Thursday, 11 May 2017

Grounds for complaints (medical)

I took Chris to Northampton General Hospital today where the excellent treatment received has successfully conquered her illness, but to ensure that it never returns she receives regular checks and routine medicine. We arrived to find the department desperately short-staffed and she spent over four hours for what should only have taken half that time. I killed an hour or so wandering around the hospital grounds. Conditions were pleasantly warm and dry, so why were the leaves of an Acer so wet? In fact the 'water' was honeydew raining down from the aphids feeding in the higher foliage on to the lower leaves. Woe betide anyone who parks their car under one of these afflicted trees.
Rain? No, just leaves shiny with honeydew. Northampton General
Hospital. 11 May, 2017
Fortunately other trees were hardly affected and a nearby Paperbark Maple, Acer griseum, was looking very well. This species has featured in my blogs before but its curiously attractive bark is always worth a photograph. A number of species from several different families share this habit of shedding bark. The reasons are not completely clear but obviously as the bark falls to the ground it takes with it mosses and lichens, exposing fresh bark and allowing the lenticels to do their job.

Messy? Perhaps, but the peeling bark on Acer griseum is bizarrely
attractive. Northampton General Hospital. 11 May, 2017
Lenticels are pore-like structures in the bark which allow the exchange of gases between the trunk or branch and the atmosphere. The Himalayan Birch, Betula jacquemontii, behaves similarly, as does the Paper Birch, Betula papyrifera, from North America. The second of these two species also grew nearby.
Several birch species have peeling bark. Paper Birch at Northampton
General Hospital.11 May, 2017

The birches and acers (maples) would grace any larger garden but the same could not be said for two other plants also growing in the hospital grounds. One was Deadly Nightshade, Atropa belladonna. I went in search of it deliberately, confident that I would find specimens as it has been sporadically growing here for probably a century or more (and has appeared in a previous blog). At the moment, lacking flowers or fruits, its identity is far from obvious but fortunately I am familiar with it.
Deadly Nightshade has long resided in the hospital grounds.
11 May, 2017
From a quite different family is Conium maculatum. This plant, with its graceful filigree foliage would look lovely in a border, rather like a stately, two metres tall carrot. Of course, it is never deliberately grown in a garden for this is Hemlock!
Beautiful but deadly. Hemlock in the grounds of N.G.H.
11 May, 2017
The bases of the stems are purple and as the weeks go by purple blotches will appear on the stems too. It has an unpleasant smell, warning off most people and yet 'many people have died after eating hemlock' ('Poisonous Plants and Fungi', H.M.S.O. publications). Its poisonous properties have been known for over 2000 years and most people are familiar with the fate of Socrates, who died in 399 B.C. after drinking an extract of hemlock.
Red-purple coloration at the  base of a hemlock stem. 11 May, 2017
Around Northampton and the west of Northamptonshire in general Deadly Nightshade is a rare plant but the same cannot be said of hemlock; it is common on riverbanks, beside canals and on waste ground generally. It is also common beside Boddington reservoir. Speaking of feathery leaves (and at the risk of overdoing the subject) Common Storksbill, Erodium cicutarium, was present on waste ground and in neglected flower beds. With its purple flowers it is a pretty little plant, worth a place in the rock garden but for the fact that its seedlings would soon be popping up everywhere. Storksbills differ from cranesbills most obviously in the shape of their leaves.
The pale purple-pink petals of Common Storksbill are hard to see against
a stony background. 11 May, 2017
Cranesbills, Geranium species, have rather simple, palmate leaves, but those of Storksbills are pinnately compound. Cranesbills and storksbills have basically similar fruits but in the storksbills they are much elongated, making the reason for the popular name rather obvious.
The palmate leaves of Geranium pratense.

These fruits become spirally twisted as they ripen and, corkscrew-like, twist themselves into the soil when they fall.
The feathery - pinnate - leaves of Storksbills help to distinguish them
from Cranesbills. Northampton General Hospital. 11 May, 2017
I'm sorry. I do go on and haven't yet mentioned the insects and galls noted on my stroll. Another time maybe.

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