Thursday, 2 April 2020

Stuck in the garden

We aren't really stuck in the garden but I suppose it has become the main focus of attention recently. Now we are into April more flowers are coming into bloom. Aubretias, cowslips, euphorbias and tulips are now putting on a colourful display but insects are still in woefully small numbers.


Euphorbias and tulips in the foreground, cowslips in the middle ground and
aubretia in the background. Our front garden, 2 April, 2020
One surprise has been the pasque flowers. Their numbers increase every year and now show a surprising range of colours. Salmon pink blooms are probably the most numerous.

There are plenty of these salmon-pink pasque flowers but they are not my
favourites. 2 April, 2020
My favourites are still the purple native forms and it is tempting to introduce a few into local meadows. The snag is that they do like a taste of lime but the local soils are slightly on the acid side.

The sumptuous purple of the native form is hard to beat..
A surprise has been the appearance of a white form. It did appear last year but we thought we had lost it, so its reappearance has been very pleasing. I have never knowingly bought a white pasque flower so it may be a natural sport.


Where this white form came from I'm not sure.

In my opening paragraph I bemoaned the current paucity of insects in the garden. Thymes, lavenders and rosemary should bring them in during the next two or three months but space is limited in our rather small garden. What I won't be doing is follow the advice given in the magazine of our local wildlife trust.


A good case can be made for growing cuckoo flower and holly - but why
nettles?
Once again we are encouraged to plant nettles in our gardens. Certainly they are excellent for the butterflies indicated (plus numerous bugs, etc).  But why? Nettles grow on waste ground in abundance and if the local authorities can be encouraged to limit their use of sprays there will be plenty of nettles available. I go along with Ken Thompson, who argues that growing them is quite unnecessary.



I have found Ken Thompson's book very persuasive and it would take a lot to make me change my mind. At the time of writing Ken was Senior Lecturer in the Department of Plant and Animal Sciences at the University of Sheffield; he knew what he was talking about.

Reference

Thompson, K. (2006) No Nettles Required  Eden Project Books





Wednesday, 1 April 2020

A trio of oddities

I am a sucker for the unusual and shun many garden staples. In recent years I have yielded a little and we have a handful of roses in our garden but I am always on the lookout for the oddity. Sometimes things do not work out and the Ensete ventriculosus (a type of banana) which I attempted to grow about three years ago popped its clogs during its first winter.
Ensete ventriculosus was a failure with us



The Ensete, or Musa ensete to some botanists, IS hardy in  parts of the UK but needs more mollycoddling that I could give it (Note 1).


I have a trio of plants trained against a south-west facing wall and so far - touch wood - they seem happy. Nearest to the house is a Blue Wattle, Acacia dealbata. This Australian plant is not usually trained in this manner so how well it will thrive remains to be seen.


Acacia dealbata seems to be healthy and is putting on lots of growth.
Our garden at Stefen Hill, Daventry. 1 April, 2020
The neat pinnately compound leaves are pleasing in themselves and if we are also rewarded with the little yellow pom-pom flowers that will be a bonus.

We are hoping our Blue Wattle will have the blue foliage which
gives the plant its name


Eucryphia intermedia 'Rostrevor' is also a gamble.  It is a hybrid between Eucryphia glutinosa, from Chile, and the Australian E. lucida (Note 2. When in flower this member of the obscure Cunoniaceae family is a lovely sight, and now that we are into April we should be in the clear of frosts.

The foliage on our Eucryphia is looking very healthy
It looks nothing as yet but its creamy white flowers should be with us next autumn. In fact it flowered for us last autumn but I foolishly failed to save the picture.
Eucryphia 'Rostrevor' should flower for us in the autumn.

Precisely the same happened with the third of our trio, Clerodendron bungei: it also flowered for us last year but again I deleted the picture.
Clerodendron bungei flowered for us last year. Picture via Wikipedia
The plant has rather unpleasantly scented foliage but makes up for it with fragrant flowers.



We are currently living in difficult circumstances but there is much to look forward to: it is a matter of appreciating what we have or showing, to use that mildly irritating word, mildfulness.





