Friday, 11 October 2019

A boring surprise

Can a surprise be boring? Perhaps that's a question for philosophers. I had surprise today when visiting Stefen Hill Pocket Park but it was not at all exciting.
I must have visited the park 50+ times and yet today, strolling through a gloomy area beneath some scrubby trees I found a strongly-growing plant of Spurge Laurel.

Daphne laureola in the gloom beneath trees at Stefen Hill Pocket Park.
11 October, 2019
Despite the name it is neither a spurge nor a laurel, but is a daphne, Daphne laureola. It is a native of Northamptonshire but is largely confined to calcareous soils, and ought not to be here on the mildly acid soils around Daventry. It is hardly likely to be a garden escape, as it is not worthy of a place in most gardens, so perhaps this unassuming evergreen has simply been overlooked.

It may have been far more widespread in the past but was once much sought after by herbalists, with my copy of Potter's cyclopaedia stating... 'acts favourably in syphilis, scrofula and rheumatism'. (Ref.1). More importantly it seems to have been used to terminate unwanted pregnancies. All parts of the plant are poisonous.

It has pleasantly-scented if rather uninspiring greenish-yellow flowers in late winter, perhaps attracting the occasional bumblebee. John Clare was familiar with it, writing:

                            While Dark Spurge Laurel on the banks below
                            In stubborn bloom the autumn blight defies.

                                                                      Shepherd's Calendar, 1827

I will re-visit the plant in 3-4 months time to examine the flowers - should there be any - and make a further check for galls and mines 

In fact my main purpose for visiting the park today was to look for leaf mines, an occupation recently described to me as 'dangerously addictive'. As a study it is of limited general interest so I will spend little time on the subject, but one or two mines found today merit a mention. This mine on Red Valerian, Centranthus ruber, had me scratching my head.

Mine on Red Valerian. The red 'frass' in the mine is simply a reaction
to the activities of the insect. 11 October, 2019

The culprit responsible for this mine on Broad-leaved Dock was certainly the fly, Pegomya bicolor, a species widely found across England but scarce in Scotland. Pegomya species belong to a very tricky family, the Anthomyiidae, but the mines produced by the larvae can be a great aid to identification.

Broad-leaved Dock mined by Pegomya bicolor. Stefen Hill Pocket Park,
11 October, 2019

Away from leaf mines, a few shieldbugs were noted. Hawthorn Shieldbug, Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale, is seen on most of my visits but this colourful insect deserves a photograph.

Hawthorn Shieldbug on sycamore leaf. Stefen Hill Pocket Park,
11 October, 2019

The smaller Parent Bug, Elasmucha grisea, was on an alder leaf and also merited a picture but when aimed my camera at the leaf it was nowhere to be seen. I found the little rascal on my hand where a decent focus proved impossible.

Being difficult. A Parent Bug on the back of my hand.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 11 October, 2019

When I checked my hand a day later the bug had gone.                      


1.  Potter's Cylopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations (1923 edition) Potter & Clarke

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