Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Young leaves

 Fresh young leaves are usually attractive and characteristic of spring.  These are the developing oak laeves on the oak cordon in GCM3. The coppery tints fade after a few days.

Hawthorns are very bright to but I feel there should be far more creatures in this burgeoning lushness. Scouring GSM3 with close focus binoculars every day, I not only look for invertebrates, but try to see if there is any feeding damage from larvae.  There are some suspicious holes in wood dock leaves, but nothing else.  Still the young leaves with their bright green leaves and red stems are very nice to look at. 

In brief 1 May 2023 -

3 May 2023.  18.8 max, 7.5 min.  Warmer and sunny.  Frequent visits to Wild Onion Glade by a speckled wood butterfly.  The first red campio is out on the eastern edge of Troy Track.  I saw one of the first spiders of the year.  There are shining streaks high on the birch truck.  It must be shedding sap.  I can see the top of one of the fronds of the broad buckler fern peeping out from behind the birch,  The tightly clustered ball of foliage at the top looks like a chaotic bundle of screwed up leaves, but it will soon unroll to a fromd of perfect symmetry.

2 May 2023. 16.6 max, 10,0 min. Still cool, but sunny with only a couple of basking flies on sun-warmed leaves.

1 May 2023. 18.6 max, 6.4 min.  A rather cool May Day with little going on in GSM3.  All the plants are growing fast and con't seem to mind the cool weather .  I have bought a Max/Min thermometer specifically for GSN3. 

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Green shield bug emerges

The other day I spotted a green shield bug (Palomena prasina) on a wood dock leaf.  This is a common species that emerges from hibernation at this time of year.  

After it had wandered off the leaf I noticed a couple of small, shiny black sub globulare objets.  At first I thought they were small beetles or molluscs but, on closer inspection, I concluded they were droppings from the shield bug - a long awaited response to the call of nature after hibernation maybe.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

In brief 27 April 2023 - 30 April 2023

30 April 2023.  An Andrena  mining bee landed on a leaf in the warm and hazy sunshine and I observed it through by close focus binoculars.  It was an astonishingly beautiful thing with a bright ginger fur on the thorax and long black antennae.  As an aesthetic experience I found it more wonderful than if I had been observing a distant lion on the African savannah.  How much people miss.

On the floor of Medlar Wood there was a small splash of blue among the browns and greens - the self-sown bluebell which, all things being equal, might one day be the mother of a continuous blue carpet.

All the ferns are unfolding rapidly: the male ferns, the hart's tongue in Brambly Hedge and the broad buckler fern (which has six fronds this year) behind the big birch.  The upper three quarters of the second birch (which I have kept to one metre tall has died during the winter but is producing quite healthy-looking shoots from its base.

I have now locate two budded spikes of bugle, but there seem to be fewer plants than any previous year.  See for the position ten years ago..  The flowering stems of sorrel are rising rapidly and the crowded buds are jammed into the spikes like green hard fish roes.

I made my first reading from the new thermometer in GSM3: max 18.6, min 6.4

29 April 2023.  Continuing warmer.  Plant growth is very rapid now.

28 April 2023.  A warmer day with a soft and gentle breeze.  I have updated the entry  "Strange buds and leaves" of April 20th as my wonderment grows at the 'behaviour' of GSM3.

27 April 2023.  12.5 C at 3pm.  In other words cool, but with some sunshine.  Three dandelion flowers fully out but few insects here or anywhere else.  The three upper buds on the wild service seedling are now expanding quickly.  The base layer is pale green dusted with reddish brown and overlaid with silvery hairs. The three lower buds remain tightly closed, small bright green balls.  Wild service trees are very distinct in the wider countryside when the leaves expand.  The croziers on the broad buckler fern behind the birch are starting to unfurl.

I have been unable so fasr this year to spot any bugle, a plant that has been one of the most abundant and attractive in GSM3 in spring. Nor can I see any red campion in the Square Metre or its immediate surrounds though they did quite well last year.  There are plenty however, in the bramble cube end of Brambly Hedge though no tufted vetch has appeared here (it did well in 2022) though it has reached maybe 30cm already in nearby parts of the garden.

