Thursday, 17 December 2015

Making the best of it.

Northamptonshire has to be rated as scenically a rather dull county. It is true that many pretty villages, often with houses of a warm, apricot-coloured sandstone, nestle in the folds of its gentle hills, but with no mountains, no moors, no marshes and, of course, no coast, it has obvious limitations. Local naturalists console themselves with the thought that we have some fine, though often unappreciated, areas of deciduous woodland, particularly parts of the former Rockingham Forest.

Here around Daventry these limitations are keenly felt, especially in the dull days of winter, when we must be content with little pockets of interest.

Field maples are bare in winter. Christchurch Road,
Daventry. 17 December, 2015

No more than three hundred metres from our house is a belt of trees, planted by the local authority to filter out noise from the nearby A45. Overwhelmingly the trees consist of Field Maple, Acer campestre; quite a good choice except that, being deciduous, they do not perform their job very well in the winter.

A number of trees have annulated bark, but
cherries are the most commonly seen.
17 December, 2015

A handful of other trees are present, with the annulated bark of cherry making the species very obvious...

...and golden leaves still clinging to a small beech tree also catching the attention. Despite the proximity of the A45 (barely ten metres away) many trees bore thick encrustations of bright, though commonplace, lichens.

Where had this come from?  Red Oak leaf among Acer
and cherry leaves. Christchurch Road, Daventry
17 December, 2015

A leaf of a North American species, Red Oak, Quercus rubra, lay amongst the more mundane material forming the litter but I was unable to track down the tree from whence it came. Perhaps recent high winds (storm Desmond) had borne it over a considerable distance.

In this predominantly brown  layer it was easy to overlook the tan coloured toadstools dotted around. Difficult for us but no problem for fungus gnats, mycetophilidae, which will readily seek out this essential larval pabulum.

Candle-snuff Fungus was very common. Christchurch
Road, Daventry. 17 December, 2015

Other fungi were present on chunks of damp, rotting wood. Here a few specimens of Candle-snuff Fungus, Xylaria hypoxylon, are shown. This is an abundant species in such a situation.

Nearby - in fact on the same log - was a very close relative, Xylaria longipes. It is almost as common as the previous species. In Britain it is known as Dead Moll's Fingers and in French, Penis de bois mort. (The French are such wildly imaginative people!)

The ground flora was poor with a clump of Pendulous Sedge, Carex pendula, and a few ferns being the only obvious herbaceous plants.

Pendulous Sedge may be charitably described as a thug. Graceful it may be but once established the clumps are difficult to remove. On top of that the seeds seem to retain viability for a long time so unwanted seedlings pop up in all sorts of unsuitable places. Introduce into your garden at your peril!

Male fern on the woodland floor. Christchurch Road,
Daventry. 17 December, 2015

The ferns were specimens of Dryopteris filix-mas, commonly known as the Male Fern. This is one of our county's commoner ferns, so its presence was no surprise. Smaller plants may often be found in the mortar of dampish walls.

Although the ground flora was poor there were a few epiphytes to be found. This term is used to describe plants growing up in a tree, perhaps exploiting a rot hole or forked branch where humus has accumulated. This habit can allow them to grow well above ground level and thus able to access more sunlight.

Mosses and ferns typically exploit these situations and, as shown, flowering plants such as Cleavers, Galium aparine, are also to be found. (I have even found a gooseberry flowering and fruiting in a similar place.)

But, to be honest, I really had to scratch around for items of interest. The truth is, gardens are as productive a habitat in the winter, at least in this region. Perhaps that should be my next target.

No comments:

Post a Comment