Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Thistle be interesting...

...I hope.

Fine weather tempted me into a walk along Muddy Lane. As I've stated elsewhere its official name is Pit Lane; its proximity to houses and convenience for dog walkers has led to "Dog-poo Alley" being a more appropriate appellation - convenience indeed!

I didn't linger along this lane - bridleway actually - but pushed on to a less noisome area adjacent to Parson's Spinney.

En route I paused only for a less than satisfactory picture of a Shaded Broad-bar, Scotopteryx chenopodiata. Although not strictly a day-flier it is easily disturbed and therefore frequently seen. The larval food plants are clovers and vetches.

Shaded Broad-bar, Pit Lane, Byfield.
21 July, 2014

A plant of Field Scabious, Knautia arvensis, had attracted an empid fly which was probing deep into the flowers for nectar. The species is Empis livida, perhaps the commonest of all the British empids, easily recognised as some of the the radiating wing veins do not reach the wing margin.

Empis livida visiting Field Scabious. Pit Lane,
Byfield, Northants. 21 July, 2014

Next to the Scabious was a rather large clump of Creeping Thistle, Cirsium arvense. It is only too common and thus easily passed by without a second glance. It is "regarded as one of the worst pasture weeds ...with the roots having been found to a depth of 18 feet" (Sir Edward Salisbury, "Weeds and Aliens", Collins New Naturalist Series) and is very difficult to control. Tell the insects it's a problem; they visit the flowers in great numbers.

Phytomyza cirsii mining the leaves of Creeping Thistle
Trackside west of Byfield.  21 July, 2014

Most insects are there for the nectar, but not all. Larvae of the fly, Phytomyza cirsii, are busy mining the leaves. The insect does little damage and farmers might wish it were more injurious. The larvae eventually drop to the soil to pupate.

I spent some thirty minutes beside the thistles, inevitably getting pricked by the sharp spines and, by way of variation, being bitten by clegs, in this case female Notch-horned Clegs. I was happy to put up with these minor discomforts in order to take a few photographs - all of commonplace insects but none the less interesting.

Dingy Footman? Trackside west of Byfield.
21 July, 2014

A moth fluttered down from a thistle head and obligingly settled on my net. It is, I believe, a Dingy Footman, Eilema griseola. This group of moths can be tricky but I had no wish to capture the specimen even though that would have allowed a positive identification.

A common tachinid fly, Eriothrix rufomaculata, beside
a track west of Byfield. 21 July, 2014
With bright red flanks to its abdomen the tachinid fly, Eriothrix rufomaculata is very distinctive (although a few other tachinids have similar red patches). Tachinid flies are parasites, their larvae feeding on other living insects, known as hosts. The hosts usually die a grisly death although there are cases where this seems not to happen. For a long time the host species of E. maculata was a mystery but in 2009 a paper was published* showing that a pyralid moth, the Garden Grass-veneer was one unfortunate victim, but there are likely to be others.

Rutpela maculata visiting Creeping Thistle.
Byfield, 21 July, 2014

Next up was a longhorn beetle, Rutpela maculata. This striking insect is very common in England and Wales but there are only a handful of records from Scotland. Why the striking colours? Is it to vaguely mimic a wasp? If so, it isn't very convincing. Perhaps it has a foul taste which a would-be predator wouldn't forget in a hurry.

 Oedemera nobilis: a male feeding on Creeping Thistle

Another common beetle, Oedomera nobilis was present. Its thighs (technically known as femora) suggest lots of hard work in the gym! In fact, the swollen femora show that it is a male. A curious feature of this insect is that the elytra (wing-cases) always gape. 
Helophilus pendulus. Trackside west of Byfield, Northants
21 July, 2014

A smart hoverfly added to the variety. It was a female Helophilus pendulus. "Helophilus" means "sun lover" so it should have found the conditions to its liking. 

Green-veined White. West of Byfield.
21 July, 2014

Butterflies were there a-plenty. This is the green-veined White, Artogeia napi. Like many of its close relatives it feeds on members of the Brassica Family but apparently is not often found on cultivated plants.

Terellia tussilaginis nectaring at Creeping Thistle.
Trackside near Byfield,  21 July, 2014

Members of the Tephritidae family are "picture-winged flies", that is, their wings are patterned, often with stripes. This one is Terellia tussilaginis, a frequently-encountered species. It is commonly associated with burdocks (Arctium species) and there was indeed a clump of burdock nearby.

