Thursday, 30 January 2014

Still falls the rain

'Still falls the rain' as Edith Sitwell gloomily recorded. But she was writing in the dark days of World War Two. It has just been announced that this month has been the wettest since records began but I'm not feeling gloomy at all. Rain has its compensations.

Raindrops hang from hazel catkins, putting on hold their reproductive activities, but once these have dried out they will resume their task, spreading pollen grains in their thousands, of which only a tiny percentage will find the female flowers.

Hazel catkins, Byfield Pocket Park.
30 January, 2014

A raindrop clings to the capsule of
a moss. Byfield, 30.January, 201T

Raindrops also glisten on the reproductive organs of moss but here the moisture is welcome. The male cells of mosses and liverworts are motile, and must have moisture in which to swim.

Mosses flourish on the walls of Holy Cross
church, Byfield. 30 January, 2014

The walls around the churchyard always wear a cap of moss but it appears to be spreading steadily in these wet conditions. The moss provides a habitat for a myriad of tiny invertebrates.

A closer view of the moss shows it to be Cypress-leaved Plait Moss - Hypnum cupressiforme. This is abundant in such situations, able to withstand the dry conditions which prevail in summer

Also enjoying these conditions are lichens. These curious organisms - a symbiotic amalgam of a fungus with an alga - also do well in wet conditions. Mosses, liverworts and lichens all flourish in the west of Britain - for obvious reasons.

Oak Moss, Evernia prunastri on a fence.
Byfield Pocket Park. 30. January, 2014

Despite its common name of Oak Moss this is a typical lichen, abundant in all parts of the British Isles. I can always find it on tree trunks, gate posts and so on but it is particularly obvious this year.

Evernia prunastri, a closer look.

A closer view giving a little more 
detail. This lichen is widely used in the perfume industry, being harvested for this purpose in the Balkans. 

I had set out in light drizzle so I now turned for home in deteriorating conditions. A solitary fieldfare flew across my path with a cackling alarm call. These are often present in large flocks but I have seen very few this winter.

Fossils set in the wall of the village club provided a dry refuge for spiders. I needed a refuge too so, a little bedraggled, I set off for home.

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