Monday, 28 January 2019

Ash and bulrush

Today I made my first visit of the year to Foxhill Farm. My target was a clump of Bulrush, Typha latifolia, beside a pond in the north-east corner of the farm.

Bulrush, aka Common Reedmace, at Foxhill Farm, near Badby, Northants.
28 January, 2019
To be specific, my intention was to gather a few of the seedheads and check for the presence of the Bulrush Bug, Chilacis typhae.  It is a widespread species throughout southern EngIand but less frequent in the north. I was surprised to find that the pond contained a reasonable amount of water, as for most of last year it had been dry.

About 25 cm of water had gather over recent weeks.
Fortunately I was able to reach some suitable specimens without the need to risk wet feet and I soon had a few of the sausage-shaped seedheads in my bag for examination at home later.

My attention was drawn to some ash trees in a nearby hedgerow. This species, Fraxinus excelsior, tends to be dioecious but not wholly so, for specimens are commonly found bearing both male and female flowers. However, around Matt's farm the trees are generally one or the other. In the picture the tree on the right was male, and had a rather light and airy look. On the left the tree, a female, looks more 'clumpy', being laden with many bunches of 'keys'.

Ash trees, a male specimen on the right and a female to the left. The trees are
not always dioecious. Foxhill Farm. 28 January, 2019
A closer view of the female tree shows these keys more clearly. These keys, technically samaras, are in fact capsule-like, with the end elongated into a wing. This allows the fruits to be distributed very effectively by the wind so that gardens at a considerable distance from the nearest tree may find saplings popping up here and there. 

The female specimen carried many bunches of the 'keys'.
Ash trees belong to the Olive Family, Oleaceae, and the fruit can be eaten, usually in the form of pickled ash keys. My copy of The Hedgerow Handbook, by Adele Nozedar, includes a recipe for this - er - delicacy, but I'll refrain from indulging for now.

Anyway, back to the bulrushes. Once home I carefully split open the club-like inflorescences, being careful not to allow them to burst open and  the fluffy contents to escape, and searched. Nothing!

Ah well, I'll just write it off as an invigorating walk.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

A flame on a grey day

We've had some brilliant sunshine recently, but there has been little warmth in it. Today it is dismally grey but the temperature, at about eight degrees is, I suppose, quite reasonable for January.

I had a stroll around Byfield Pocket Park looking for signs of spring. Hazel catkins hung limp in the still, damp air and alongside them the bright pink female flowers waited for a breeze to waft grains of pollen their way. Today I suspect they'll wait in vain. A Seven-spot Ladybird was also waiting for sunshine but I doubt it will stir itself today.

A seven-spot ladybird is apparently finding a hazel catkin a congenial
resting place. Byfield Pocket Park, 26 January, 2019
No, everywhere was looking rather forlorn with only a clump of Lords and Ladies to provide a splash of green. This plant produces its leaves in the depths of winter and by the time the curious flowers appear the leaves are beginning to die back. Its Latin name, Arum maculatum, is not always fitting for the specific epithet refers to spotting on the leaves, and these are not always present. The specimen I saw today had completely plain leaves.

Arum maculatum - but in this case immaculate. Byfield, Northants.
26 January, 2019
Many plants have fungi or galls associated with them but Cuckoo Pint, to use another of its many names, seems remarkably free of them. My copy of 'British Plant Galls' (Ref. 1) lists only one, the smut gall Melanustilospora ari, and that is distinctly rare. Perhaps the lack of associates is related to the poisonous qualities of the plant, for all parts are toxic. Pheasants are reported to feed sometimes on the berries but I suspect they often go uneaten.

I left the pocket park a little disappointed but one other object of interest did cause me to reach for my camera. I had made a New Year resolution to keep away from the distraction of fungi, but near to the village green a very attractive toadstool was present.

Velvet Shank on a barely visible tree trunk. Byfield, Northants.
26 January, 2019

It was Velvet Shank, Flammulina velutipes, and was growing on an old tree stump. It is very much a midwinter-early spring species and the cap can cope with being frozen. Some fungi can be very tricky to identify but this is a distinctive species - and is apparently edible. Its Latin name can be translated as 'little flame with a velvet foot' (Ref. 2).


