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Saturday, 30 April 2016

A-Z Challenge 2016 - Wild flowers 'Z'

My theme this year is wild flowers. Most of us will be aware of the flowers that grow in our gardens but what surprises me is how few wild flowers that I know.

I pass them every day but rarely look at them. Well this year will be different - even if many of them may fall under the letter 'X' for unknown.

'Z - Zenobia

I wasn't sure whether I now suffer from xenophobia or hadn't practised zen enough until this hairless (at least I can match that) American shrub turned up. I though my challenge had fallen at the last hurdle.


Zenobia pulverulenta
The foliage has a waxy coating, with leaves that are elliptical or egg-shaped. The bell-shaped white flowers each produce up to 200 egg-shaped seeds.

Completing the A-Z Challenge for another year gives us great satisfaction even if at some time or other we may have felt like Sisyphus continuing to push his rock up the hill.

However I discovered there are a series of spiny shrubs under the name Zizipus but I think I will end in India and China where an evergreen tree grows.

Zizipus mauritiana
Attributions:
  • Zenobia pulverulenta; 12 June 2006, US Department of Agriculture, public domain
  • Zizipus mauritiana, 13 January 2015, Jodphur - India, by Yercaud-elango, CC BY-SA 4.0




Friday, 29 April 2016

A-Z Challenge 2016 - Wildflowers 'Y'

My theme this year is wild flowers. Most of us will be aware of the flowers that grow in our gardens but what surprises me is how few of the wild flowers that I know.

I pass them every day but rarely look at them. Well this year will be different - even if many of them fall under the letter 'X' for unknown.

'Y' - Yellow Rattle, Yew

As we have nearly reached 'Z' I guess it's time to think about celebrating. What better way is there than to make a noise with a rattle.


Yellow Rattle (Rhinatus minor)
This is actually a pernicious weed. and a semi-parasite, that grows on grasslands and in old meadows. It helps itself to minerals and water by means of its roots making contact with the roots of grasses and other plants.

The flowers appear from May to August, each one developing into a swollen capsule containing numerous large seeds. When the capsule is dry and the stem is knocked or shaken, the loose seeds inside make a rattling sound. This natural alarm clock was once used to signal the time for haymaking.


One of the tasks I have set myself is following the development of flowers from when they appear until they have faded away and turned to seed. Sometimes this has not been possible and I'm starting the other way around. The Yew tree is a marvellous example of this.

Berries on a Yew tree
It was only last month that I wondered what the its flowers looked like.

Yew tree flowers on a local tree
Not very obvious, are they?

Flowers on a churchyard tree
There is an ancient tradition that the evergreen yew sheltered the first Christian missionaries to Britain - before churches were built - and this is why so many yew trees are found in our churchyards.

Last summer I found a magnificent yew in Cornwall just outside the village of St Mawgan. Because of where it was located I could not get all of it in one photo.




By the size of its trunk, it must be hundreds of years old. I'm left wondering whether it is a male or female tree.

Attributions:

  • Yellow Rattle; Great Holland Pits, Essex, 30 May2004, ex en.wikipedia.org,by Sannse - CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Common or English Yew, flowers on a male tree - St Mary's Churchyard, 19 February 2009, ex geograph.org.uk, by Trish Steel - CC BY-SA 2.0 generic

Thursday, 28 April 2016

A-Z 2016 - Wildflowers 'X'

My theme this year is wild flowers. Most of us will be aware of the flowers that grow in our gardens but what surprises me is how few of the wild flowers that I know.

I pass them every day but rarely look at them. Well this year will be different - even if many of them fall under the letter 'X' for unknown.

'X' - Xique-Xique, X = Unknown

Not to be beaten I searched the net for a flower beginning with X. It would certainly be a sore point if you tangled with this Brazilian specimen,


Xique-Xique cactus
Can you make out that pink spot on one of the arms in the centre of the photo?

A close-up that I found elsewhere shows the flower and the cactus spikes you have to content with.


Xique-Xique flower
In the last year I have taken hundreds of photos of wildflowers, a vast number of which I've failed to identify. That's why I classified them 'X' - Unknown.

X1
Its stem is less than 3 inches long and its leaves give no clue to its name - a day later and it had gone.

X2
Here the leaves and the two buds at the right may give some help. If those buds resemble a bird's beak then this may be a Wood Crane's Bill.