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Notes


1. The banana of our supermarkets is the Cavendish Banana, named after William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire, and is a highly complex group of superficially similar varieties and currently the subject of much research.


2. The fact that the Cunoniaceae Family occurs in both Chile and Australia may be down to the fact that these two land areas were once linked but were torn apart as a consequence of 'continental drift. However, the family also has outliers in Malaysia and South Africa.


Monday, 30 March 2020

Photinias

Photinias are at the present looking at their finest if, that is, they are being grown for their brilliant blood-red young foliage. This foliage is best seen in Photinia 'Red Robin' but this is a hybrid between Photinia glabra and P. serratifolia.
 
The taxonomy of these shrubs is very confused and their relationships are still being tweaked by botanists as further investigations are made into the group's genetics. Photinia was once included within the genus Stranvaesia, itself a confusing name, being a pedantic Latinisation of the name Strangeways, the genus being named after William Fox-Strangeways, 4th Earl of Ilchester. A few decades ago Photinia was controversially separated from Stranvaesia but recent research has confirmed that the move was largely justified.
Photinia 'Red Robin'. Stefen Hill, Daventry. 30 March, 2020



Photinia and Stranvaesia are members of the Rose family, Rosaceae, and produce  clusters of creamy-white flowers vaguely like some hawthorns. Where Photinia is grown as a hedge these flowers rarely appear, being ruthlessly clipped off. Although nowadays Photinia is primarily grown for its young foliage this was not always the case. To quote from that invaluable work, 'Hilliers' Manual of Trees and Shrubs', "The globular, brilliant crimson fruit are carried in conspicuous, pendent (sic) bunches all along the branches".
Perhaps other species of Photinia should be more widely grown. This is
Photinia (Stranvaesia) davidiana. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.



There are a number of Photinia species but, other than the ubiquitous 'Red Robin' other members of the genus are rarely encountered outside botanic gardens. 


Note  Writing a blog like this is what happens when you're cooped up!

Friday, 27 March 2020

Another garden miscellany

Restrictions of movement mean that I am paying more attention to the garden and its occupants. The glorious weather continues and so I am able to mooch about in comfort.


The front garden is ablaze with fritillaries, narcissi, aubretias and tulips but the helianthemums are still weeks away from flowering. Nevertheless it was this last-named plant which set me a small puzzle today. Some of the leaves at the shoot-tips were bunched together and clearly something was inside.


This cluster of leaves on a helianthemum demanded investigation.
Our garden, Stefen Hill, Daventry. 26 March, 2020

I was pretty certain it was a micro-moth and I was hoping that it would be one of the uncommon helianthemum specialists. I split open one of the affected shoots and out dropped a caterpillar. So yes, it was a micro-moth but an examination showed that it was a Light Brown Apple Moth, Epiphysas postvittana. Despite its name it is a polyphagous species and therefore likely to be found on a wide range of shrubby plants. Last year it made a mess of our Strawberry Tree.

The species involved proved to be the Light Brown Apple Moth. I placed
 it on a work-surface for closer examination.
The yellow tulips are full of tiny pollen beetles. These are tricky to identify but I am pretty certain that they are Meligethes aeneus.


Oddly enough an even smaller beetle, a weevil,turned out to be more straightforward. It was Ceutorhynchus typhae but, at barely 2 mm long, was beyond the capabilities of my simple camera. I have borrowed a picture from the internet.


Ceutorhynchus typhae






It is widespread and is common, but is easily overlooked. The long 'snout' - the rostrum - is typical of the genus.


Our garden is humming with insects in the summer, with thymes, lavender and scabious attracting a wealth of insects, but currently only the aubretia is being targeted and has attracted a number of Dark-edged Bee Flies, Bombylius major. The 'dark edge' refers to the leading edge if the wings and the photograph below shows that the insect only has two wings compared with the four of a true bee.


Dark-edged bee Fly on bare earth at Byfield today, 27 March, 2020


The pasque flowers, Pulsatilla vulgaris, and tulips, lovely though they are, have no nectar to offer.