There is a detailed account of the green bottle, Eudasyphora cyanella, one of the commonest flies in GSM3 at present, here;

Monday, April 24, 2023

A varied sward

The area between M3 and Medlar Wood is about two and a quarter metres square (1.5m x 1.5m).  It has evolved virtually independently since the project began in 2003 and now consists of a leafy sward with an average height of 30 centimetres (1 foot).

The other day I made a note of all the vascular plant species growing there, a lsit the I doubt would fit any National Vegetation survey criterion.  It included hazel (Corylus avellana), bramble (Rubus fruticosus agg.), black bryony (Tamus communis), false brome grass (Brachypodium sylvaticum), cochksfoot grass (Dactylis glomerata), bent grasses (Agrostis spp.), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium), stinking iris (Iris foetidissima), wild onion (Allium vineale), ivy (Hedera helix), wood dock (Rumex sanguineus), herb robert (Geranium robertianum), soft rush (Juncus effusus), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale agg.), creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens), common sorrel (Rumex acetosa), goosegrass (Galium aparine), holly (Ilex aquifolium), lords and ladies (Arum maculatum)..

Species that will grow taller have been appearing in the last two or three years and I will aim to maintain a 30cm sward by pruning as the whole makes s diverse and sunny woodland glade.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Earth Day at the Square Metre

The press made quite an issue if its being Earth Day and seemed to be grasping the idea that if things go on as they are we are going to be in deep trouble before the end of this century.  Drought, fire, flood, starvation, disease, riots, war, maybe nuclear.  We, in global terms, may be able to mitigate the worst by carbon capture, less use of fossil fuels, change of diet and so forth, but I think it is too late.  Some of us might survive, but what would then be the forward plan?  The Extinction Rebellion demo in London today was popular with great crowds but it won't divert the rush of the Gadarene swine enough to stop most of us going over the cliff.

At least GSN3 put on a good face.  It was warm and sunny, the first flowers (dandelions) were out and there were wild bees and other insects on hand for pollination.  The picture below shows what I think is an early-flying Andrena mining bee well buried in the dandelion's petals.  The insect on the lower edge of the flower is, I think, a big-headed fly (Pipunculidae) with its characteristically sub globular red compound  eyes occupying most of the head with protruding antennae.

Pipunculids can hover like hoverflies and their larvae are usually internal parasitoids of Auchenorrhyncha - plant hoppers and their relatives.  There was another small bee sunning itself on a hogweed leaf: a Lasioglossum I think.  It is good to hope that solitary bees may be doing better this year.

I was visited too by the first speckled wood butterfly of the year, probably emerged recently from a pupa.  Both caterpillars and pupae commonly overwinter in our area.  I am always struck by the way one or two butterflies of this species appear annually in the same small area.  It is as though they have returned, like the swallows, from a faraway place, to home.  But they are of course the children of last year's butterflies, now long dead.  Do they, I wonder, sense the presence of their forbears or is there something special about the small, sunny glade in GSM3?  The area they favour has good showings of false-brome and cock'sfoot grasses, both of which are foodplants favoured by  the caterpillars.

As a bonus to the day's events, I spotted a small insect, maybe 3mm long, ascending a broken grass blade.  It stopped at the top and was, I suspect, drinking from a drop of dew or sap.  I am pleased to say that I have nit the slightest idea as to its identity, nor have I seen anything like it before.  It is shaped rather like a tiny click beetle (Elateridae), but I don't think it is one of those.  Suggestions welcome.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Strange buds and leaves

Insects were slightly more abundant today: I probably saw three flies and I think a spider scuttled under a leaf. Dandelion buds are developing with characteristic speed and I was struck at how little regard we pay these strange objects that look like cephalopods on stalks (see below).  They will turn to bright yellow flowers very quickly and then to dandelion clocks, so there isn't  long to enjoy them. The buds often open overnight as they change to the completely different sun disc.  This fades quite quickly and close up to another bud-like phase.  At this point the flower stalk lengthens with remarkable rapidity, sometimes reaching three times the height it was when the flower was open in the course of one day.  This raises the inflorescence above any unearby grasseses so the seeds , which appear very quickly, can float away unimpeded. from the beautiful geometry of the dandelion clock.. 