Some flowers are just a pleasure to see even if they have finished up in my 'X' files.

X3 & X4
Please feel free to help me out if you are able to name any of these few examples.

Attributions:

  • Xique-Xique Cactus - 6 Oct 2013, Acilondiolivera, CC-BY-SA 3.0
  • Xique-Xique flower - 6 March 2014, Jose Pinlolo da Nobrega Alencar, CC BY-SA 3.0

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

A-Z Challenge 2016 - Wildflowers 'W'

My theme this year is wild flowers. Most of us will be aware of the flowers that grow in our gardens but what surprises me is how few of the wild flowers that I know.

I pass them every day but rarely look at them. Well this year will be different - even if many of them may fall under the letter 'X' for unknown.

'W' - Woodbine, White Deadnettle

For me the word woodbine has always been synonymous with the wartime cigarettes. I never expected it to give me a flower for the letter 'W'.


Woodbine in the early spring
It's a climbing plant that may be seen in hedgerows and in woods. The stems turn woody and silvery-grey as they mature.

The flowers soon become more pronounced with a promise of things to come.


Woodbine flower shaping up
Eventually flowers up to 5 inches long hang in clusters; creamy, white flowers turn cream and may be flushed with purple. At dusk their strong flowers attract moths; during the day they are pollinated by bees.

Woodbine
Of course you may know it by another name - also associated with bees - it's Honeysuckle to me.

It should be no surprise therefore to find that, if you pluck one of the flowers, you can suck nectar from the narrow end.

The honeysuckle (woodbine) has glossy scarlet berries in the autumn.


Honeysuckle outside our bedroom window

Another flower from which it is possible to suck nectar is one that I tasted regularly as a child.


White deadnettle
You would need to be careful here as it is growing among the stinging variety. Better to find one that is growing on its own.


White deadnettle
Its white flowers make it easy to find and identify at roadsides, in hedges, in woodlands and on waste ground.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

A-Z Challenge 2016 - 'V'

My theme this year is wild flowers. Most of us will be aware of the flowers that grow in our gardens but what surprises me is how few of the wild flowers that I know.

I pass them every day but rarely look at them. Well this year will be different - even if many of them may fall under the letter 'X' for unknown.

'V' Valerian, violets

I first becamed aware of Valerian when visiting Cornwall where it grows by roadsides and sprouts from walls.


Red Valerian (centranthus ruber)
It's also know by the name Red Jupiter's Beard.

The leaves have a bitter taste but if young leaves are boiled the taste disappears; they are used in 'gourmet' salads apparently

Butterflies and day-flying moths find its nectar irresistible. The downy seeds are easily spread by the wind.

Common Valerian (valeriana officialis) is the second of the three wild species that occur in Britain.


Common Valerian
This can grow to 5 feet tall in rough grassland, hedges and beside streams. Its flowers have a vanilla like smell, but it's the dried roots smelling like new leather that are attractive to cats.

The dried roots have also been used in linen drawers. Valerian has herbal uses - particularly as a nerve tonic, or to cure anxiety and to relieve the symptoms of St Vitus' dance and epilepsy.

Marsh Valerian has separate plants for male and female flowers and spreads by creeping stems. Its flowers are small and pale pink; its seeds disperse on feathery parachutes.



Common Dog Violet
Common Dog Violets are unscented and perhaps that is why their name implies that they are inferior in some way to the sweet violet.

The Sweet Violet is one of the first wild flowers to bloom after winter. Its delicious scent definitely lifts the spirits. Its flowers are a deep purple colour, or sometimes white like these I found in a local wood.

Sweet Violets (viola odorata)
Its leaves have a characteristic heart shape. In ancient Greece it was the flower of Aphrodite, the goddess of love as well as being the symbol of Athens.

Is petals were once strewn on cottage floors as an air-freshener. Other uses include in toiletries and confectionery.

Attributions:

  • Red Valerian - 21 May 2009, ex geograph.org.uk, by Rod Allday - CC BY-SA 2.0 generic
  • Common Valerian, Near River Leven, Scotland - 21 July 2007, ex geograph,org,uk, By Lainch Rig - CC BY-SA 2.0 generic
  • Common Dog Violet - 27 April 2007, ex geograph.org.uk, by Anne Burgess - CC BY-SA 2.0 generic

Monday, 25 April 2016

A-Z Challenge 2016 - Wildflowers - 'U'

My theme this year is wild flowers. Most of us will be aware of the flowers that grow in our gardens but what surprises me is how few of the wild flowers that I know.