Small Skipper, Thymelicus silvestris, nectaring on Creeping Thistle, west of Byfield. 21 July, 2014

A Small Skipper also called in. I have reproduced the picture in a large format so that the antennae are visible. It can be seen that the underside of the tip is yellow, thus distinguishing if from the Essex Skipper, where the underside is black.

A pair of Black-tipped Solder Beetles, Rhagonycha fulva and a
Seven-spot Ladybird, Coccinella 7-punctata.

A final picture. Here a pair of Black-tipped Soldier Beetles, Rhagonycha fulva, are attempting to mate. A Seven-spot Ladybird observes carefully. It will award points for degree of difficulty, style and so on.

So, with a few cleg bites to show for my efforts, I called it a day. No rarities, in fact not even a scarce insect, but nonetheless satisfying.

e-mail to Tony White:

* Stuart Paston and Graham Rotheray writing in Dipterists Digest, 2009 (16,1)

Saturday, 19 July 2014

A String of Onions

We have white bluebells in our garden - except that they're not. Our lookalikes are Three-cornered Garlic, Allium triquetrum, a pretty but rather invasive onion introduced to Britain from the Western Mediterranean. They are easily recognised for the stems have a sharply triangular cross-section.

Allium triquetrum. My garden, 31 May, 2014

Chives in our Byfield garden. 1 June, 2014

When I came to think about it I realised that we grow several species of onion in our garden, but none for culinary use.

One of these is Chives, Allium schoenoprasum. Yes, I know it has culinary applications, but we never use put it to use; perhaps we should. Surprisingly it is a native British plant but confined to the western and northern parts of England and to Wales. Its dainty purple flowers are well worth a place in the garden, and bees love it.

Far more impressive - and equally beloved of bees, - is Allium aflatunense, sometimes sold as Allium hollandicum. At about 60-90 centimetres high it can easily hold its own in a border and makes an impressive cut flower (tip: add a drop of bleach to the water in the vase to control the smell of onions).

I also have a patch of Ramsons, Allium ursinum, in the garden. They were here when we moved in and, although they are hardly spectacular, I allow a few to persist and have introduced a few to Byfield Pocket Park on the grounds that they are native to Northants and, according to Druce's 1930 "Flora of Northamptonshire", occurred in this area at Badby.

Honey -bells in our garden, Byfield.
1 May, 2014

In a border I have a few plants of Honey-bells, Nothoscordum gracile. It was once wrongly, due to a misunderstanding, called Allium inodorum and is clearly closely related to onions. It even, despite its specific epithet of inodorum, has an alliaceous smell. I was surprised to learn recently that it is a noxious weed in some parts of the world; for me it behaves nicely. Again, bees love it.

I have grown this Persian Onion in a pot.
Byfield, 8 June, 2014

Arguably one of the most spectacular of onions is Allium christophii, sometimes called the Persian Onion. The large globular inflorescence is more open than Allium aflatuense and the "petals" (many botanists play it safe and refer to "perianth segments") are glossy. I grow it in small quantities but when  - in maybe 5-6 weeks - we move to a new home, I may make more use of it.

Allium sphaerocephalum in our garden, Byfield.
18 July, 2014
Finally -  for it is now mid-July -  comes Allium sphaerocephalon, otherwise known as the Round-headed Leek.  Here it is in my garden being visited by three Marmalade Flies, Episyrphus balteatus. I wouldn't grow it, but the bulbs were a "freebie" with something else, so I stuck them in and they flourished. They have all the charm of a purple lollipop on a wobbly stick. But, as we see, hoverflies love them, as do bees and, at a pinch, we can eat the bulbs; they are perfectly edible.


Friday, 18 July 2014

Woodford Halse - the Return

Having made a promising visit to Woodford Halse  a couple of days ago I was quite keen to return. Would my optimism be justified? Overnight rain had left much of the vegetation rather wet so for the first few minutes of the morning I contented myself with examining foliage, rather than use my net. 

Phyllocoptes goniothorax affecting the leaf edges of
Hawthorn. Woodford Halse. 17 July, 2014

Hawthorn is attacked by a range of flies, moths, mites and fungi. Here a mite, Phyllocoptes goniothorax, has been at work, causing the formation of leaf rolls over about 40% of the leaf's edge.