After the seeds have floated away a scar-studded bun-shaped cushion, this receptacle, remains for some time while the flower bearing stalk lengthens for no reason I can grasp. This change to completely different forms propelled by intricate and coordinated cell pressures of a single reproductive apparatus I find quite a mysterious phenomenon.  There is much about the natural world and its phenology which seems beyond our brain to understand.  Here is a big 'why ?'.

There was a smudge of yellow however, supplied by a young hogweed leaf.  There are probably hundreds of hogweed leaves in GSM3, but this was the only one that had turned yellow.  I suspect it was caused by a virus of some sort.


Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Silent Spring ?

A beautiful sunny day and reasonably warm. I sat at GSM3 for about half an hour but only saw one fly.  In the past I would have expected ants and bumble bees, speckled wood butterflies,the occasional brimstone and plenty of flies plus a few beetles and other small fry.  It all makes me reflect on the currently much discussed decline in invertebrate life and its knock on effects on birds and the ecosystem generally.  Even the plants will miss their annual topdressing of fallen insects. At least a few seedlings are springing up on patches of bare earth. 

Thursday, April 13, 2023

The holly and the ivy.

At the back of Midsummer Pond I spotted a mine on an ivy leaf.  This will be caused by the larvae of an Agromyzid fly Phytomyza ilicis, a common species everywhere though this is the first time I have seen it in GSM3.  It was thought there might be more than one fly causing mines in holly leaves, by it now seems only P. ilicis is the culprit in the British Isles.  The holly here also has suspiciously flat leaves and might have  Ilex x altaclerensis blood in its veins.

I photographed another fly too, this one on an ivy leaf.  On most days of the year there are a few species like this wandering round GSM3 and settling on sunlit leaves if the sun is out.  There is a large number of lookalike species and this one might belong to the very large genus Fannia.  In the past I caught some of these leaf-loving visitors and brought them home to work out an identity.  It was a difficult but satisfying operation needing microscopic examination of hairs and bristles on the thorax and legs and sometimes of dissection and slide mounting of critical structures.  Now with failing eyesight and shaking hands such activities are a thing of the past and the flies can enjoy their leaves in peace.

As an evergreen climber the ivy has attracted much folklore and medicinal stuff about it over the centuries.  It is, of course, associated with the Ivy League, a group of elite American universities.  One suggestion about the origin of the name of this group is not that it derives from the plant but from the Roman figure for four - IV - when there were only four members.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

A programme of browsing

At this time of year the leaf buds are starting to break on the various tree species in GSM3 that I keep in bounds by letting them grow one metre tall and keeping them to this height by pruning.  I look at this as a form of browsing which, of course, happens to many wild trees and shrubs where browsing animals are present.

The picture above shows the top of the GSM3 hornbeam tree which has been trimmed annually and seems in abundant good health with the buds for the coming season are swelling to  break point.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Woundwort and broad buckler fern

This time of year produces the greatest variation of green leaves on the ground. Hedge woundwort, Stachys sylvatica, which has bright, pale leaves, perfectly formed is particularly striking.

The appearance of these leaves is very timely as they can be used to heal wounds and, as the name suggests, they soothe the scratches from wild roses and bramble that are constantly attacking me in GEM3.

Broad buckler fern is also a very telling shade of green and has also been used to heal wounds and in a variety of other medicinal prescriptions.  There are two plants in GSM3, one in Brambly hedge (pictured below in a muddle of other plants) which is almost completely developed and another, larger example in M3 proper behind the large birch tree.  This second one shows no sign of frondingb and the leaves are tightly packed as dark brown lumps in the centre of the plant.  This second fern grows in a dark and shady place which may account for its longer dormancy.