I pass them every day but rarely look at them. Well this year will be different - even if many of them may fall under the letter 'X' for unknown.

'U' - Urtica, Uticularia

As you will see I have had to resort to Latin names again and 'urtica' for the second time in A-Z Challenges.

However for urtica dioica the emphasis this time is on how useful this plant/flower has been. I know it as the common - 

Nettle

Covered with stinging hairs this perennial has tough yellow roots and often forms large patches. Its flowers are small and hang down in loose spikes. Male and female flowers are on different plants.

It has been a source of  food, medicine and dyes since the Bronze Age. It contains iron, calcium, potassium and other trace elements, vitamins A and C and histamine. Its uses have been for treating internal and external bleeding and skin complaints such as eczema. It can lower blood sugar and is used for treating rheumatism.

Nettle leaves can be dried and used to make tea. Nettle beer can be made from the young tops; it may also be boiled and eaten as a vegetable which tastes like spinach - it's richer in iron and vitamins than spinach.

The mature plant once provided fibres to be spun into cloth for sheets and tablecloths.

Cattle are immune to the stinging hairs. Cut and dried nettle is fed to poultry, goats and cattle. Caterpillars of many butterflies (comma, small tortoiseshell, red admiral, peacock and painted lady) feed on nettle leaves


Uticularia vulgaris is an insect eating water plant which nourishes itself through its leaves. It's a plant I've never seen. its yellow flowers rise above the surface of lakes and ponds.

Bladderwort (uticularia vulgaris)
Air filled bladders grow on its finely divided, straggly leaves, The bladders catch small aquatic animals and digest the decomposed remains. The plant spreads by detached pieces of the submerged floating away and sinking to the bottom.

Attributions:
  • Nettle (uticaria dioica) - 7 July 2005, ex geograph.org.uk, by Mike Pennington, CC BY-SA 2.0 generic
  • Bladderwort (uticularia vulgaris), Wells Gray Provincial Park, BC - 14 June 2009, by Jason Holliger - CC BY-SA 2.0 generic

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Spineless invertebrates - Sunday Stamps II

There is nothing like a bit of tautology to confuse me after the blank week last week on 'mammals in the sea'. I thought that I would have a second blank week until I realised that insects are invertebrates and this would permit me to post - 


Great Britain - Anax imperator, 12 March 1985
It was only a short flight for a Emperor Dragonfly to pal up with a butterfly from the United States.

USA - Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, 1 June 2015
Those black stripes on the upper wings give it the 'Tiger' name.

I had to travel to the South Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea to find marine life on the Belize Coral Reef -

Belize - Red Cushion Star, 27 Feb 1984 (-1988)
Oreaster reticulatus can grow up to 50cm (20") in diameter. Most have five arms like the one on the stamp but some may have six or seven.

For more invertebrates follow the link at Sunday Stamps II - 71

Saturday, 23 April 2016

A-Z Challenge 2016 - Wildflowers 'T'

My theme this year is wild flowers. Most of us will be aware of the flowers that grow in our gardens but what surprises me is how few wild flowers that I know.


I pass them every day but rarely look at them. Well this year will be different - even if many of them may fall under the letter 'X' for unknown.

'T' - Tansy, Thistles

This is a shot taken alongside the River Tees at Yarm in North Yorkshire. You should recognise one of the flowers in it if you have visited 'I'



The pink flower is Indian Balsam but it's the yellow flower that was involved in a country practice, to eat in a Tansy pudding at Easter in remembrance of bitter herbs eaten by Jews at the Passover.

The Tansy can have up to 100 flower heads in its dense, flat-topped yellow clusters. An aromatic herb, its strong smell has medicinal and insecticidal properties. Its fern-like leaves once were used to staunch and to prevent miscarriages.

The ferny leaves may be used to spice up omelettes and cakes. At one time Tansy cakes were  a traditional Easter treat.

A more macabre use was its insect repellent properties to keep blowflies off meat and .... corpses!

In preparation for the Challenge over the last year I have taken hundreds of photos of flowers. Now I have have come to write the posts I have discovered that I should have paid more attention to their leaves as well if I was going to differentiate between species.