1. Redfern, M and Shirley, P (2nd ed. 2011) British Plant Galls  Field Studies Council

2. Wright, John (2016) A Natural History of the Hedgerow  Profile Books.

Monday, 21 January 2019

The Admiral Nelson and beyond

Today is a murky Monday but, needing to walk, I decided to drive out to Braunston. I made a canalside pub, the Admiral Nelson, my destination. There I parked up and set off.

The Admiral Nelson, serving up good food in an interesting setting, is very
popular. Braunston, 21 January, 2019
In the summer this stretch of the canal, the Grand Union, presents a colourful sight with the locks constantly in use. Today a few 'barges' were moored up, in some cases with smoke billowing from their chimneys, but there was nothing on the move.

The Grand Union Canal, Braunston.
21 January, 2019
I crossed the canal bridge at this point, curious to know why so many vehicles also made use of this bridge. In about a quarter of a mile  I came to another bridge, this one crossing the trackbed of the Great Central Railway. Fifty or so years ago this was a busy line, with  'windcutter' trains hauling their heavy loads of coal down to London, returning later with a train of empty wagons making for the Notts, Yorkshire and Derbyshire coalfields. The Clean Air Act of 1956, introduced in the wake of dreadful London smogs, helped to bring an end to this traffic, making the line rather redundant.

The old track looks forlorn, with farm vehicles the only form of transport now using the route. Sadly there is no right of way.

Looking north along what was once the Great Central Railway.
Near Braunston, 21 January, 2019
In any case, an approach to the track would now be difficult, with thick mud surely deterring even the most resolute of ramblers - although there was evidence that someone or something (sheep?) had made an attempt.

This approach to the old railway track was mega-muddy!
Braunston, Northants. 21 January, 2019
The day remained murky. Looking back towards Braunston the church spire, normally a prominent feature in the landscape, was shrouded in mist.

The spire of Braunston's church is just about visible.
21 January, 2019

Brrr! Time to do an about-turn and make my way back to the car. There was just time to do a quick examination of fences and tree trunks for lichens.

Nothing exciting came to my attention but it was interesting to note how, as a tree grows and the trunk swells, any lichens present tend to split vertically.

Lichens had split vertically as the tree trunk had grown.
Braunston, Northants. 21 January, 2019

I had walked for about a mile and not seen a soul. I wasn't sorry to be going.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Excuses, excuses

Dylan Hartley, the Saints' skipper, has missed some recent games with a 'grumbly knee'. For my part, I've been limited in my walking recently with a 'grumbly ankle'. The connection is rugby because I put my dodgy ankle down to years of place-kicking duties, thumping what was often a wet, heavy ball. Ah well, no-one made me do it.

Of course, I could be using my dodgy ankle as an excuse for not braving the recent chilly weather.

After giving the matter much though I cast aside these pusillanimous thoughts, put on a pair of stout trainers and set off.

A small colony of Common Fumitory, Fumaria officinalis, formed a misty patch at the end of Trinity Close. It blooms, we are told, from May to September, but here it was making a half-hearted attempt to display its pink-purple flowers.
Fumitory was almost in bloom (and rather out of focus) at the end of
Trinity Close, Daventry. 20 January, 2019

It was apparently once favoured for the treatment of 'stomach derangements, liver complaints and in skin affections'. Lucky in that I suffered none of these problems I refrained from gathering any, especially as the taste is 'bitter, saline and unpleasant'.
(Ref 1) The species may have been introduced to Britain as a crop impurity or, bearing in mind its pharmaceutical fame, deliberately. And it also had a simple cosmetic value, as noted by John Clare:

                               A fumitory too - a name
                               That superstition holds to fame -
                               Whose rare and purple mottled flowers
                               Are cropped by maids in weeding hours,
                               To boil in water, milk and whey,
                               For washes on a holiday,
                               To make their beauty fair and sleek
                               And scare a tan from a summer's cheek.

                                                             Clare's Shepherd's Calendar

Facing the bottom of Trinity Close a brick wall bore a wash of the lichen Psilolechia lucida, its yellow-green almost appearing luminous in the dull afternoon light and justifying the specific epithet of 'lucida'  (bright; clear). It is sometimes called the Sulphur-dust Lichen.

The lichen, Psilolechia lucida, stood out brightly in the dull conditions.
Christchurch Drive, Daventry. 20 January, 2019
Many pictures purporting to be this species are to be found using the internet: about 50% of them show a different species!

