Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Bread and Cheese and Scarlet Elves

I set out an an overcast but warm morning, destination Parsons Spinney. Sweet Violets were flowering beside Banbury Lane - spring was steadily advancing. As Robert Herrick wrote in his poem "To Violets": 

                         Welcome Maids of Honour,
                         You doe bring
                         In the Spring:
                         And wait upon her.

Sweet Violets, Banbury Lane, Byfield
11 March, 2014

The flowers on the Sweet Violets were fragrant, but only fleetingly so. A largish bunch would need to be gathered for a real impact. They are very common hereabouts in both violet and cream-white forms and are probably paid only scant attention by passers-by. Perhaps this has always been so. It would account for the wistful last lines of Herrick's poem:

                        Yet though thus respected,
                        By and by
                        Ye doe lie,
                        Poore girls, neglected.

Blistered leaves on Firethorn caused by the
Pyracantha Leaf Miner. Byfield,  11 March, 2014

The leaves on a Firethorn bush along The Twistle were ravaged by the Pyracantha Leaf Miner, Phyllonorycter leucographella. This micro-moth was first recorded in Britain in 1989 and has subsequently spread rapidly, Fortunately the blisters caused by the larvae, though unsightly, appear to do no lasting damage.

I pressed on down Pit Lane ("Muddy Lane" to all the villagers) and, after about 400 yards turned right off the public right-of-way on to the track bed of the old S.M.J. Railway.

The local land owner has made it abundantly clear that no right-of-way exists. I sympathise with farmers whose land is strewn with litter from passers-by but in this case my sympathy is diluted by the fact that much of the dumped material along the track is clearly of farm origin - old fertiliser bags, rusting bales of barbed wire and so on.

Rose thorns should be called prickles as they are formed
from the epidermis of the stem and contain no
vascular bundles.

I passed through the gate on to the well-used track-bed to face other obstacles - viciously thorned branches of Wild Rose. These were easily avoided and I was able to press on. A smart Nuthatch was making its way, head first as usual, down the trunk of an Ash Tree. I attempted to photograph it but as soon as I raised my camera it sidled coquettishly around to the other side of the trunk. It was the first of its species I've seen this year.

Opening leaf-buds of Hawthorn. 11 March, 2014

Hawthorn buds were breaking into leaf in sheltered sunny spots. The old name for these tender leaves is "Bread and Cheese". We are assured by writers such as Richard Mabey that these shoots are very tasty and I ought to sample them some time. Incidentally the Hawthorn bears true thorns, containing vascular tissue*.

In the gloomy interior of Parsons Spinney there were few signs of spring. The woodland floor is very wet and all around were fallen branches in various stages of decay. As the trees break into leaf even less sunlight will filter through and, other than mosses, the woodland floor will have little to offer to a botanist. Some fairly ruthless management would be required to bring flowers back but there are compensations - fungi.

Scarlet Elf Cup. Parsons Spinney, near Byfield.
11 March, 2014

A bright splash of colour caught my eye and I sloshed through the mire for a closer examination. The fungus responsible was the Scarlet Elf Cup, Sarcoscypha coccinea. This species is more frequent in the west of Britain but here it was doing well, with a short stroll revealing more specimens. All were on dead branches. 

Following previous visits to Parsons Spinney I had planned to gather more mosses but time was pressing on and I turned for home. And predictably the sun broke though, promising a fine afternoon.

*Vascular bundles. If you snap a stick of celery, the stringy bits are the plant vessels, forming bundles of vascular tissue.

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