Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Spurge-laurel again

Virtually every Wednesday finds me in Byfield, but recently I seem to have exhausted the few opportunities it has to offer regarding January wildlife. I decided to visit the extreme north-east of the village, by journeying to The Causeway. Its name may be a corruption of 'Cow's Way' but I cannot confirm this.

I was surprised to find a number of plants in flower or with well-developed flower buds.
The most obvious of these was Winter Jasmine, Jasminum nudiflorum. Being a winter flowering shrub it probably attracts few, if any, insects; certainly I have never seen it receive visitors.

At a time of the year when there is not much colour about Winter Jasmine
is very welcome.  Byfield, 22 January, 2020
Unsurprisingly it appears to produce no fruit and I know of no records of it escaping into the wild. I suppose we take it for granted but it is a lovely thing and it received the coveted A.G.M. (Award of Gardening Merit) in 1923.

Nearby grew Stinking Hellebore, Helleborus foetidus. It was close to flowering and its green, claret-edged tepals* will soon become apparent.
Stinking Hellebore. Not foul-smelling but merely a bit...odd.
Byfield, 22 January, 2020

An alternative name for the plant is Setterwort but I have never heard the name used and it appears to have a north country origin.

The plant I had really come to see was Spurge-laurel, Daphne laureola. I had found it in the area some seven or eight years ago. Would it still be present? In fact I quickly found two robust plants threading their way through hedges in adjacent gardens.

Spurge laurel has evergreen, laurel-like leaves. Byfield, Northants.
22 January, 2010
The flowers of this shrub are hardly colourful, being of a yellow-green shade, and it relies upon its fragrance to attract early-flying moths and bees. I stuck my nose close to the blooms and detected a faint but pleasing scent, one which would be far more obvious to the insects it was courting.

The flowers are not striking but are neat and fragrant. They are followed by
poisonous black berries.

Its status around Byfield is problematic. It is native to those parts of Northamptonshire where lime is present in the soil, but that is not what we have around Byfield. Nor is it a plant which would be carefully propagated and passed from gardener to gardener. I suspect it is a rather uncommon wild plant in western Northants but with bird-sown plants (the juicy black berries seem attractive to birds) sustaining a robust local population. It is also present here and there in Daventry. Overseas it ranges across Europe to the Azores and has been introduced to North America where, in Washington state, it has become a noxious weed.

All-in-all I was pleased with the morning's findings and I may return to examine the spurge-laurel for Dasineura daphnes, a rare fly which causes distortion of the shoot-tips.

* Tepal. A term used when it is unclear whether the organ in question is a petal or a sepal.

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