Speaking of pasque flowers, the first ones to bloom were the reddish, non-native forms from (probably) the European Alps. The latest ones now open are our native form, still found in the west of Northamptonshire.
The pasque flowers currently blooming are a rich purple in colour.
Our garden in Stefen Hill, Daventry. 26 March, 2020

I would have expected insects to visit these flowers if only for the pollen, but so far I have seen none.

 


Tuesday, 24 March 2020

A novel situation

New restrictions imposed by the government (not before time) have the effect of greatly limiting options available for recording wildlife. Yes, a visit to interesting locations, under the guise of 'taking exercise', is still possible but restraint is obviously needed. Accordingly many observations will be from our own small garden.


Fortunately we are currently enjoying unseasonably fine weather and insects are increasingly in evidence. Butterflies are on the wing and today peacocks and commas were noted although only tortoiseshells lingered for long enough to be photographed.


Tortoiseshell butterflies are very attracted to our aubretia.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 24 March, 2020
Our clumps of aubretia are proving a big attraction and I hope to see Dark-edged Bee Flies at the flowers in the next day or two. Spiders, particularly Pardosa species, are dashing around but the Nursery Web Spider, Pisaura mirabilis, seems to adopt a different strategy of waiting motionless on a suitable leaf.

The Nursery Web Spider is easily recognised by its slim build and a distinct
pale stripe on the thorax. Our garden, 24 March, 2020
More tulips have come into flower, with Tulipa humilis, var violacea brightening up the gravel garden. I am hoping they spread and, given a hot dry summer, they should.


More plants of Tulipa humilis are now flowering. 24 March, 2020
I did take a brisk walk today (or as brisk as I could make it). One - to me - interesting thing which caught my eye was the foliage of an Elder, Sambucus nigra, plant in a hedgerow.

An area of mosaic virus was affecting this elder bush.
Badby Road West, Daventry. 24 March, 2020
It had the veining of a typical mosaic virus, and is a fairly well-known affliction of elder. Little can be done other than cutting off and burning the diseased plants. A very similar virus affects honeysuckle and, in view of the fact that elder and honeysuckle are closely related (both being in the Adoxaceae family) this is unsurprising; perhaps the virus is basically the same. Some virus-affected plants are deliberately cultivated, with some tulips being an example.





 

Monday, 23 March 2020

Garden goodies (Blog No. 1000)

Many flowers grab our attention in spring - hellebores, magnolias, forsythias and cherries come to mind. But it is perhaps bulbs that really make an impact, particularly where gardens are small and space is at a premium. Crocuses were a great disappointment this year but, as they are not strictly bulbous plants, I will move on.




It seems that more and more daffodils are planted every year and in gardens, churchyards parks and village greens they are currently blooming in their millions. I grow relatively few, conscious of the fact that they contribute little to insect life.


I try to ensure that only fragrant narcissi are present in our garden.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 23 March, 2020

However, there is a lack of logic here, for I grow quite a few tulips although they are hardly besieged by insects either.

Brilliant yellow tulips are available...
I excuse myself on the grounds that a wonderful range of varieties is now readily available and too tempting to resist. 

...as are some stunning reds.



Currently the tulip providing the greatest pleasure is Tulipa humilis. It is a dwarf species and our specimens are 10 to 12 centimetres in height.


Tulipa humilis, var violacea is now blooming in our front garden at
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 23 March, 2020
It is found wild across a broad stretch of land from Syria and Lebanon to South-west Russia and Iran and is generally of a pale pink form. Christopher and Basak Gardner (Ref 1) found darker forms in their travels and these deeper reds form the Violacea Group.

I have also planted bulbs of Tulipa bakeri (= Tulipa saxatilis). This species, from Greece and Turkey, flowers rather later and I must be patient as I await their appearance.

The Snake's Head Fritillaries, Fritillaria meleagris, are about to come into bloom. Perhaps it is in this half-opened state that the ophidian form is most apparent but many would disagree with me - it is all in the eye of the beholder.




