless, the principle applies.  I am struck by the way Julian's vision anticipates the Big Bang and how our current universe arose, so they say, from a tiny singularity.  I think she, William Blake and Plotinus would have got on very well.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

From mild to cold

In the last few days the exceptionally mild, wet period seems to have ended and we have had several overnight frosts.

The relatively high winter temperatures seem to have produced uneven effects.  As I wrote on 31st December, many camellias are flowering already and daffodils are out here and there in the village, though they do not look comfortable.  Hazel catkins are now just starting to expand and are slightly later than usual and there are no snowdrops out in our garden yet.  Perhaps these need a cold spell, like many seeds, to trigger them into action.

The unseasonal warmth has allowed some plants to flower on beyond their season.  The hogweed to the right (with a visiting anthomyiid fly) was photographed here on 7th January.  Normally a late summer flowering species, it grows in our lawn and has probably been cut back by mowing but has grown up again and continued its development long past its normal season.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

A mild ending to 2015

It is New year's Eve and just as mild as it has been for the past several weeks, though we had a couple of light frosts in November.  All the photos below were taken on 31 December 2015.

The unseasonal warmth has had a mixed effect on wildlife and several times I have heard on the media that daffodils are already out.  The significance of this, of course, depends on the species and variety of daffodil and where it is growing.  In our garden there are none anywhere near flowering, but I did find a few this afternoon in the grounds of the village community centre.

Out of hundreds of bulbs planted here there were maybe a dozen open or half open and not looking particularly happy.  The majority were in the sheltered lee of a south facing hedge with, no doubt, a warm microclimate, but I don't think they would have been flowering on this date last year.

Different plants respond in different ways to mild winters.  The usual species - gorse, winter heliotrope, dandelions, daisies and red dead-nettle - that usually flower in the colder months are all doing well while those that will not flower before their time, even if we have a heat wave, continue to follow their seasonal clock.  Try as I might I could not find a hazel catkin or a snowdrop fully out. Bluebells are showing early green leaves as normal.

Among the cultivated plants, camellias are well ahead of their usual timetable, as is often the case with plants from the Far East that respond to temperature rather than day length.  Greater periwinkle and intermediate periwinkle are also doing well and, by a cottage wall, I found winter jasmine (a native of China) and summer snowflake blooming together (see above).  A nice juxtaposition of names, but summer snowflake is an early flowerer in most of Britain and its name is a translation of the scientific name Leucojum aestivum given to it by the Swedish taxonomist Linnaeus.  In his part of Sweden it does flower in early summer.

The two flowers I thought were rather unusual for New year's Eve were a marsh marigold (below  left) by the pond in Red Barn Field, our Local Nature Reserve, and a couple a quite expansive patches of lesser celandine, the latter with some very active leaf mines of the agromyzid fly Phytomyza ranunculi, clearly able to feed throughout current weather conditions.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Spread of the fern smut moth

There are a few plants of the wintergreen common polypody fern (Polypodium vulgare) growing in Killingan Wood at OS grid ref. TQ781190 about 200 metres from our house.  The one below is growing on the base of a mossy hornbeam trunk.

On taking a closer look at the underside of the fronds I discovered several greyish scars next to damaged sporangia (the round, spore-containing structures on the underside of the fronds).           These manifestations seemed to be small leaf mines, or cocoon-like structures, and the inmates had clearly been feeding on the sporangia.  I am fairly certain they are evidence of the young larvae of the fern smut moth (Psychoides filicivora) - there isn't much else they could be - but I will try and breed some through to confirm the identity.

The fern smut was first discovered in Ireland in 1909, and in mainland Britain in 1940 and is thought to have been introduced to the British Isles on imported ferns.  In the 1990s it was discovered in Madeira where it is thought to be a native endemic.  Most British records seem to be in the West Country and north and south Wales, but it is gradually moving inland perhaps, like so many recent arrivals, helped by an increasingly milder climate.

Rather appropriately I found this insect on the day of the Paris Agreement at the United Nations  ConfĂ©rence sur les Changements Climatique (Conference on Climate Change) when 195 nations agreed to do their best to control global warming.