Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fallen elders

Along the garden path there is a place where an old, dead elder tree (Sambucus nigra) has fallen across a smaller, living example of the same species.

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Together they make an attractive architectural and wildlife feature.  The dead tree has plenty of ear fungi on its upper branches and elsewhere and the smaller, living example has ivy ascending the trunk which holds up its dead sister.  It has a few flowers (centre left) but is also sending up some strong shoots for the future.

A good place to sit and meditate on life and death and an interesting little wilderness to try and mould into a semi-designed feature.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Year of the Welsh Chafer

There have recently been reports from many parts of England of unusually large numbers of the Welsh chafer beetle, Hoplia philanthus, emerging in semi-improved grasslands and often flying in swarms over meadows.

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The adult beetles, as above, are reddish coloured, or black and present a very dark appearance in flight.  Walking in the meadows at Ashburnham, East Sussex a few days ago we were surrounded by maybe 100 or more of them flying like small bumble bees and with a similar buzzing sound.  To a non-entomologist this would have been quite a threatening experience, though the beetles are harmless and none actually settled on us.

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The reason why the species is called the 'Welsh chafer' I have not yet been able to establish, but I think it is likely to be quite an old name.  The insect seems to be no commoner in Wales than elsewhere.  In Dorset its local name is the 'apple eater' (Dale, 1878), though the larvae live in turf, eating grass and other roots.  Maybe they come up sometimes for orchard windfalls.

Dale, C. W. (1978)  The history of Glanville's Wooton in the county of Dorset.  Hatchards, London

Anyway, if anyone knows the reason for the name Welsh chafer, I would be grateful to hear from them.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Coppice developing

The part of Killingan wood that was coppiced less than 18 months ago is already rapidly scrubbing over with brambles.  There is less and less bare earth and moss left and smaller plants are rapidly being suppressed.  This is not quite what coppice is supposed to do: if violet-feeding fritillary caterpillars were to flourish, for example, the ground would have to remain open for far longer.

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It is interesting to speculate whether this used to happen in the past or in different types of coppice rotation.  In terms of forestry it seems to me that the brambles are quite important as they give some protection to the new shoots rising from the tree stools.

The flora continues to provide interest and I some of the most striking are shown below:

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Bittersweet or woody nightshade (Solanum dulcamara)

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Wild foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) among the brambles.

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And some cultivar foxgloves at the woodland edge that must have escaped from a garden.

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Marsh thistle (Cirsium palustre), what the gardeners call an 'architectural plant'.

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Heath speedwell (Veronica officinalis), a low-growing plant of poor, dry soils.

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And ox-eye daisy or marguerite (Leucanthemum vulgare), a plant of meadows and waysides, but quite happy here at the woodland edge.

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