Hogweed showing the mines of Phytomyza spondylii.
Woodford Halse 17 July, 2014

In a small glade hogweed was also attack, this time from an agromyzid fly, Phytomyza spondylii. It seems clear that plants with the most nutritious leaves are most subject to attack, thus nettles, despite their obvious defences, are plagued by nibblers, borers and browsers.

A plant of wood avens, Geum urbanum, was displaying the galls of another mite, Cecidophyes nudus. These galls are in their early stages; they will swell to become far more disfiguring later.

Notocelia uddmanniana. Woodford Halse.
17 July, 2014
This is hardly the greatest of photographs but the main feature is clear enough; a bright chestnut patch on an otherwise grey background. It was on a leaf of hedge bindweed in a bed of stinging nettles and I couldn't get very near to it due to a patch of brambles. This was a clue to its identity for it is a Bramble Shoot Moth, Notocelia uddmanniana, a common species but new to me.

Many insects inadvertently carry ticks, mites etc. In fact, for many non-flying creatures such as false-scorpions,  this is an important means of dispersal, when it is known as phoresy.

Notostira elongata carrying a tick.
Woodford Halse, 17 July, 2014

An unfortunate bug, bearing a tick, was swept up by my net from a grassy glade. The tick will probably feed on the host until gorged, and then drop off. The host, in this case Notostira elongata, may be little the worse for the experience.

Notostira elongata in more detail. Note the antennae,
more or less the same length as the body.
Woodford Halse, 17 July, 2014

Notostira elongata is ubiquitous in grassland during the summer and a single sweep of a net may often secure a dozen or more. Its success may relate to the fact that it has two generations a year. The picture shows how its coloration will allow it to blend in with grass stems.

The area can hardly be described as flower-rich and Tufted Vetch, Vicia cracca, provided one of the few splashes of bright colour, but I set off home with a large haul of insects to be trawled through, so I was well pleased with the morning's results.

Tufted Vetch, Vicia cracca. Woodford Halse, 17, July, 2014


Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Woodford Halse...not just railway memories

People of an older generation will remember Woodford Halse as a very important rail centre on the former Great Central.  Its position, midway between London and the vital coalfields of Nottinghamsire, led to the development of a huge Locomotive Power Depot (these were invariably known as "sheds") and the railway was overwhelmingly the largest source of employment in the area.

This has all gone. Much of the trackbed north and south of the village, together with bridges and cuttings, remains, but of the old shed area there is little trace.

There is however an interesting legacy in the form of wildlife. Woodford Halse has a nature reserve (which also serves as a pocket park) and some of the old cuttings are exceedingly rich in flowers, insects and other forms of wildlife. The site of the old loco shed is now well wooded, partly as a result of planting, and I decided that it merited a visit.

One part of the site is adjacent to gardens and this has inevitably led to some unexpected plants jumping over the wall and establishing themselves. 

Episyrphus balteatus on Chicory. Woodford Halse at SP541527.
14 July, 2014
Is Chicory, Chicorium intybus, such a plant? It is surely a garden escape in many places. In Gent and Wilson's 1995 flora it was suggested that it could be native to our county, but by 2012 the same authors simply referred to it as a casual. Native or not, it is a very popular plant with insects. Within two or three minutes I had noted three species of hoverflies including hordes of the Marmalade Fly, Episyrphus balteatus. There must have been well over a hundred of these very common insects present.
Eristalis horticola visiting Chicory.
Woodford Halse, 14 July, 2014

Eristalis horticola was present too. If Episyrphus balteatus mimics a small wasp, then this surely is a honey bee lookalike. There are several Eristalis species native to Britain and this this is among the commoner.

Butterflies were also calling in to refuel. A skipper posed nicely for me; it is almost certainly a Small Skipper, Thymelicus flavus but could be an Essex Skipper, Thymelicus lineola. They are very similar and it was many years before it was realised that two species are involved. For certain identification the underside of an antenna tip needs to be checked, but my photograph doesn't allow this. What is certain is that it is a male, indicated by the little dark mark in the middle of the forewing.

Hedge Bindweed, Calystegia sepium.
Woodford Halse, 14 July, 2014

I moved on, pausing only to examine the flowers of Hedge Bindweed, Calystegia sepium. As a lad I puzzled over the specific epithet 'sepium'; surely, I thought, that means brown - and if so, what is brown about it? In fact, as my readers worldwide will know, it comes from the Latin sepes, a hedge Druce, in his 1930 flora of Northamptonshire, uses the word 'septal' in connection with hedgerow plants, but whereas this word has become almost obsolete, Hedge Bindweed, a relatively scarce plant in his day, has prospered greatly, to become familiar to us all. The flowers generally receive many insect visitors - but my bearded countenance had clearly spooked them.