In Stefen Leys Pocket Park the snowdrop flowers, like those of the fumitory, were sensibly waiting for warmer, sunnier conditions. Bees, which find these flowers a useful source of pollen and nectar, will have to be patient.

Snowdrops kept their tepals firmly closed. Stefen Leys Pocket Park,
Daventry. 20 January, 2019
The hedgerows behind Worcester Way contain many hazels, some with catkins fully mature and releasing their pollen, others biding their time and yet to open. Some of the catkins were distorted and I suspected the fly, Continarinia coryli, was responsible but a microscopic examination revealed nothing (Ref 2). I will gather more in about April and check again.
Is this distortion cased by Continarinia coryi? By April it should be possible
 to tell. Daventry. 20 January, 2019

No, my ankle wasn't being at all helpful . I limped my way home for a mug of restorative coffee.


1. Wren, R.C (1923) Potter's Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations. Potter & Clarke

2. Redfern, M and Shirley, P (2nd Ed, 2011) British Plant Galls  Field Studies Council

Thursday, 17 January 2019

A deceptive sky

Another thought for the day:

Philosophy is essential for mathematicians,
an aid to physicists, worthless to chemists
and a disaster for biologists

                                   John Wright

Hmm. I'll have to think about that


We had a dusting of snow overnight and, although a brilliant sun shone all day from a cloudless sky, the temperature never topped 3 degrees.

Not a day for going out although I braved the elements by venturing 10 yards down the garden. I went to once again examine the catkins on our Garrya elliptica and found that, according to my 'Funky Friends' ruler, they have reached an amazing 230 mm - and they still seem to be growing.

To be honest, I did venture into Daventry but for all its charm I didn't linger. Quickly home to curl up for a read.

I am flitting between Colin Tudge's delightful book 'The Secret Life of Trees' and 'Sapiens' by Yuval Noah Harari.

I have read both of them before, but they are so densely packed with ideas and information that they merit a second visit. For what it's worth, I feel that everyone should read, learn and inwardly digest the Harari book.

So, if you'll excuse me I'm about to start Chapter 9 - The Arrow of History.

To be honest I did go into Daventry

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Of this and that

Thought for the day         
 If all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within 50 years           
life on earth would end. If all humans disappeared from the earth,
within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.

                                                                   Attributed to Jonas Salk

For what it's worth, I don't agree with the first premise, but it is an interesting thought.


The catkins on our male Garrya elliptica continue to lengthen and have reached an impressive 200 mm. Pity there's probably not a female specimen within 50 miles.


Plants of Stinking Hellebore, Helleborus foetidus, are coming into flower in gardens and waste ground. This was the classical name (pronounced hel-le-bor-us) for these plants. It is native in some parts of Northamptonshire but hereabouts it is a garden escape.

Although completely unrelated, the orchid, Epipactis helleborine, is known as the Broad-leaved Helleborine, but if there is an etymological link I don't know.

Also in local gardens plants of Skimmia japonica are putting on a fine show. For a good show of holly berries both male and female plants must be within a reasonably close distance. With this species of Skimmia that is not the case although Skimmia reevesiana does require the two plants - as is the case with Garrya.


In Beckett's Close, Byfield, a few snowdrops have been in flower for a fortnight or so. They are too large to be Galanthus nivalis but I can't work up much enthusiasm for these plants although a woodland floor with masses of them in flower is impressive in its way.

In the meantime we patiently (or in my case, impatiently) await the arrival of the far more pleasing crocuses.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Byfield Pool in January

Today was a meeting of Byfield Craft Club and Chris, being very crafty, was planning to attend. I accompanied her to The Village Hall and having dropped her off, proceeded to the nature reserve of Byfield Pool.

On my visits there I am usually blessed with an abundance of insects but today, in chilly, damp and dull conditions, I planned instead to look for spiders.

The woodland bordering Byfield Pool looks typical for the area.
10 January, 2019
From the adjacent field the woodland surrounding the pool looks inviting but nothing out of the ordinary. Once into the interior however, it is a different matter. Although conditions are currently unusually dry for January, when water levels are high the ground surrounding the pool can be extremely wet. This frequently leads to trees collapsing but, as many of them are willows, they do not die but simply adapt to their new situations and continue to grow.

Many trees have taken a tumble. Willows at Byfield Pool.
10 January, 2019
However, a large proportion of the tree cover consists of Elder, Sambucus nigra. These are relatively short-lived at the best of times but when the ground becomes waterlogged they generally die. This mortality seems to be increased when they are thrown into shade by more vigorous trees and the result is a chaotic jumble.

