Thursday, March 15, 2018

A few spring flowers

Between bouts of cold the earliest spring flowers are starting to bloom.  There are a few anemones in the woods and the new growth of dog's mercury is a bright glossy green.  In a woodland garden near home I noticed one clump of daffodils.  They look like wild daffodils (Narcissus pseudo-narcissus) and do not appear to be part of any organized garden.  So far as I could see they are the only clump of daffodils in this area and they seem to have spread from one bulb.  If so I wonder how they got there.

It might be slightly too large for the true species, but the characteristic two-toned flowers have the wildlings slightly downward drooping habit.

Other minor pleasures include the first celandines and a dandelion in flower.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Snowball pink

The Beast from the East as the bitterly cold Siberian anticyclone has been dubbed brought heavy snow showers this morning.

Just outside our window were the skeletal remains of a Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) with each grey brown shuttlecock of seed head delicately holding up a small ball of snow like a supplicant making an offering.  This pink has been surviving as a self sown annual in our garden for maybe 30 years and needs no looking after.  It often seeds itself into pots of other plants where it can be left as its slender shoots do not mask the main attraction.  Then, in summer, it produces a sequence of small dark pink flowers.

There is a fine appreciation of this modest native flower by Andy Byfield here:

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The lane in the cold

Along the lane they have been cutting the hedge by machine (permissible until 1st March).  The rather brutal results with shredded wood and white broken branches harmonises well with the bitterly cold wind from Siberia.  It reminds me of of Totes Meer, the painting by Paul Nash:

There are some very Gothic shapes among the battered bushes, especially where the hedge is thin, but I expect it will all fill out quite nicely.  The other day we had a visitor from Alberta in Canada and she asked why we had hedges round our fields instead of fences - that gave me an opportunity to hold forth on the English landscape and its conservation.

Despite the frigid weather and brutal hedging work, there were some signs of spring in the lane.  Patches of snowdrops, little 'tommies' (Crocus tommasinianus) escaping from our neighbour's garden and a few flowers on lesser periwinkle.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Knapweed phyllaries

Yesterday I received my copy of the BSBI News from the Botanical Society of the British Isles.  It has been redesigned and has a new editor - Andrew Branson - and the results in my view are excellent, though I shall always have fond memories of reading and writing for the previous version under the editorship of Gwynn Ellis.

One article that interested me was "Ambiguity in recording Centaurea (knapweeds) taxa using MapMate".  This had coloured pictures of the phyllaries of what are considered to be the three British species (C. nigra var. nigra, C. nigra var. nemoralis and C. jacea) though it pointed out that hybrids were common.  ('Phyllaries' are the small leafy structures, or bracts, that surround the base of the flower/seed head.)

I immediately pulled on my boots and set off to my favorite patch of 'old' meadow where I found plenty of knapweed seed heads still perched on stiff, dead stems above the fallen grass.  These were plainly the nominate subspecies Centaurea nigra var. nigra.

A wonderful excuse to do some useful botanising in winter and to remind oneself on what to look forward to when summer returns.

Monday, January 22, 2018

A mid-January walk

The weather was warmer today with the sun shining and no rain.  Heading down the garden I found that the spurge laurel (Daphne laureola) had opened some of its flowers.  The bush appeared here of its own accord and the next nearest example I know of is about 500 metres away in a wood and the plant seems nowhere common in this part of East Sussex.

Further down the garden I found our bush of the winter flowering honeysuckle Lonicera x purpusii 'Winter Beauty' and was pleased to discover that the flowers were being attended by a couple of rather dark marmalade flies, Episyrphus balteatus. This very common hoverfly often appears here in the colder months and its presence on the honeysuckle again illustrates how important these winter flowering introductions can be to our native fauna.  Lonicera x purpusii is a hybrid between two Chinese species and I wonder what Chinese insects may be attracted to their flowers.

In Churchland Wood I photographed this single-stemmed hornbeam.  These trees are nearly always coppiced, but there are two or three that have been left to grow naturally in the wood and I often wonder why.  Maybe there was a use for larger pieces of the wood.

Underneath the trees the green leaves of bluebells are rising through the leaves as a reminder that spring is not far away.  Noise levels are increasing too with, today, several great tits calling loudly and a great spotted woodpecker drumming on an oak tree.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Invertebrates on witch hazel flowers

We have a witch hazel bush halfway down the garden making a fine show with its bright yellow, sweetly scented flowers contrasting with the cold and damp.

In 1993 I wrote a note (about the same garden) for the Entomologist's Record: Nocturnal invertebrates visiting flowers of Witch Hazels, Hamamelis mollis pallida and Hamamelis japonica cultivars, in January and I have posted an edited version here:

On 20th January 1993 I walked around our garden with a torch and inspected our Wintersweet, Chimonanthus fragrans and Witch Hazel, Hamamelis mollis pallida bushes both of which were in full bloom with their sweetly scented, pale flowers.

I found nothing on the Wintersweet, but the Witch Hazel had a variety of Diptera (two-winged flies) on the flowers. There was the mosquito Culiseta annulata quite clearly feeding; two species of fruit fly (Drosophilidae), Parascaptomyza pallida and Drosophila subobscura, the latter the more common of the two; an Anthomyiid and the Common Yellow Dung-fly, Scathophaga stercoraria.  Culiseta annulata, with its distinctive white-banded legs, in one of our commonest mosquitoes and is often found in winter in outhouses or caves.  Parascaptomyza pallida is also an extremely common fly that seems to be about in most months of the year.

On 30th January 1993 I again inspected the Hamamelis mollis pallida and also two H. japonica cultivars, "Primavera" and "Arnold" after dark. The flowers were attracting numerous invertebrates including woodlice, millipedes and spiders. Insects noted were the Common Earwig, Forficula auricularia (Dermaptera: Forficulidae); an owl fly (Dipt.: Psychodidae); Sepsis fulgens (Dipt.: Sepsidae); a Pherbellia sp. (Dipt.: Sciomyzidae); Tephrochlamys rufiventris (Dipt.: Heleomyzidae); Dromius linearis (Col.: Carabidae) and a brown Noctuid moth caterpillar.

The centre part of the Witch Hazel flower seems to be constructed for insect pollination and is relatively flat and open allowing easy access to the nectaries by short-tongued species. The pollen is sticky and, in the flowers I examined closely, had been successfully transferred from anthers to styles. Most of our Witch Hazels usually set a good quantity of viable seed and it would appear that they are adapted to pollination by nocturnal invertebrates. On day-time visits I have found only Sepsis fulgens and two non-biting midges, Smittia aterrima and Limnophyes prolongatus. The last two were, I suspect, simply sheltering in the bushes rather than feeding on nectar.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Another Stereum crust fungus

In my post on January 11th I posted a picture of a resupinate orange crust fungus.  I think this was probably Stereum hirsutum.

Today I found a much more luxuriant colony of what I think is probably the same species in Killingan Wood (TQ783192).  There is much fallen wood in this area, but only one - a large ash branch - carries such a display of fruiting bodies.