Circaea lutetiana at Woodford Halse.
14 July, 2014

Undeterred, I pressed on. A patch of Enchanter's Nightshade, Circaea lutetiana, caught my attention. How strange that such an evocative name should be applied to such a dull plant! Not only is it lacking beauty, it can be an invasive garden weed, being a nuisance in my own borders. I had only interrupted my stroll in order to check for a rust, Puccinia circaeae, which causes gall-like structures on the stems and leaves, but this clump was clear of the problem.

A birch tree was next to catch my attention. A few passes through the foliage netted several insects species including some leafhoppers, i.e Cicadellidae species.  Onocopsis flavicollis was present and, as this is widespread on birches, was no great surprise. I was pleased also to take Onocopsis subangulata, a very similar but slightly scarcer species. It gave me a good opportunity to examine the two species side-by-side under the microscope and I was able to see that there was significant variation in the ovipositors, with O. subangulata having a longer and straighter one. Leafhoppers can be tricky but in these two cases the ovipositor form is diagnostic so the identification was clear.

I was intrigued by a small (3 mm) beetle present in the haul. Under the microscope its oddly-shaped head looked vaguely familiar. Where had I seen it before? After a few minutes with  Unwin's "Families of British Beetles" I found that it was a member of the Anobiidae family. With that information I was able to track it down and give it a name: it was Anobium fulvicorne, the Furniture Beetle. Perhaps I had seen it before on leaflets about household pests. Anyway, it was a pleasing find - though far too small for my camera to deal with.

A little further on was an oak; oaks always merit investigation.

Iassus lanio taken from oak. Woodford Halse,
Northamptonshire. 14 July, 2014

A few sweeps with the net and I found that I had secured three specimens of Iassus lanio. It is a common species on oak with its size (c 7 mm) and coloration making it distinctive. 

Iassus lanio. Specimens from oak, Woodford Halse,
Northamptonshire. 14 July, 2014

The previous picture showed the typical coloration, but there is a degree of variability as shown by these specimens - but the species remains distinctive.

The mine formed by the larva of Stigmella ruficapitella.
On oak at Woodford Halse, Northants. 14 July, 2014

Finally, I made a brief examination of the foliage and found the mine of a micro-moth, Stigmella ruficapitella. The line of frass (or, to use the technical term, poo) was broad and confined to the upper surface of the leaf. The moth is widespread through much of Britain.

So, nothing dramatic, but I was rather impressed with the results of just a fleeting visit. It is just one of many sites to which I intend to return...sometime.



Wednesday, 9 July 2014

High Wood and Meadow

Of Northamptonshire's many wildlife reserves this is surely one of the most pleasant and interesting. It is also quite a short drive from Byfield, so when John Showers informed me that he'd arranged a meeting there I was keen to go.

A group of six made up the party: John, Jolyon, Brian, Graham, Kevin and I. The weather was kind to us and things looked promising. Our first target was the acid grassland to the east of the reserve. Studded with hawthorn and gorse, it is a scarce habitat in our county. Foolishly I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and I was soon being attacked by horseflies (Haematopota species). All I examined were female Haematopota pluvialis, the females of which need a blood meal prior to egg-laying.  Naturally they want to give their offspring the best possible start in life and, as I have blood of particularly high quality, I was a prime target. Fortunately I can take the pain.

John drew my attention to a smart Marbled White, Melanargia galathea, nectaring on thistles. It isn't a rare insect but in some years it can be rather scarce, so I was pleased see it.

Rutpela maculata at High Wood and Meadow.
6 July, 2014

Not far away, on hogweed, was a longhorn beetle, Rutpela maculata. The patterning on the elytra (wing-cases) is rather variable but there is no mistaking this striking - and fairly common - insect. (In older books this is Strangalia maculata.)

Gorse Shieldbug, Piezodura lituratus.
High Wood and Meadow. 6 July, 2014

I made for the gorse bushes as I was hoping to record the Gorse Shieldbug, Piezodora lituratus, but had almost given up hope - having beaten several bushes - before a specimen dropped into my net. It is not uncommon and I had previously recorded it elsewhere, such as Bradlaugh Fields in Northampton. 

I yearned for some sheep droppings. A flock is kept there to keep down some of the vegetation but either they had not grazed in the area I visited or they were severely constipated. There were to be no dung beetles on the day's list.