Dead branches, largely elder, create a chaotic scene.
Byfield Pool, 10 January, 2019
To obtain glimpses of the water today I was forced to push through a margin of tall, dense sedges and brambles. Coots and Moorhens are common and, with luck, a Water Rail may be glimpsed, but the crackling of twigs on my approach meant that any birds promptly took to cover.
The water is  not easily accessible. Byfield Pool,10 January, 2019

However, my quarry was spiders and I ignored the Jelly Ear Fungus, Auricularia auricula-judae,* growing on the dead elder branches. There are those who will include this species in a stir-fry. I am not one of them.

Jelly Ear fungus favours dead elder branches.
Byfield Pool, 10 January, 2019

The next hour or so was spent on hands and knees sifting through wettish leaf litter with, I am bound to admit, precious little to show for it.  A lone walker passed along on the main track, unaccountably and loudly singing 'Amazing Grace'. Now Grace may have been an amazing woman but I didn't wish to hear of her life. We hear little, thank goodness, of her brothers, Remarkable Reg and Precocious Pete (and as for her wayward sister, Promiscuous Pam, the less said the better). No, I simply wanted peace and quiet.

A fine drizzle had started to fall. I gathered up my limited equipment and headed back to Byfield. I know when I'm beaten.

For the record just five species of invertebrates were found, three spiders and two beetles, with two of the spiders and one beetle being new to the reserve. The spiders included the curious Snake-back Spider, Segestria senoculata, found in its usual habitat beneath loose bark.

* For centuries this species was known, as the Latin name indicates, as Jews' Ear. Why I don't know, and for obvious reasons the name has been quietly dropped,

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Of leaf variation and other things

Chris went to her gym today, aiming to get back to pre-Christmas levels of fitness. I accompanied her as far as the entrance but then left her to it. I walked into town, also with fitness in mind.

I set off through the Southbrook area, noting beside the footpath a patch of Yellow Archangel, Lamiastum galeobdolon. It was the variegated form, subsp argentatum.

This variegated form of Yellow Archangel can be a real problem.
Southbrook, Daventry, 9 January,2019
It is an attractive plant, spreading via stolons (rooting overground stems) to quickly cover a considerable area - and therein lies the problem. So invasive is this subspecies that it is listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act and it is an offence 'to plant or otherwise cause to grow this species in the wild'. Certainly my old friend Oliver Tynan was constantly tearing out clumps of it from his garden.

In some respects this situation is a little unusual. Variegated leaves often contain less chlorophyll than the 'normal' leaves and should theoretically be less vigorous. As a rule gardeners growing plants such as this Golden Japanese Euonymus, E.japonicus 'Ovatus Aureus' find they are constantly pruning away any fully green foliage to prevent it overwhelming the weaker yellow leaves. 

Any green foliage of this Golden Japanese Euonymus constantly has to be
 trimmed back lest it overwhelms the yellow leaves.The Dingle, Daventry
. 9 January, 2019.
A well-known species always bearing variegated foliage is Sowbread, Cyclamen hederifolium. The leaf borders are invariably pale and, to a considerable extent, the main part of the leaf blade is pale too.

Cyclamen hederifolium in our front garden.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 9 January, 2019
Hederifolium means, of course, ivy-leaved. It is not surprising that horticulturalists have sought out ivies, Hedera, with unusual markings and even our common native species has distinctly pale venation, but generally this only applies to the leaves on non-flowering branches.
Leaves on the non-flowering branches of ivy commonly bear pale veins.
The Uplands, Daventry, 9 January, 2019

It was while I was stooping to photograph Cyclamen hederifolium in our own garden that I was reminded that the leaves of Eryngium bourgatii are also variegated. Like ivy, the pale areas are generally confined to the leaf veins.

Eryngium bourgatii leaves in our front garden .9 January, 2019

Does variegation confer any benefit or advantage to plants having foliage with this characteristic? I cannot think of any but I'll bet that someone, somewhere, has considered this matter. Perhaps even got a Ph.D out of it!

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

School Street, Drayton

A chilly but nevertheless lovely morning with a clear blue sky showing only a few wisps of cloud. And even these, on closer examination, proved to be the disintegrating remains of aircraft vapour trails.