I never knew, for instance that there are 11 varieties of - 

Thistles
The AA Book of the British Countryside illustrates the various sorts.


Spear Thistle - the famous emblem of Scotland
This biennial which can grow to a height of 6ft grows in hedgerows, waste places and disturbed ground is regarded by many as a vigorous weed. There is no mistaking its prickly nature.

The welted, melancholy, musk and meadow thistle have no prickles. The stemless (or dwarf) thistle will make you painfully aware of its presence should you be unfortunate enough to sit down on one at a picnic.

The flowers of the cotton thistle (the tallest of them all) are covered in white hairs and the woolly's flowers with a white cotton like growth. I have not seen any of these nor the white flowers that make the carline thistle stand out.

Carline thistle
Attribution:
  • Carline thistle heads - 18 May 2008, ex geograph.org.uk, by May and Angus Hogg - CC BY-SA 2.0 generic.

Friday, 22 April 2016

A-Z Challenge 2016 - Wildflowers 'S'

My theme this year is wild flowers. Most of us will be aware of the flowers that grow in our gardens but what surprises me is how few wild flowers that I know.

I pass them every day but rarely look at them. Well this year will be different - even if many of them may fall under the letter 'X' for unknown.

'S' - Solomon's Seal, Sow Thistle

I have only seen this wild flower once and it took me some time to identify it.


Solomon's seal
The ribbed, lance-shaped leaves appear alternately up the curved stems. Tubular cream flowers, tipped with green, hang from each leaf node like pearls.


Solomon's seal
I now know that, in autumn, the flowers are followed by black fruit so this year I shall have to look for it then.

Its name refers to the shape of the scars on the leaf stock, said to resemble (apparently you need to use your imagination) the six-pointed star, like the Star of David, of the biblical King Solomon.

I discovered the plant alongside a disused farm road but apparently it is a woodland plant.


Much less impressive and what I've always regarded as a weed is the -


Sow thistle
The smooth sow thistle hardly differs from the prickly variety other than its foliage is darker, less glossy and has less prickly edges.

When its stems are broken it exudes a thick white sap, Pigs that eat it are said to have an increased milk flow after giving birth - hence its 'sow' name.

I've never tried it but when boiled and smothered it tastes like spinach. You may also eat it raw in salads - not that I would be brave enough.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

A-Z Challenge 2016 - Wildflowers 'R'

My theme this year is wild flowers. Most of us will be aware of the flowers that grow in our gardens but what surprises me is how few wild flowers that I know.

I pass them every day but rarely look at them. Well this year will be different - even if many of them may fall under the letter 'X' for unknown.

'R' - Red Dead-nettle, Ramsoms, Red Clover, Rape


Lamium purpureum
This plant, in earlier times, was one of the many treatments for 'king's evil', or scrofula - glandular tuberculosis.

Last year I discovered someone picking it to feed to their guinea pigs. I know it by the name of - 

Red dead-nettle
As its name implies it doesn't sting, but it can become a pernicious weed. Cut-leaved dead-nettle and henbit dead-nettle are very similar and you have to study their leaves to tell the difference. Henbit dead-nettle is a food favoured by chickens - hence its name.


If you were very observant you may have noticed a flower included in my photo of bluebells under 'B'.

It carpets woodland floors in damp places, but you would probably be first aware of it by its strong smell, especially when its leaves are crushed.

Ramsoms
By its smell you would have no problem identifying it as wild garlic. The flowers are 6 - 15" high and often thousands are grouped together.

It was once call buckram's or bear's garlic and is referred to in an ancient proverb - "Eat leckes in lide (March) and ramsins in May. And all the year after physitians will play."

Whether this is better advice than eating an apple a day to keep the doctor away I don't know, but perhaps the garlic smell is so strong that no-one comes near you.

Ramsoms bulbs are too small for culinary use but its leaves can be used in cooking or in salads.


Clover is valuable for feeding sheep and cattle.


Red Clover
Red clover is important to bee keepers; its nectar attracts the bees - I've been trying for years without success to photograph a bumblebee on one. In some parts red clover is called bee bread.

It plays and important role in fixing nitrogen from the air via nodules on its roots which the plant can then absorb.


If you fly into the UK in early summer fields of yellow are a familiar sight.

