Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Winter pollination

When we think of pollination it is natural to consider, first of all, obvious agents in the process such as bees. But in the winter, apart from the occasional spring-like day, conditions for insects are not auspicious.
Hazel catkins, Western Avenue, Daventry. 3 January, 2017
This thought crossed my mind as I walked home from Daventry earlier today and saw that the catkins on hazel bushes were 'open for business'. The paucity of insects is of course no consequence for catkin-bearers as the wind does the job of pollination. Indeed, an early start in the year, before surrounding trees are bearing foliage, is probably helpful.
Garrya elliptica, Park Leys, Daventry. 3 January, 2017
Colour is of no importance either and a Garrya elliptica shrub which I passed a little further on reinforced this point. The catkins may be lovely silky structures, but colourful they ain't. Incidentally the Garrya is a dioecious species and on the female plants the catkins are insignificant: only the male is generally grown.

Where the job of pollination is down to insects the flowers need to stand out in what are often gloomy conditions, and it seems that yellow is the colour of choice. Gorse, Ulex europaeus, is famed for being in flower at any time of the year, but it is in winter that its flowers are most appreciated, not just by us but by the occasional bumble bee stirred from its winter torpor by an unseasonably warm day.
Gorse bushes are found in several areas around Daventry
My walk from Daventry was brightened - literally - by other yellow-flowering shrubs. Several gardens found room for Mahonias, usually as one of the many hybrids available. Some had almost ceased flowering whilst in other cases they were yet to come into bloom. In my youth thse relatives of Berberis were, with the exception of the Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquifolium, not often grown; now they seem indispensable.
A Mahonia hybrid, London Road, Daventry. 3 January, 2017
And of course there was the yellow-flowered jasmine, Jasminum nudiflorum, spilling over a wall  in a shower of gold. Fragrance would seen a valuable attribute in attracting winter insects but unlike the Mahonias - or indeed summer-flowering jasmine - this species is scentless.

Jasminum nudiflorum, Park leys, Daventry. 3 January, 2017
Any day now I expect to find Daphne laureola bearing its yellow-green flowers and, shortly afterwards, the brassy yellow blooms of Forsythia intermedia (probably a true species rather than, as originally thought, a hybrid) and, in sheltered spots, celandines, Ranunculus ficaria, or Golden Guineas, to use on old Northamptonshire name.

I was in Dorset a few days ago and there a few daffodils were in bloom.           

                             She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
                             She wore her greenest gown;
                             She turned to the south wind
                             And curtsied up and down;
                             She turned to the sunlight
                             And shook her yellow head,
                             And whispered to he neighbour:
                                     'Winter is dead'

                                                             A.A.Milne,  When we were young

Well, far from dead yet, but...


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