I took Chris in to work for a couple of hours with the Air Ambulance. Not only is it voluntary and therefore unpaid but only rarely do I collect her without she has found a  'lovely vase' or a 'really nice set of banana straighteners'. I sigh and kiss a few quid goodbye. This voluntary work can be expensive.*

Leaving town I drove out to our allotment to drop a load of dead flowers, lettuce leaves, banana skins and coffee grounds on to the compost heap. Lots of 'ferns' are growing around the cherry tree; in fact they are young plants of Phacelia tanacetifolia.

Young phacelia plants are popping up around our allotment.
Drayton, Daventry. 8 January, 2019

I grew the species last year as a green manure and subsequently many are popping up in unexpected places. I may leave a few plants for their attractive blue flowers growing in little clusters. (The word phacelia comes from the Greek phakelos, a bundle, and refers to these flowers.)

Having locked the allotment gates I set off for a walk down School Street. The school has not functioned as such for several decades and is now a most attractive private residence.

The former school in Drayton, now a lovely house.
8 January, 2019
Almost opposite the school stood a clump of bamboo. Nothing unusual about that you might think but it is by some distance the tallest bamboo I've ever seen in Britain, certainly reaching roof-top height. It may be Phyllostachys bissetii but that is purely a guess. Bamboos are tricky.

Wow! Reaching the rooftops. Bamboo in Drayton.
8 January, 2019

Several gardens held specimens of a neat, flat-topped birch. It is, I believe, a form of our native Silver Birch, Betula pendula, known as Young's Weeping Birch. None of the specimens grew above about three metres in height, making it a very useful tree for small gardens.

Young's Weeping Birch? A very popular small garden tree.
Drayton, 8 January, 2019
Only a mile or so today but that was plenty. I'm feeling smug having lost another pound, and I don't want to be reckless with my walking.

* Today's booty proved to be a pair of heavy, tapestry-like curtains with a medieval motif although, to be fair, they were for our son-in-law Dean, who will doubtless put them to good use.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Kentle Wood in early January

It has been over a year since I last visited Kentle Wood and as I strolled along its rides I began to wonder why I had bothered to return. To be fair, very few places have much to offer at this time of the year and, being only twenty years old and lacking mature trees, the area has a long way to go before it develops a rich flora and fauna.

The name 'Kentle' is rather obscure and the area has been known over the centuries as Kentloo, Kentlelowe, etc. A burial mound is said to have once existed here, created for someone known as 'Centel', and may be the origin of the word. A.E.Brown's book, Early Daventry provides some information on this matter.

Teasels were silhouetted starkly against the lead-grey sky as I approached the wood. Their heads seemed to be empty of seeds, with goldfinches being the most likely plunderers. 

Teasels no longer had any seeds to offer. Near Kentle Wood, Daventry.
7 January, 2019
I zipped my coat up as I faced the biting wind, regretting my decision not to bother with a scarf. What on earth was I doing out here when I could be at home, snug and warm? As I pointed out in my blog, 'Burning off the Christmas Calories' an urban walk is more likely to turn up flowers and other interesting features.

Some species of lichen are extremely hardy and their thick encrustations on elder branches suggested that they, at least, found conditions to their liking.

Lichens, probably mainly Xanthoria parietina, on an elder branch.
Near Kentle Wood, Daventry, 7 January, 2019
Hazels too were flourishing, their catkins dancing in the wind. The catkins are, of course. the male flowers. The tiny red female organs are far more discreet. In my photograph one example is sited directly above a male catkin but that is not always the case.

The tiny female flowers of hazel are a venous blood colour.
Kentle Wood, 7 January, 2019
The hazels are coppiced on a regular cycle, the cut traditionally being only a few inches above the ground so I was surprised to find that at Kentle Wood there was a foot, or maybe eighteen inches of stool beneath the 'poles'. The appearance of the plants suggested that the next coppicing is due soon.

Hazel about ready for coppicing. Kentle Wood, Daventry.
7 January, 2019
This was generally a winter job for farm workers when there was little other work available. Coppicing would provide a crop of long, straight poles for wattle and daub, for hurdles, for hop poles and so on.

A few small fungi were growing on a dead twig but, remembering my New Year's vow, I resolutely turned away from them and, eyes streaming in the wind, headed for home and a hot coffee.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Nothing doing

I've lost three pounds in four days. Actually, that's not quite true: I haven't lost them. I know where they went, but I won't go into physiological details.

