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.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fern time

In November after the leaves have fallen and before the first hard frost have bitten, the ferns in our local woodlands stand out more than usual.  The picture below shows and extensive 'mini-forest' mainly of male fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) and broad buckler fern (Dryopteris dilatata).

Not far away there is an old brick pit full of ferns of different species including some very large examples of the male fern complex which I think are referable to Dryopteris x complexa a hybrid between the scaly male fern (Dryopteris affinis) and the common male fern (D. filix-mas).  This is a very complex group that seems to be changing rapidly in evolutionary terms with much crossing and back crossing.  The hybrid male fern is, however, most easily recognised by its large size (the plant in the first picture below has fronds longer than I am tall),  Sometimes several plants form a group as in the second picture below.  These examples are also growing in the right sort of habitat.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

End of season, start of season

On one of my most frequent walking routes around Hurst Lane in Sedlescombe I spotted this fading plant of betony (Stachys officinalis) the other day. I cannot imagine how I have missed it until now since, from the green spiky bit at the top of the stalk, it has clearly borne quite a number of flowers through the summer.  It was much used in the past by herbalists as a cure for almost everything.

When I was younger it was much commoner in the countryside than it is today.  It likes road banks and rough fields, but road banks are regularly cut and rough fields ploughed up for 'improvement'.  The one in the photo is, I am sure, the only one over a mile of more of the lane verge and I doubt that it will survive for many more years and not return.

Along the same verge leaves of  winter green cow parsley have been showing for a few weeks. Mostly they are fresh, bright green as in the upper part of the picture right, but sometimes they fade prematurely through pink and white and ultimately brown when they are infected by the microfungus Ramularia anthrisci.  There is also a small fly, Phytomyza chaerophylli, that produces tiny whitish mines towards the tips of the leaves.  Both these are quite common in our area, but probably not often recorded.

Another microfungus that shows up both itself and its host plant at this time of year is Melampsora hypericorum, the hypericum rust shown left spotting the leaves of tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum).  It is not, in my experience, a fatal affliction and the host plant should recover for next year.

Also from the verge of Hurst Lane.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Late common wasps

We have had a continuous visitation of common wasps (Vespula vulgaris) on the east window of our sitting room for about a month.  They are nearly all males (distinguishable by the long antennae and body and larger size than the workers) and we get up to four or five a day.  I let them out and they sail away across the garden and, I suspect, we get newly emerged ones every day rather than yesterday's coming back again.  I have not yet worked out where they are coming from and we had rather few workers in summer.
It is not unusual for this species to be on the wing very late in the year, especially if the weather is mild, but it seems that there are a disproportionate number of males (we have yet to see a queen).