Monday, 16 October 2017

To Southbrook and back

Southbrook lies on the far side of Daventry and earlier today I strode out to this eastern outpost for no other reason than a bit of exercise and a change of scene.
We are now well into autumn but, as a compensation for a disappointing September, this month has been remarkably mild. I kept up as brisk a pace as I could manage but the warmth - around the 19-20 degrees mark - meant that I was glad of the occasional pause for a photograph or to examine an insect or two. All I saw were commonplace and the mirid bug, Liocoris tripustulatus, on Rose Bay Willowherb, didn't merit an entry on my recording sheet.
Hawthorns are bearing heavy crops of fruit this year.
Daventry, 16 October, 2017
Signs of autumn were everywhere and hawthorn 'berries' were turning from scarlet to a dull crimson; birds will not go hungry. Garden Cross Spiders, Araneus diadematus, may also find themselves snapped up by birds; the females are now plump with eggs and in this gravid condition make a substantial contribution to their required daily protein intake. If alarmed many spiders, and insects too, drop to the ground where their cryptic coloration helps them to blend in well with dry grass, dead leaves and so on.
A gravid specimen of the Garden Cross Spider. Daventry.
16 October, 2017
I pushed on towards the town centre, passed beneath the busy A425 and so into Southbrook. An interesting stretch of waste ground lay on my left; such areas can often be worth checking over for garden escapes, alien plants and so forth so I decided to investigate.
Potentially interesting waste ground in Southbrook, Daventry.
16 October, 2017
The area proved to be a bit of a disappointment in terms of unusual plants but was not bereft of interest. A Horse Chestnut tree, Aesculus hippocastanum, was growing strongly at the edge of the area, its sticky buds already fattening up ready for next spring. An unfortunate harvestman had become firmly stuck on the glutinous surface and its plight indicated one purpose of the glutinous coating.

This harvestman has died, stuck on the bud of a Horse Chestnut. Southbrook, Daventry. 16 October, 2017
Harvestmen are harmless to the tree but it could have been an aphid, mite or even a Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner, Cameraria ohridella, a moth which causes such dreadfully disfiguring damage to these trees.
Two very common species of Potentilla were present on this waste ground but of course neither was in flower. Creeping Cinquefoil, Potentilla reptans, has palmate leaves with 5-7 leaflets.
The cinquefoils are well named, each leaf having five - or sometimes up to
seven - leaflets. Southbrook, Daventry. 16 October, 2017
Silverweed, Potentilla anserina, is quite different with pinnate leaves which tend to have a silvery, even silky appearance. It might be thought that these contrasting features would have been sufficient to place the two species in different genera but the flowers are very similar. Silverweed was sometimes, as in times of famine, eaten. The rootstocks were consumed raw or roasted and, according to John Ray, writing in the 17th century, they taste a little like parsnips. Its Latin name suggests that it was readily eaten by geese as the Latin word anser means 'goose'. 
Unlike Silverweed, Goosegrass has pinnately compound leaves.
Southbrook, Daventry. 16 October, 2017
These species are commonplace, even ubiquitous, and of more interest was a melilot, Melilotus altissima. Tall Melilot is an erect plant, found frequently on waste ground in southern England, and is an introduction. It was once occasionally grown as a fodder crop but is almost certainly no longer cultivated. Melilot species often smell of new-mown hay.
Tall Melilot on waste ground at Southbrook, Daventry. 16 October, 2017
We do have a native melilot, Melilotus officinalis, moderately common on sandy ground and occasionally a component of wild bird seed mixes. Its flowers tend to be of a paler shade of yellow.
A closer look at the yellow racemes of Tall Melilot.
Southbrook, Daventry. 16 October, 2017
The melilots are closely related to the medicks, Medicago species. Black Medick or Nonsuch, Medicago lupulina, is extremely common and was present in some abundance. It resembles a yellow clover such as Trifolium dubium, but is easily distinguished by the seed pods, which are coiled and flattened. It is a valuable constituent of hay meadows, being very nutritious - as are clovers and melilots - and is an important food plant for caterpillars of the Common Blue Butterfly. 
The flattened and coiled pods of Black Medick are very distinctive.
Southbrook, Daventry. 16 October, 2017
I had now reached the furthest point of my walk and I began the return to the town centre, passing on the way some clumps of the Japanese Rose, Rosa rugosa. It is widely planted, not only in gardens but by municipal authorities, being valued both for its fragrance and its large, tomato-red hips. It frequently becomes naturalised on sandy soil but also appeared to be spreading beside the footpath I was following.

The rugose (wrinkled) leaves of Rosa rugosa are very obvious here.
Southbrook, Daventry. 16 October, 2017
I briefly considered taking some of the hips home for jam-making but swiftly dismissed the thought. I would not have been thanked.



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