Oil seed rape
As a consequence of fields like this rape plants are often seen by the roadside or waste places where seed has blown or been carried by birds.

Attribution:
  • Lamium purpureum - 28 April 2005, by BerndH - CC BY-SA 2,5 generic.


Wednesday, 20 April 2016

A-Z Challenge 2016 - Wildflowers 'Q'

My theme this year is wild flowers. Most of us will be aware of the flowers that grow in our gardens but what surprises me is how few wild flowers that I know.

I pass them every day but rarely look at them. Well this year will be different - even if many of them may fall under the letter 'X' for unknown.

'Q' - Queen Anne's Lace, Quercus Robur

I predicted quite correctly when I wrote about cow parsley under 'C' that I would regret not saving it for 'Q' under its other name.


Queen Anne's Lace
I always thought that I could rely on the flowers from a tree whose Latin name is 'quercus robur'  before it dawned on me that I had no idea what they looked like.

Quercus robur is the tree that has the status of a national emblem - the English oak. I also learned that it is also called the common or pedunculate or French oak despite it receiving the 'title' of Royal Oak for harbouring Charles II when he was escaping Cromwell's Roundheads during the Civil War.

Hopefully by the time this post is published I shall have obtained a photo of the quercus robur that I pass every day and the flowers (or catkins) that it carries.

Oak leaves and flowers (male catkins) in Osgodby Coppice
I understand that the female catkins are smaller, but it's these that produce the 'nuts' that squirrels love.

Acorns
Acorns are also known as mast, from the Scandinavian word 'mat' meaning food. Acorn is derived from Scandinavian too, 'ek korn' meaning oak corn seed. They were once served extensively as winter fodder to pigs that were allowed to roam the woods in places like the New Forest.

For years I believed that the tree grew apples like this.

Oak apple
But this is not an apple at all but rather oak apple gall a swelling caused by larvae of the gall wasp burrowing into the leaf buds as they form.

There are more species of oak trees' The Holm oak is an evergreen and is one I have still to see.

Holm oak catkins 
Some oaks have male and female catkins, others one or the other.

I have still to find out which have which.

Attributions:

  • Oak leaves & flowers, Osgodby Coppice - 18 April 2007, ex geograph.org,uk, by Kate Jewell - CC BY-SA 2.0 generic
  • Holm oak catkins - 2 june 2006, ex geograph.org.uk, by Penny Mayes CC BY-SA 2.0 generic

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

A-Z Challenge - Wildflowers 'P'

My theme this year is wild flowers. Most of us will be aware of the flowers that grow in our gardens but what surprises me is how few wild flowers that I know.

I pass them every day but rarely look at them. Well this year will be different - even if many of them may fall under the letter 'X' for unknown.

'P' - Poppy, Periwinkle

I guess everyone is familiar with the red Common (or Field) poppy if only from its association with Remembrance Day, for which it has been a symbol since 1921.


Common (Field Poppy) in a field of oil seed rape
It occurs typically in cornfields, grass verges and where ground has been disturbed as it did on the battlefields at Flanders in WWI.

Its seeds have been found in Egyptian grain stores dating back to 2500 BC. It was sacred to the Romans for the corn goddess Ceres. Picking the flowers was once believed to induce thunderstorms.

Petals from the poppy were once used to make syrup; seeds yielded two grades of oil - one, edible, for cooking and a coarse type used by artists in mixing paints.

Poppies of a different colour grow besides an unused track close to the village where I live. 


Yellow Poppy poking above a bramble leaf

I now know that if I am to identify what they are I need to pay attention to more than just the flowers.


Orange Poppy
I know that Welsh poppies are yellow and Californian poppies orange bu I need to take a closer look at these this year as they may just be escaped cultivars.


My next flower shares its name with a seashore snail but other than that there is no connection.

Periwinkle
There are two types of the bluish-violet flower. The lesser periwinkle has flowers 1" across, the greater 2" across. The long sprawling stems of the lesser periwinkle weave themselves together to form thick mats; on the greater the stems root wherever they touch the ground and spread rapidly that way.

Periwinkle in a birch wood
I have yet to decide which type are the ones I have photographed.

Attribution:
  • Common Poppy in field of oil seed rape, Fifield Bavant Common - 11 June 2009, ex geograph.org.uk by Trish Steel - CC BY-SA 2.0