A couple of years ago I would probably have described this lovely plant as a British native, but recent research into their genetic make-up suggests that the spectacular displays seen at, for example, Iffley Meadows, Oxford, or in meadows near Cricklade are almost certainly plants with a garden origin (Ref 2).


References

1. Gardner, C. and B. (2014) Flora of the Silk Road   I.B.Taurus

2. Marren, P. (2019) How important is native status? British Wildlife, Vol 30, No 6, 





 



 


Sunday, 22 March 2020

The dreaded C word

All of us will be directly affected by 'coronavirus' in many obvious ways Chris is very gregarious and will miss the close contact she has hitherto enjoyed with people in her Craft Group, Coffee Club and via various other social activities. I am far more of a loner and wandering unaccompanied in fields, along hedgerows and beside watercourses is natural to me. My blogging should be little affected.


So I continue toddling about, a wildlife nosey-parker.


The local pocket park seemed an easy place to visit and the weather was fine despite a rather chilly east wind. The conditions were encouraging many insects to take to the wing and I regretted not bringing a sweep net, but I had other things in mind.



Tortoiseshell butterflies were out and about, resting on warm patches
of bare earth. Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 22 March, 2020
Patches of Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara, were looking bright and cheerful but were in a shady position, and so not attracting insects. 

With a little more sunshine these coltsfoot flowers may have been
receiving insect visitors. Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 22 March, 2020
I knew a spot where Greater Stitchwort, Stellaria holostea, grew. A tiny moth, the Three-colour Groundling, Coryocolum tricolorella, lays its eggs on this plant and this is a good time of the year to find the caterpillars. However, a careful search revealed nothing. The patch is flourishing and gradually spreading. Next year perhaps?

A small but growing patch of Greater Stitchwort grows beside the pond
in Stefen Hill Pocket Park. 22 March, 2020 
Another moth larva I was hoping to find was the Viburnum Midget, Phyllonorycter lantanella, and with this I had more luck. Its larvae feed on several species of viburnum including Laurustinus, Viburnum opulus. Several of the mines created by the larvae were found.
The distinctive mine formed by the larvae of the Viburnum Midget.
Near Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 22 March, 2020





Feeling moderately pleased I set off home, pausing only to photograph the tiny but curious flowers of box bushes.


Box, Buxus sempervirens, bears interesting flowers but they are generally
 overlooked. Garden near to the pocket park, Stefen Hill. 22 March, 2020









Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Pulmonarias

I like Pulmonarias. They are hardy, unfussy, early-flowering and - crucial as far as I am concerned - popular with bees and other insects.


Today, in Byfield, I found several specimens in flower but conditions were too chilly and dull for any insect visitors to be present.


A plant with bright blue flowers, growing in a friend's garden, was almost certainly the very popular 'Blue Ensign' (but see Footnote).



Pulmonaria officinalis, perhaps the form known as Blue Ensign
Garden in  Byfield, Northants, 18 March, 2020


Growing in a hedgerow on the edge of the village was Pulmonaria officinalis, perhaps of the variety known as 'Rubra'.


Pulmonaria officinalis rubra, growing in a hedgerow. Byfield
Northants, 18 March, 2020
Yet a third, pale blue example, was growing on a shady bank, unsuppressed by the rampant ivy around.

 
A pale blue form on a shady bank, Byfield, Northants.
18 March, 2020


There are around a dozen species of Pulmonaria, give or take, found wild in Europe though to Central Asia but all the plants seen today, despite the variation on colour, were specimens of the Common Lungwort, Pulmonaria officinalis. The species has many common names such as Jerusalem Cowslip, Mary's Tears or Spotted Dog. The last of these names, and the second one too,  refers to the pale spots on the leaves, clearly visible in the first and third pictures.

The spots were once regarded, in accordance with 'the doctrine of signatures' as an indication of how the plant should be used medicinally. As these spots appeared to resemble diseased lungs they were employed accordingly. Another descriptive old name is Mary-spilt -the-milk and also refers to the white blotches.

