Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Perfidious March!

With the sun warm on my face I set off to Byfield's pocket park. Long-tailed Tits flitted about in a Birch tree, reminding me what a mild winter we've had. These tiny birds are vulnerable in a harsh winter but they seem to have done well. 

A little further on a Hornbeam was heavy with catkins.

Catkins on Hornbeam approaching Byfield Pocket
Park. 26 March, 2014

In recent years the Hornbeam, Carpinus betulus, has been placed in the Birch Family, Betulaceae. Fifty years ago Clapham, Tutin and Warburg* had it in the Hazel Family, Corylaceae. Some classification systems even give it its own family, the Carpinaceae. Yer pays yer money...

Perfidious March! By now the sun was sulking behind clouds and conditions became chilly. I didn't linger in the pocket park but made my way to the churchyard.

Male cones on Lawson's Cypress.
Byfield churchyard, 26 March, 2014

Not for the first time I reflected on what a fine tree is Lawson's Cypress, Chamaecyparis lawsoniana. The bright pink male cones were a lovely sight and released a cloud of pollen as I swept the branches in a fruitless attempt to find a Juniper Shieldbug.

My return journey took me past the Blindle or Bell Brook, on the banks of which Marsh Marigolds were in bloom.

Marsh Marigolds beside the Blindle
Byfield, 26 March, 2014

Every year I vow to collect seeds from these Marsh Marigolds to sow beside the brook in my garden; every year I unfailingly forget! 

A not very obvious patch of Danish
Scurvy-grass.  Byfield,  26 March, 2014

I was about to cross Thomas Close when I noticed, along a scruffy roadside kerb, a mass of tiny white flowers. They belonged to Danish Scurvy-grass, Cochlearia danica. The story of this plant is well-known but deserves repeating. It is a halophyte, found on rocky and sandy banks beside the sea where it seems to enjoy the taste of salt. With the widespread use of a salt-grit mixture on winter roads it has found a new habitat and since the late 1980's has become a familiar sight as a white ribbon of flowers on roadsides, with the display often stretching for miles.

Eveywhere I looked today Daffodils were in flower. For several years I taught Year 6 pupils and, towards the end of the school year they took their SATs. Invariably the Science Test involved a question about flower structure. Other Year 6 staff would come to school bearing bunches of Daffodils for the children to examine - and by the end of the day teachers would be at their wits' end trying to explain which were the petals and which were the sepals. There is a papery bract beneath each flower and above that are what. Petals? Sepals? Botanists get around this by craftily referring to them as 'perianth segments' - not helpful for the pupils. As for the trumpet - botanists unhelpfully use the word 'corona'. 

A confusing and, imo, unattractive Narcissus beside
Byfield Playing Fields. 26 March, 2014

What would they have made of this specimen?

I always tried to take in some Wallflowers or, failing that, Anemones. With the latter there was a little confusion over the sepals/petals but a mini-problem compared with the daffodil's pitfalls.

Happy days! (But not so happy now. As I write weary teachers are on strike trying to get a deal which will reflect their dedication.)

* Clapham, Tutin and Warburg, "Flora of the British Isles (1962)

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