Monday, April 10, 2023

More galls

 I promised yesterday, I would reveal the identity of the horror teddy bear in the picture.  Henri Brocklebank gave the right answer and maybe others knew that is what remains of a bedeguar, a gall also known as ronin's pincushion, a bright red mossy thing with sticky filaments that grows on wild rose bushes.  During the winter the red filaments are lost and te knobbly brown, chambered husk remains.  The black holes are where the gall causing wasps or their inquilines or their parasites have escaped. The gall causing wasp is Diplolepis rosae, but many other micro-wasp species and their parasites and hyperparasites live within the gall, some killing the original gall former.

I have also found a few old ram's-horn galls, Andricus aries on the same GSM3 oak tree that hosted the bedeguar: young oaks often seem more susceptible than older examples.  The ram's-horns turn black in winter after the gall causer has flown making them rather more visible that when they were green.

Andricus aries was, apparently, first recorded in Britain from Maidenhead Thicket in 1997 and is now widespread in at least the southern part of Britain.  It has been expanding from original range in eastenr Europe for some years and I first noticed it in GSM3 i November 2018.

Sunday, April 09, 2023

A return to the Square Metre

 Nearly a year has gone by since my last entry and my 85th birthday has come and gone.  I have lost much of my mobility but can still walk from the house to the Square Metre and sit there comfortably provided the weather is warm.  And winter seems especially hard at my time of life especially with energy prices going stratosphere.  Still, as Shelley said "if Winter comes, can Spring be far behind" and, after a few rather dreary weeks, it has arrived here with a vengeance.

In the Green Sanctuary/M3 (GSM3), most of the trees and shrubs are now breaking into leaf.  The ash and the oak are still tightly in bud as is the tiny, self-sown wild service tree (below laft).  A week or two ago I visited GSM3 with a friend and, despite finger tip searching we could not find this little survivor, so I was pleased to discover it still in place..

The ground flora in GSM3 consists of many of the usual suspects.  There are many hogweed leaves, the bluebell in Medlar Wood fas some buds showing. I found three or four dandelion plants, the wild onions are doing well and climbing spirals of black bryony have reached surprisingly far at such an early season.  Wood dock appears to be spreading. 

Despite the warm, sunny weather there were surprisingly few insects about.  A few dark, nondescript flies, a busy bluebottle and a questing brimstone butterfly that came and went several times.  A chiff chaff called persistently from somewhere in the high bushes and the rattle of a woodpecker sounded loudly from Churchland Wood maybe 80 metres away.

The birch tree in M3, now some twenty years old, is full of ripening catkins and, in its far top, a small brown bird, perhaps a leaf warbler, was foraging among them.

My mystery object for today is the horror teddy bear pictured below.  I will reveal its identity to those who haven't guessed it tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

The Second Square in May


I have a second square metre in open sunshine where we used to grow vegetables.  This picture was taken in May 2022 and the plants include creeping buttercup, red campion, dandelion, hoary willowherb, ragwort, marsh thistle, goosegrass, musk mallow and other species not yet flowering.

I shall manage this one as 'meadow' with a cut once a year in early autumn.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Here I am again

 It seems a long time since I updated this blog, but something has moved me to start again. We have had a peruiod of cold and snow unusual for early December, but the snow has melted and now on Christmas Day, the garden and the Green Sanctuary just look dank and asleep, the only variation being the oranget red leaves of the bird sown Cotoneaster franchetii.

I made a visit to the area mainly to do a little winter pruning - essential to ensure the many trees that flourish in the Square Metre and its penumbra don't get unmanageably large.  I attended to the oak, the hornbeam, the sallow and the two hazels and the smaller of the two birches.  During my visit I noticed an oak and a holly seedling on the outer fringes of the area, though it is unusual to see new seedlings after a particular sspecies has been established (do they have some way of blocking newcomers).

One of the most striking features was that the  'trunk' of the first ash tree which died around 2018, but has remained upright, was adorned with drifts of some small, white fungus.  Mycologist Nick Aplin suggests it is the common crust fungus, Cylindrobasidium laeve.  The National Biodiversity Network give tear dropper as the English name for this, so presumably liquid oozes out of mature examples..