Many species open pink and gradually turn blue as they develop so it is often best to see a plant in full flower before purchasing plants.

Incidentally a species of lichen, Lobaria pulmonaria, is also known as lungwort, and was used by herbalists in a similar manner.


It does not occur in Northamptonshire but perhaps vaguely resembles ravaged lung tissue.


Footnote  I have since been advised by a fellow-blogger that 'Blue Ensign' has unspotted leaves. Thanks Stasher.


Monday, 16 March 2020

Butchers' Broom

Chris has, for some years now, been a member of a Byfield walking group, meeting on Mondays. However, a combination of ill health and foul weather has meant that she has missed several walks recently. Today was fine and Chris is feeling much better generally so I dropped her off at West Farndon, about two miles from Byfield, to join in today's walk.


I was about to set off to do my own thing when I noticed, in a hedgerow, a group of about three or four familiar-looking shrubs. They were specimens of Butchers' Broom, Ruscus aculeatus.


Butchers' Broom, showing undeveloped fruits in the middle of
the cladodes.  West Farndon Northants, 16 March, 2020
It is native to Britain, being found in, for example, Kent, but is certainly not a native of Northamptonshire. It does occur in our county in a number of places but only as a garden escape, in churchyards, and so on.

It is a decidedly odd plant for it has no leaves. Instead it has flattened stems, known as cladodes, which fulfil the functions of leaves. The word aculeate means 'with sharply pointed tips', and these plants are decidedly prickly. The flower-buds grow in the middle of these cladodes, again demonstrating that they are not leaves.

The bright red fruit, surprisingly untouched by birds.
If the fruit look vaguely like those of Asparagus that is not surprising for the two plants are related, both being placed in the Asparagaceae family. Richard Mabey (Ref.1) states that 'bundles of the spiny stalks were once used by butchers to scour butchers' blocks'. However Fitter & Fitter (Ref 2) state that it is 'not ever known to have been used by butchers for brooms'. So there!

A broad-leaved but less spiky form, which many years ago I found commonly growing on Gibraltar, is frequently used in florists' bouquets. Long ago it had a different use, being 'diaphoretic, diuretic, deobstruent and aperient' (Ref 3). (Apparently deobstruent beans 'removing obstructions'  or 'gravel' as older books put it, whereas diaphoretic means 'promoting sweating'.)

Anyway, I took half a dozen berries with a view to growing some plants - although I don't know why; perhaps the effort of growing them may promote sweating.


References


1. Mabey, R. (1997)  Flora Britannica  Chatto & Windus


2. Fitter, R. and M. (1967) Penguin Dictionary of British Natural History  Allen Lane


3. Wren, R.C. (3rd Ed., 1923) Potter's Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations
                                                                         Potter and Clarke Ltd.



Monday, 9 March 2020

Chronicles of wasted time

I suppose we can all recall having to rote-learn Shakespeare's Sonnet 106 beginning 'When in the chronicle of wasted time...'  No? Actually neither can I and yet, oddly enough, these words came to mind when looking back over the last few weeks. I have yet to see a bee or a moth (although I have noticed a few leaf-mines created by the latter) and with only a few brief sunny episodes the overall picture has been windy, sunless and desperately damp.


I trudged out to Foxhill Farm today, not in the hope of seeing much but just feeling a sort of duty. And I was right - I didn't see much.


I trudged across sodden fields, finding the going particularly difficult where water from a spring-line threatened to ooze over my trainers (why do I insist on wearing inadequate footwear?).


Here and there the mud was stained ochreus yellow. I knew of these patches as a child but hadn't a clue what they represented.


Reddish-orange staining represents colonies of iron bacteria.
Foxhill Farm, near Badby, Northants. 9 March, 2020
Now, with the wisdom of time (Wisdom? You've got to be joking! Ed.) I know that this staining is caused by colonies of 'iron bacteria'. They metabolise by converting ferric iron (Fe2+) into ferrous iron (Fe3+), releasing a small amount of energy in the process - not much but apparently sufficient to allow growth to take place. The staining is usually accompanied by an oily sheen, just visible on the right of the picture. (Incidentally these bacterial colonies are responsible for the rusting-up of iron pipes and are of considerable economic importance.)

