Monday, 19 March 2018

Trudging back from Daventry

The so-called 'Beast from the East' departed a week or so ago, only to be replaced by what might be called 'The Mini-beast from the East' - except of course that, for naturalists the term 'mini-beast' has a wholly different connotation. And on my walk back from Daventry earlier today there wasn't a mini-beast to be seen.
My regular walks home from Daventry town centre rarely fail to produce some little oddity or surprise, but so tardy is spring this year that I was hardly optimistic.
A rather interesting specimen of Thujopsis dolobrata stands a short distance from Tesco's august emporium. It is commonly known as the Hiba Cedar (the tree that is, not the supermarket) and from a distance it looks not unlike the Western Red Cedar, Thujopsis plicata (and I admit that in the past I have confused the two species).
Thujopsis dolobrata, the Hiba Cedar. Daventry
town centre. 19 March, 2018
Move in a little and the differences becomes obvious, for the Hiba Cedar throws out branches from near to the ground in a rather odd manner. These low branches often initially turn downwards before sweeping up, giving the tree a very characteristic appearance. It is a native of Japan.
The form of the lower branches make this a very distinctive species.
19 March, 2018
With the cold wind behind me I made pleasant progress homeward, pausing only twice.
I was a little surprised to see an early patch of Danish Scurvy-grass, Cochlearia danica, growing at the base of a wall beside the footpath. This is the species which forms long ribbons of white beside roads, particularly motorways and trunk roads. This coastal plant flourishes where salt has been applied in snow-clearing operations.
In fact I should have known better for a closer look showed that it was Common Whitlow-grass, Erophila verna, now often referred to as Draba verna, a common plant in this situation. This diminutive member of the Cabbage Family is easily recognised by its deeply divided petals, but for the 'serious' botanist things are often not so simple as this plant and its close relatives are now divided into about three subspecies - of which I will say no more.
Common Whitlow-grass, a common plant on old walls, etc.
Daventry. 19 March, 2018
My second pause was before a large shrub which looked vaguely familiar and a closer look confirmed that it was Holly, Ilex aquifolium. My hesitation was caused by the atypical form of the leaves. Instead of the expected spiny leaf margins the whole leaf blade was very simple. The impression was that of a robust privet of some sort.
Holly, but not as we know it Jim. Daventry. 19 March, 2018
Confirmation that it was indeed holly came through the presence of leaf mines caused by Phytomyza ilicis, a very common member of the Agromyzidae, a family of two-winged flies.
But the Holly Leaf Miner recognised it anyway.
So, not an exciting walk but not without some interest either - if you are easily pleased!

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