Monday, 23 February 2015

Winter Heliotrope saves the day

I had reason to visit Byfield earlier today and decided to stroll around the margin of Boddington Reservoir - or, at least, a small part of it. The sun beamed down from a clear blue sky but, as was the case a few days earlier, I was cruelly deceived.

A biting wind raised white horses on the water and waves crashed on the shore. Some waves were close to 6 inches high so I was naturally a little alarmed.

Wind turbine between Byfield and
Boddington. 23 February, 2015

Rafts of waterfowl were riding the waves in the centre of the reservoir, patiently waiting for the wind to abate but there were positives; the wind turbine in an adjacent field was producing a steady whoosh-whoosh as its blades rotated. Clean, though not cheap, energy.

I walked along one side only, the south facing shore, so I felt grounds for optimism; surely this favoured aspect would display some signs of spring. Alas, flowers were as common as hens' teeth. All that remained were the dry brown fruiting heads of last autumn.

Teasel plants on the north shore of Boddington
Reservoir. 23 February, 2015

Teasels (Dipsacus fullonum) had found a congenial habitat among the boulders which formed a retaining wall. The heads are much favoured by goldfinches, the birds tweaking out the seeds with their slender bills.

Close-up of one of the flower-heads.

A closer look shows that the seeds have long gone but the spines on the flower-heads are clearly visible. It is these which, for centuries were - and still are - used for raising the nap on high quality cloth.

The flower heads of Lesser Burdock. Boddington
Reservoir. 23 February, 2015
Also present were burdocks or, to be more precise, plants of Lesser Burdock, Arctium minus. The flower-heads may look vaguely similar to those of teasels but a number of technical differences have led to them being placed in different families - teasels in the Dipsacaceae and burdocks in the Daisy Family, Asteraceae.

The bristles on the flower heads are hooked as an aid to
 seed dispersal. Boddington Reservoir, 23 February, 2015 

It can be seen that the burdock spines are furnished with tiny hooks. These will annoyingly cling to clothing if the passer-by brushes against then, but they are a brilliantly effective aid to seed dispersal.

Grey silk forms the web of an Amaurobius species.
Boddington Reservoir, 23 February, 2015
A crevice in a nearby tree trunk provided a refuge for a spider. It was a species of Amaurobius, probably Amaurobius similis, but the occupant could not be enticed out - and who can blame it. Amaurobius spiders are cribellate; they have a spinning organ (the cribellum) which is a sieve-like structure producing strands of very fine silk. Special bristles on the hind legs comb the silk, giving it a characteristic grey appearance.

I left the reservoir slightly disappointed but a surprise awaited me on my return to Byfield.

Winter Heliotrope, Petasites fragrans.
Bell Lane, Byfield. 23 February, 2015

Protruding through a drystone wall in the village was a plant of Winter Heliotrope. Petasites fragrans, a species I have not seen for several years. As it name indicates, the flowers are fragrant, with a vanilla-like scent but unfortunately on such a chilly and windy day this was not discernible. It is another member of the Daisy Family, Asteraceae. 

So, an eleventh hour reprieve, making my jaunt worthwhile.

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