Common Spotted-orchid at High Wood and Meadow Reserve. 6 July, 2014

There was compensation on the form of a very neat specimen of the Common Spotted Orchid. Dactylorhiza fuchsii. It is as well that the sheep were grazing elsewhere or this would soon have gone. Fortunately all orchids are perennial so the plant would have survived to flower next year. The three-lobed lip is typical but the markings are a little reminiscent of the Southern Marsh Orchid, Dactylorhiza praetermissa. But it is without doubt D. fuchsii.

So, to the woodland...

The blister-like mines of Phyllonorycter coryli
at High Wood, near Preston Capes. 6 July, 2014

The understorey consists largely of hazel and I was not surprised to see that some of the leaves had been mined by the Nut Leaf Blister Moth. It is one of those tiny moths, known as micro-moths, with a disproportionately long name - Phyllonorycter coryli. This is very widespread and most hazel shrubs, including even those in my back garden, harbour some.

A very handsome scorpion fly sunned itself on a leaf. I had time for a photograph but it then took to the wing before I could net it. I was slightly relieved as it was a female and, although not difficult, they are a little tricky compared to a male. I am 99% certain that it is Panorpa communis but have not included it in the list of the day's finds.

Here and there, in the ground-flora, grew Yellow Pimpernel, Lysimachia nemorum. This charming plant is thinly scattered in Northamptonshire, being known from just 33 of the vice-county's 133 five kilometre squares, generally in damp woods.

The mine of Amauromyza flavifrons on Red Campion
High Wood, nr Preston Capes, Northants 6 June, 2014

Another member of the ground-flora, but demanding sunnier spots, was Red Campion, Silene dioica. Some of the leaves were being mined by a fly, Amauromyza flavifrons. This is a widespread fly and will attack not just this plant but several of its relatives including White Campion and Ragged-Robin.

Although the group had gathered specifically to study the diptera (two-winged flies) of the site I concentrated on other groups of insects. The other five members are very competent dipterists and had little need of input from me. Instead I recorded 10 true bugs, 1 micro-moth, 7 beetles, 1 harvestman and 1 spider - plus a handful of diptera.

The walk back to my car took me past a field of oilseed rape and, glancing down at the leaves, I noticed an interesting blotch. 

The blotch-mine of Scaptomyza flava
near High Wood, Preston Capes,Northants.
6 June, 2014

It turned out to be a mine formed by the larva of Scaptomyza flava, a two-winged fly belonging to the Drosophilidae family. There are relatively few records of this insect nationally. I suspect it is not rare but either it is overlooked or records are not submitted. 



Thursday, 3 July 2014

A bunch of carrots - amended

The Carrot Family (the Apiaceae) forms an interesting bunch. Many of its members, such as carrots, parsnips and celery, are edible. Others, such as the Water Dropworts, Fools Parsley (Aethusa cynapiumand Hemlock (Conium maculatum) are dangerously poisonous. Some are ornamental.  They are collectively known as umbellifers and for well over a century the family was called the Umbelliferae, a reference to the often flat inflorescences - an arrangement known as an umbel.

Hacquetia epipactis comes into the ornamental category. Looking a little battered by wind and hail it is currently flowering in my garden. In truth, it doesn't look much like a member of the Carrot Family at all. It appears to have green flowers but in fact the green "petals" are a rosette of bracts, encircling a cluster of yellow flowers forming a tiny umbel. It is a native of central Europe where it tends to grow in open woodlands. Like many woodlanders such as Wood Anemones and Primroses, Hacquetia produces its flowers early in the year, before the tree canopy has shaded the woodland floor with its leaves. It is a delightful addition to a rock garden where it frequently provokes comment.

Among our native umbellifers the first to come to general notice - and it can hardly be overlooked - is Cow Parsley. To us as children it was always 'keck', the name by which John Clare knew it:

                           And keck made bugles spout their twanging sounds...

                                                        Shepherd's Calendar, 1827

Keck, Anthriscus sylvestris, in Byfield's
Pocket Park. 9 May, 2014

With frothy flowers keck lines roadsides and field margins in profusion and as kids we would seek out suitable hollow stems to make peashooters. Apparently it may also be added to soups and stews.