Any road, having negotiated this quagmire I made my way to a small pond wherein Greater Reedmace, Typha latifolia, grows.

The flower spikes of Greater Reedmace. Foxhill Farm.
9 March, 2020
I took a couple of the near-bursting heads and placed them in a bag for investigation later. The larva of a moth, Limnaecia phragmitella, is sometimes found inside these heads and I live in hope...

This pond has been known to me for several years and it always dries up in the summer. Today it held large quantities of frog spawn and we must hope that the frogs fully metabolise and hop away before it dries up again. I'll check in a month or so, not just to observe the frog development but because the site often harbours interesting insects and spiders.

Frogs' spawn between shoots of Greater Reedmace.
Foxhill Farm, 9 March, 2020
After a little desultory sweeping of ivy and the tatty tops of stinging nettles I decided that life had more to offer. I set off home noting that birds will have plenty of material with which to line their nests this spring.

Brambles snatch at the fleeces of passing sheep. Foxhill Farm.
9 March, 2020
It hardly needs saying that Foxhill Farm overwhelming functions as a sheep farm.


Once home I pulled apart the reedmace heads and was pleased to find several moth larvae which proved to be the species I had expected.


The caterpillars of the Shy Cosmet Moth inside a bulrush head.
Foxhill Farm, 9 March, 2020


For some reason Limnaecia phragmitella is known as the Shy Cosmet Moth. It is widespread, being found virtually everywhere that reedmace grows.


So, not altogether a waste of time.




 



Sunday, 8 March 2020

Spring crucifers

It is at about this time of the year when our roadside verges, particularly trunk roads, become fringed with Danish Scurvy Grass, Cochlearia danica. I have discussed this salt-tolerant crucifer before and will therefore say nothing further on the matter. However, when I stepped outside our door earlier today and saw a fringe of with flowers on the verges of Christchurch Drive I could not resist taking a look.


Common Whitlowgrass edging Christchurch Road, Daventry.
8 March, 2020
In fact, once again, they turned out to be Common Whitlowgrass, a plant I discussed only a few days ago ('In Darkest Daventry', 3 March). Disappointing, though no doubt we will all be seeing Danish Scurvy Grass in profusion before long. It  often has a hint of purple-pink to its petals, in which case it is quite distinctive. Incidentally I have in the past 24 hours found that Captain James Cook recommended the use of Scurvy Grass on board ship. We now know that it has a high Vitamin C content.

Another edging plant par excellence is currently flowering in our garden - and thousands of others up and down the country. I refer of course to the Aubretia, Aubrieta deltoides. I am always pleased to see it because its blooming often coincides with the first appearance of the Dark-edged Bee Fly, Bombylius major, an insect which commonly visits aubretia, together with flowers such as primroses, celandines and violets. It often provokes comments such as, 'What are the bees with long pointy heads which hover in front of flowers taking nectar?' Certainly these insects are very bee-like superficially but are not really related, bees having four wing but bee-flies only two.


Aubretia, Aubrieta deltoides, in our front garden,
8 March, 2020
I'll be monitoring bee-flies with particular care this year because the Dotted Bee-fly, B. discolor, has recently been noted in Northamptonshire and may be increasing its range.

Speaking of crucifers I am watching with interest a plant of Woad, Isatis tinctoria, which was kindly bought for me by my friend Lynda. It is still some weeks short of flowering but be warned: I intend to do a blog on it at the appropriate time. Once mature I'll be painting myself with its blue dye and prancing through Daventry (by 'mature' I refer to the plant, obviously not me).



Friday, 6 March 2020

But it isn't Easter yet...

Easter Day is not until 12 April and yet our Pasque Flowers, Pulsatilla vulgaris, are coming into bloom. The word 'pasque' is, like Paschal, derived from a word meaning Easter*.


