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.