Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Rain, rain, go away

Late afternoon on the last day of May. In the garden yellow roses toss their heads in the gusting wind. Raindrops make little rivulets down the window panes. A crow perches on a nearby television aerial and ruffles its wings to shed the rain from its feathers. I am reminded of words of the 17th century poet Henry Vaughan:

                                                   Waters above! Eternal springs!
                                                   The dew that silver's the dove's wings!

A lone bumble bee makes its way home. It isn't cold and the rain per se will not bother it, but the nectar in flowers will have been diluted to a point where it isn't worth collecting. Perhaps this is the reason why some flowers, such as bluebells, have nodding, campanulate flowers wherein the nectar is protected.

The following morning, the first day of 'flaming June', and the skies are still grey. In Byfield the ever-reliable White Dead-nettles, Lamium album, are in flower and receiving a few visits from bumble bees. These insects, snug in their furry jackets, are able to continue work in inclement conditions.
The flowers of these Dead-nettles are not bell-shaped but the upper lobe forms a hood, giving some measure of protection to the nectaries, so the nectar remains undiluted. The hood is also furnished with hairs which form a barrier against rain.

White Dead-nettle. Byfield, Northants.
1 June, 2016

The identical structure can be seen in the Yellow Archangel, Lamiastrum galeobdolon. Indeed, this species was once included, as Lamium galeobdolon, with the Dead-nettles. The word galeob means 'to cover with a helmet', presumably a reference to the characteristic hood, but there is doubt about the full meaning of the specific name.

Yellow Archangel. Byfield, Northants.
17 May, 2016

The odd shape of these Dead-nettles, and indeed all members of the Family (the Lamiaceae) is due to the bilateral symmetry of the flowers. Botanically this shape is termed zygomorphic and is found in plants belonging to other families, i.e. the Snapdragon (Scrophulariaceae), the Fumitories (Fumariaceae) the orchids (Orchidaceae) and so on.

Migratory insectivorous birds such as swallows will soon be wondering why they bothered making the long trip north. Now let's hope tomorrow brings some sun

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