Thursday, 2 January 2014

Spring is waiting in the wings

In these short - and currently very wet - days we tend to look for signs of spring, even tho' we are mindful of the fact that the worst of winter is almost certainly yet to come.
Alder twigs. The oval "cones" of last year's fruits lie
alongside the dormant catkins awaiting the summer.
Daventry, 1 January 2014

In Daventry, silhouetted against unrelentingly grey sky, Alder twigs portray the past and the future, with the past being represented by the cone-like remains of last autumn's fruits. (These are not true cones as what falls from them are fully developed fruits enclosed in an ovary; the pine and its relatives shed naked seeds not enclosed in an ovary.) Alongside these now-redundant structures lies the future - the slim male catkins, still tightly protecting their precious pollen. They are truly "keeping their powder dry"!

Birch trees bearing catkins
Byfield Pocket Park, 2 January, 2014
Related to Alders, but placed in a different family, are the birches. In the pocket park at Byfield the catkins on the birches - all Betula pendula - were also tightly closed, but the hazels, Corylus avellana were, here and there, having the temerity to expose their pollen. 

Catkins on Hazel.
Byfield Pocket Park. 2 January, 2014

A closer view of male and female flowers on
Hazel. Byfield Pocket Park, 2 January, 2014

It was clearly a good strategy for in the buffeting wind (not helpful for photography) the pale yellow catkins were freely releasing their pollen; the small pink female flowers (to the right of the three catkins) stood an excellent chance of being pollinated.

The Daisy can hardly be called a harbinger of spring as it flowers all the year round (Its Latin name, Bellis perennis, could be loosely translated as "forever beautiful") but I couldn't resist photographing one. The flowers receive visits from many small insects and, given a spell of warm sunshine, this one may be in luck.

Grounsel, Senecio vulgaris. Byfield, 2 January, 2014
Nearby a relative of the Daisy was also flowering. This is Groundsel, Senecio vulgaris. Its flowers however rarely seem to attract insect visitors and the fact that it invariably produces fruits in abundance indicates an efficient self-pollination mechanism. Incidentally the genus Senecio contains some 2000 species, making it - probably - the world's largest genus of flowering plants.

A closer view of Groundsel, showing the black-tipped
outer flower bracts. Byfield, 2 January, 2014


Annual Meadow-grass, Poa annua.
Byfield, 2 January, 2014

A plant of Annual Meadow-grass (Poa annua) was also in full flower nearby. Like the Daisy and Groundsel it is very common but generally overlooked. Its flowers, small and green, are efficiently wind pollinated. What point would there be in having brightly coloured flowers if there is no need to attract insects?

Finally I make no apology for including a garden plant. Laurustinus, Viburnum tinus, is common, but understandably so , for it it one of the most valuable of all garden shrubs. Its long flowering period takes it through the depths of winter and it receives numerous insect visitors including hoverflies such as Eristalis pertinax.  The flowers and fruits are commonly both on the plant at the same time, these fruits leading to it being quite widely naturalised. Its common name of Laurustinus may refer to the laurel-like leaves but it is not related to true Laurels (see blog for 10.3.2013). As a consequence of recent genetic research all species of Viburnum, together with Elders (Sambucus species) have now been removed from the Caprifoliaceae and placed in the Adoxaceae Family.

Fruits and flowers together on Viburnum tinus.
Garden in Byfield, 2 January, 2014

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