Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Some May pictures

There are several plants of greater celandine or swallow-wort (Chelidonium majus) in the garden.  They were brought in originally by our granddaughter but seem to have naturalised as they have in many other places in the British Isles.


The plant is actually a member of the poppy family and not related to the lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria).  The greater celandine has a prodigious medicinal reputation and a huge array of toxic chemicals in its orange sap.

According to Wiki, for example, it was used in Ukraine as the basis of an anti-cancer drug called "Ukrain".  This was created in 1978 by the Ukrainian chemist Vasyl Novytskyi and manufactured in Austria. Although the drug was never approved by any regulators, Novytskyi “claimed it to be a complete cure for all cancers, radiation-induced diseases and AIDS and [he]was arrested in Vienna for aggravated fraud on September 4, 2012.”

On the path to the village there is an old and battered oak tree festooned in ivy.  If you look carefully at the picture you will seen that someone has sawn through the ivy trunks, an event, in my view, of environmental vandalism.  I think the ivy would have been very unlikely to kill the oak and would have produced quantities of nectar and pollen in late summer and early autumn for the benefit of many invertebrates.  The dense foliage would also have provided much shelter for birds, bats and other creatures while the berries would have been a spring feast for woodpigeons.


After the recent high winds, the ground under oak trees has been littered with currant galls, the agamic stage of the gall wasp Andricus quercusbaccarum, usually found on oak catkins but also on young leaves.  ‘Agamic’ means this stage is female only and the resultant wasps will lay their eggs on the fully expanded oak leaves and create the spangle galls which will produce both sexes next spring.


Friday, May 09, 2014

A spring leaf-miner & saproxylic moth

I found a leaf mine on a leaf of snowberry (Symphoricarpos) growing in the hedge at Balcombe Green that separates the lane from Red Barn Field.


It was made by the larva of an Agromyzid fly, Aulagromyza cornigera, and the grub has already fed up and left the mine.  It addition to its shape, identification is made easier by the fact that its larval stages are spent in April and early May.

I also found an Oecophorid micromoth, the sulphur-underwinged tubic, Esperia sulphurella on a nettle leaf.  This is a widespread species and, I think, the name ‘tubic’, comes from the fact that the larvae, which feed on dead wood, conceal themselves in an under bark tube of spun silk.


Friday, May 02, 2014

How did this happen?

Wandering through a local wood I came across this sycamore tree and have been speculating ever since as to how the branches achieved this cruciform shape.

20140429 Cruciform sycamore

My best idea is that a normally shaped tree was half crushed under the weight of another blown down by wind (perhaps in the 1987 storm that did considerable damage to this wood) and managed to hold the branches in this espaliered shape for long enough for them to become a permanent feature.  It is too far from any boundary to be a result of deliberate pleaching into a hedge.