Early January in the garden brings few excitements, merely a few observations. A mild morning meant that I had no excuse for indolence and I ventured out to do a few jobs. Task number one was to tidy up the passion flower. These vines, regarded as rather tender fifty years ago, are not only rampant but a few seedlings are popping up here and there. Birds eat the fruit and I'm guessing that the seeds pass through their gut before finding a suitable spot in the garden to germinate. The fruits have long gone of course - or so I thought, until my pruning revealed a fully-formed but unripe example.

The Blue Passion Flower, Passiflora caerulea, still bears
a lone fruit. 6 January, 2019

The Passion Flower received a pruning along with our Chinese Creeping Bramble, Rubus tricolor. It is an attractive plant with, according to the literature, edible fruits, but despite these merits I may find it too vigorous and regret its introduction. I have been tempted to plant its relative Rubus cockburnianus but, its specific name being so rude, I decided against it.

On the same section of fencing grows our Garrya, Garrya eliptica. Over the last few weeks its silky catkins (it is a male plant) have steadily lengthened and are, in my opinion, most attractive. It was awarded the A.G.M. (Award of Garden Merit) by the R.H.S. in 1960.
Garrya elliptica on our back fence.
6 January, 2019

Despite the catkins it is not at all related to plants such as hazel and for a long time botanists were unsure how to classify it. Walter Judd, perhaps the world's leading authority on plants systematics, has not only placed it in its own family, the Garryaceae, but gives it its own order, the Garryales, a high honour indeed.

Myrtle Spurge is seeding itself around our front garden at Stefen Hill.
6 January, 2019
Other than that, the only thing requiring attention was the Euphorbia myrsinites. Known as Myrtle Spurge, this lovely perennial from south-east Europe has spirally arranged glaucous and fleshy leaves on sprawling stems. The flowers are interesting but relatively inconspicuous. From time to time I have to trim back these stems because, as they lengthen they smother more delicate species (and sprawl across the footpath).   Furthermore the plants have a reputation for being allelopathic, chemically suppressing the growth of nearby plants - although I have not observed this in my own garden.  As with the Passion Flower, several seedlings have appeared around the front garden. The euphorbia has also received the A.G.M. from the R.H.S.

So, nothing of great excitement, but with many fat buds sitting at ground level there is promise of considerable interest over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Fighting the Flab

Perhaps 'flab' is putting it a bit strongly but shedding a few pounds wouldn't be a bad thing. I made a start yesterday, losing a pound, but that's all it was - a start.

Today I went for a longish walk around streets in the south of Daventry. That's all you need to know. Read no further because what follows is a tedious account of what I saw. Just an illustrated diary entry really.

As I strode out I could not fail to observe the amount of 'chewing gum' lichen that was on the paving slabs. This is the name frequently applied to Lecanora muralis, and I put its abundance down to the fact that people are more likely to jump in their cars for even short journeys rather than walk. In short, the pavements are under-used.
Lecanora muralis can sometimes look remarkably like chewing gum.
Daventry. 2 January, 2019

There can be no doubt that, if a pandemic wiped out humanity our paving slabs would soon disappear under a thick encrustation of lichens and mosses.

It is quite remarkable how many plants are still in bloom in our gardens. Of course, shrubs such as Viburnum x bodnantense (a hybrid of V. farreri and V. grandiflorum) are planted partly because they are expected to be flowering in mid-winter.

As well as flowering in mid-winter Viburnum x bodnantense is very
fragrant. Daventry. 2 January, 2019

With some other shrubs the flowers are something of a surprise. Ceanothus species are all American endemics and the one photographed, probably Ceanothus thrysiflorus, hails from California. Californian or not, it has no business to be bearing flowers in January, although it is not an infrequent occurrence.

This Californian Lilac bore several clusters of flowers.
Christchurch Drive, Daventry. 2 January, 2019
These so-called Californian Lilacs belong to the Buckthorn Family, Rhamnaceae, and are thus related to our own Common Buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica. (True lilacs are in the Olive Family.)

A number of herbaceous plants are in flower. Elephants' ears, Bergenia species, are like the Viburnum, expected to be in flower in January, but Centranthus ruber is not. I saw several specimens of the latter blooming today but they are not at their best, looking weather-beaten and generally bedraggled.