Sweet Cicely in my garden.
7 May, 2014

Flowering at about the same time is Sweet Cicely, Myrrhis odorata. I grow it in my own back garden where, with its froth of white flowers and aniseed-scented leaves, it is a welcome addition to the border. It is not native to Britain but will sometimes be found as an escape on near gardens and I have found it on waste ground in Wellingborough.

The rather long, cylindrical fruits of Sweet Cecily are also distinctive.

Astrantia major in a Byfield garden.
31 May, 2014

Astrantia major, another uncarrot-like plant, has become very popular over the last couple of decades, not least because plant breeders have got to work and produced some lovely wine-red varieties. But even in its original form (shown in the photograph) it is very attractive in a quiet way, In some places, such as the grounds of Stokesay Castle in Shropshire, it has become naturalised.

I do not grow any Astrantias. I had a gorgeous red form but lost it when a border was re-fashioned. I will eventually replace it, perhaps with something like this delicate pink - or is it lilac? - variety growing in the garden of my friend Oliver Tynan. So many are available nowadays that I hesitate to put a name to this, but it may be "Ruby Wedding", if not it must be... er, something else.

I ought to include a note about Hogweed, but have already published a blog, "The Hogweed Restaurant" dealing with that species, so I will move on.

Broadly speaking there are close on 3000 members of the family and most can be easily recognised, via their umbels, for what they are. But inevitably there are exceptions - members of the 'awkward squad'.
Eryngium giganteum in Pom Boddington's garden.
29 June, 2014

These thistles form  a striking addition to a garden are are also much sought after as cut flowers but, as you will have guessed, they are not thistles at all but 'carrots'. They are specimens of Eryngium giganteum, often referred to as 'Miss Wilmott's Ghost' 

Ellen Wilmott was a famous 19th century gardener who, it appears, would secretly scatter seeds of the plant in the other people's gardens. However, the popular name could equally refer to the ghostly silver appearance of the plant in the twilight. I photographed these specimens in Byfield, where they made a handsome feature of borders in the garden of my friend, 'Pom' Boddington.

So here we have a 'carrot' with a very thistle-like appearance. It strikes me as a good example of convergent evolution, that is, a situation where two organisms, not closely related, arrive at  a similar solution to a shared problem by adopting a broadly similar form or structure. Thistles - members of the Daisy family - and Eryngium species have tiny flowers yet need to attract insect pollinators. Both have solved this difficulty by crowding the individual flowers into larger structures, making them very attractive to bees and many other types of insect. At the same time both have developed spiky leaves and bracts as a defence against herbivores. Other examples of convergent evolution include Astrophytum - a genus of cacti - and certain spurges such as Euphorbia obesa; they are strikingly similar even though the two families are only distantly related. One could go on to consider bats and the extinct pterosaurs but enough is enough. 

Before moving on, a close-up of Miss Wilmott's Ghost shows how successful the inflorescences are in attracting bees.

A honey bee, Apis mellifera,visiting Eryngium giganteum.
Pom Boddington's garden, Byfield. 29 June, 2014

Mating Rhagonycha fulva at Boddington Meadow.
2 July, 2014

I have included photographs of Hogweed, Heracleum sphondylium, elsewhere on 
blogs so I will not include another. But at the moment it is in full bloom everywhere and
most plants will have, on their umbels, the beetle, Rhagonycha fulva. This insect is generally known as the Hogweed Bonking Beetle. I cannot think why! 


Hemlock at Boddington Reservoir.
3 July, 2014

Next, "keck" again - or is it? Keck (Anthriscus sylvestris) may, as I've already said, be added to soups and stews. To add this would be unwise, for it is hemlock, Conium maculatum. "Maculatum" means spotted, and the purple-blotched stems of the plant are very obvious and so it would be very careless to mistake this for any other species.

The purple-blotched stems of Hemlock
at Boddington Reservoir

For this photograph I hand-held my camera on the steep bank of Boddington Reservoir - a distinctly awkward position - so I will not apologise for the quality, but felt obliged to include it.

It would be remiss of me not to mention Daucus carota, the carrot itself. The subspecies sativus is the cultivated form but we do have the Wild Carrot, subspecies carota, native in Northamptonshire. It is widespread on grassy and rough ground, especially if the soil is limy. It has the usual umbel of white flowers but almost invariably there is a red or purple flower in the centre. It is found right across our county and occurs here in Byfield's pocket park.

The family contains some 2800 species worldwide so a blog can only give a glimpse of the huge range of the forms and characteristic exhibited. Now, get those carrots eaten so you'll be able to see in the dark.