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.

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