Red Valerian was in flower at several places on my route.
Daventry, 2 January, 2019
Lavatera species are the Tree Mallows. Their rose-pink flowers are a feature of autumn gardens but in Daventry town centre a specimen carried many blooms.

Tree mallows were in flower. Daventry town centre.
2 January, 2019
The species is probably Lavatera thuringiaca but the whole group has been subject to much revision and all Lavatera species are now placed in the genus Malva. It should now be referred to as Malva thuringiaca. The flowers are much visited by bees - but not today.

With feet aching I turned for home; paving slabs are not kind to walkers. I paused only to photograph our local Eucalyptus gunnii and surprised a local passer-by who stated: 'Do you know, I pass that tree every day and I'd never noticed the flowers.'
The Cider Gum, Eucalyptus gunnii. Daventry. 2 January, 2019

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

New Year's Day

Whoops! Twelve stones and five pounds. Not surprising of course, but something must be done about it. The BBC Weather Forecast for Daventry predicted only a 3% chance of rain so I drew aside the bedroom curtains with optimism, only to find that a heavy drizzle was falling. But was I discouraged from walking? Well, yes, a bit. Chris, incidentally, was going out walking with our daughter Jacqui. I tend to walk alone, not through anti-social traits but because, constantly stopping, I hold up my companions. 

A small spider, Tenuiphantes tenuis, had come in to avoid the rain and was clinging to the curtains. I could spend the day going around the house looking for more creepy-crawlies, but we Whites are made of sterner stuff. I decided to wrap up and set forth, only to get my first surprise before even five yards had been covered. A Pasque Flower, Pulsatilla vulgaris, was in bloom in our front garden!

A lone, rain-wet Pasque Flower is in bloom in our front garden at
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 1 January, 2019
It shouldn't be blooming before April but, as I have often noted, flowers and insects haven't always read the books. Its common name of 'Pasque' comes from Paschal - of Easter. Easter is a movable feast - but not that movable! John Clare wrote of it to his publisher:

'I coud [sic] almost fancy that this blue anenonie [sic] sprang from the blood or dust of the Romans for it haunts the roman bank in this neighbourhood  & is found no were [sic] else...'  At the time Clare was living at Helpston, near Peterborough (then in Northamptonshire, now in Cambridgeshire.).

As my photograph shows, our specimen is wine-red rather than blue.

Anyway, I set out, following Tyne Road, on the western edge of The Grange, and then crossed the A45 by means of a footbridge. This carries a footpath following the line of the disused old Daventry-Leamington Road and is now largely forgotten.

This bridge over the A45 is a wheelchair-friendly structure.
Daventry, 1 January, 2019
Part of the old once-metalled road is now grassed over and I was pleased to spot what is undoubtedly an orchid. I am not knowledgeable enough to identify the species simply from a rosette so a return visit in late spring-early summer would be interesting.

An orchid rosette grew in the mown grass beside the old track.
Daventry, 1 January, 2019
A little beyond this point I turned on my heel and returned more or less by the way I came. At this point I almost, on January the First, broke a New Year's Resolution. I was drawn by malign forces to a toadstool and got as far as photographing it when I remembered my vow. I am refusing to try and identify it.

I must be strong and refuse to identify this toadstool.
The Grange, Daventry. 1 January, 2019
At this time of the year trees have lost leaves, catkins, fruits or whatever. If we are to identify them we must rely on overall shape together with bark and buds.

Plane Trees stand out, their bark making them very distinctive, Sycamores can also lose patches of bark but the results are never as striking.

Among the gloomy limes and sycamores a plane tree stands out.
The Grange, Daventry. 1 January, 2019
A close-up view shows the very pale new bark beneath the old. When losing bark in this way they also rid themselves of sooty deposits, making them popular in towns.
The new bark is of a delicate, palest of green shades. Tyne Road, The Grange, Daventry.
1 January, 2019

Another tree with easily recognised bark is White Poplar, Populus alba. This is a native tree of wettish areas but where I was walking today there were several planted specimens. Often - though not always - the bark bears marks of a rhomboid form, making it rather eye-catching.

 White Poplar has a distinctive bark. Tyne Road, The Grange, Daventry.
1 January, 2019

Three miles or so. Barely sufficient but with approaching spring I should be able to do better. It turned out that Chris and Jacqui had tackled Borough Hill, a much sterner task.