Sunday, 2 September 2018

Of fruits and bugs

This autumn looks like being very good for fruits, with blackberries, hawthorn and crab apples all bearing heavy crops. All three are members of the Rose Family, Rosaceae, and structurally apples and haws have much in common, being technically known as pomes. (The pomegranate, from the Latin pome, apple and granum, seed, is unrelated)

Hawthorns at Foxhill Farm and elsewhere are heavy with fruit.
1 September, 2018

Both the Common Hawthorn and the Midland Hawthorn grow hereabouts. Their fruit have structural differences which need not concern us here. Some people find the smell of the flowers separates the two, the former being heavy and sweet, the latter being nauseating. Adele Nozedar describes the fragrance of the Midland Hawthorn as 'putrid'. (Ref. 2)  I will try to check this out for myself next spring although people who go around sniffing hawthorn hedges usually have a nurse with them.  Like, I suspect, many others I have nibbled the ripe fruits but found them rather insipid and it came as a surprise to read Richard Mabey's comment (Ref. 1) that they taste 'a little like overripe avocado pear'.

At Foxhill Farm the Crab Apples seem to be the genuine article.
1 September, 2018

The apples I photographed  today seem to be the genuine native Crab Apple, Malus sylvestris. Many so-called  'crab apples' in our hedgerows have grown from discarded cores of cultivated apples and can present the botanist with considerable difficulties. The fruit, once partially softened (bletted) by decomposition, will be eagerly sought by birds, including migrant redwings and fieldfares. With any luck waxwings will be there too. At one time the juice of crab apples was used to make verjuice, employed on food as a replacement for vinegar or lemon.

On quite a different subject, I was delighted to find this 'nursery' of the bug Elasmucha grisea gathered together on an alder leaf. The species is known as the Parent Bug because when alarmed the nymphs will gather under the mother until danger has passed.

A cluster of Parent Bug nymphs on alder. 1 September, 2018
The nymphs pass through several stages - instars - as they develop and those photographed have reached a stage where they are clearly too large to crowd under Mum. They rely on their camouflage and the fact that, like most bugs, they release a foul-smelling odour as a deterrent. The mother was probably not far away and will eventually lead them to the catkins of birch or alder, their food-plants.(The callous female of the Birch Shieldbug simply lays her eggs on birch trees and then abandons them to their fate.)

Yesterday I met Matt Moser and he assured me that a small pond at the north-east corner of Foxhill Farm is indeed part of his land. With this information I eagerly made my way to investigate the area only to find that the pond had dried up! and I came away with very little. Ah well, next year perhaps.


Mabey,  Richard (1996)  Flora Britannica  Chatto and Windus

Nozedar, Adele (2012) The Hedgerow Handbook  Square Peg Books

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