I was discussing this with our next-door neighbour, Svetlana. She and her husband Vladimir are from Moldova and when she asked me what the flowers were she told me that in Moldova they are known by a very similar name, also with the Easter connotation.


Though in flower, the leaves of this lovely plant have not yet developed and this is clear from my photograph.


Pulsatilla vulgaris, formerly Anemone pulsatilla.
Our garden, Stefen Hill, Daventry. 6 March, 2020
Our native Pasque Flower from eastern Northamptonshire is a rich purple colour and the red form currently blooming in our front garden is perhaps from the Alps, maybe accounting for its rather early flowers.

Until about 1960 the Pasque Flower was known as Anemone pulsatilla but was transferred to the genus Pulsatilla as more information and material was obtained from overseas. A similar thing has happened to the celandine, which by chance I also saw today. Until fairly recently it was regarded as a species of Ranunculus, being known as Ranunculus ficaria but it has been transferred to the genus Ficaria. Most modern books now call it Ficaria verna.

The petals of the Pasque Flower are not really distinguishable from sepals and, as I have oft mentioned before (You have indeed, ad nauseam, Ed.), botanists usually refer to them as tepals or even simply as perianth segments. With buttercups and the celandine this problem does not occur as the petals and sepals clearly differ from each other.

Ficaria verna, formerly known as Ranunculus ficaria. Near
Southbrook, Daventry, 6 March, 2020
The word celandine is derived from the Greek word chelidon, meaning a swallow. It has been suggested that this is because it begins to flower at about the same time as swallows appear. Perhaps this may have been true in Mediterranean regions centuries ago but in modern Britain celandine flowers have usually long gone before the first swallows arrive.

* But, I hear you say, the Latin word pascuum means 'of pastures'. The Pasque Flower is indeed sometimes found in pastures so the name could refer to that. As Shakespeare put it: 'You pays yer money, you takes yer pick!'


Thursday, 5 March 2020

Surprise, surprise!

Not a bad day: score 2 out of 3. Dry = 1 point, windless = 1 point, temperature = 0 points


I went along to Byfield Pocket Park more out of habit than in the expectation of finding anything out of the usual. In fact I was in for a surprise. At the southern end of the park is a small stand of Holm Oak, Quercus ilex. It is a Mediterranean species but is hardy to the point of being a problem in certain areas such as the Isle of Wight. Its Latin specific name, ilex, presumably is a reference to the fact that its spiny juvenile leaves can resemble Holly, Ilex aquifolium. It occasionally bears small acorns but I found none last autumn.


Anyway, I was examining its foliage when an unfamiliar leaf-mine caught my attention.


Leaf mines on Holm Oak caused by the larvae of Ectoedemia heringella. 
Byfield Pocket Park, 4 March, 2020
Once home, a bit if microscope work plus a spot of research showed that it was the work of a moth, Ectoedemia heringella. Known as the New Holm-oak Pigmy it was first recorded in Britain as recently as 1996, in Greater London. Since then it seems to have spread steadily to colonise these evergreen oaks over much of south-east England and the midlands. Naturally I will keep my eye open for adult specimens.


Ectoedemia heringella. Picture via Wikipedia
 

Along with the Holm Oaks are a couple of Norway Spruces, Picea abies. Even the lower branches are over two metres above the ground but I managed to reach some of the foliage with my sweep net and secured a bug. It was a cicadellid bug with no common name, so Idiocerus herrichi will have to suffice. Like the previous species it was once an uncommon insect but has spread significantly over recent decades. Nearly all Idiocerus species are associated with willows or poplars but this particular once has long been suspected of overwintering on evergreens so its presence on spruce was interesting.

So, on an unpromising morning I was able to find two insects which, as it happened, were new to the pocket park making the site total now 198 species.


However, it must be said that apart from these tiny creatures there was, on this rather raw morning, little else worthy of comment. Sweet Violets of the white form were flowering. Violets are the food plant for certain fritillary butterflies and it is just possible that these lovely insects will find them. Cor, talk about optimism!


Sweet Violets were in flower. Byfield Pocket Park, 4 March, 2020