Sunday, December 04, 2011

Sulphur tuft and a mild autumn

Weak December sunshine from a washed out sky.  There have been one or two frosts, but it is generally mild.

Emthree, in the open areas, has a covering of densely matted grass and I have started reducing this with a small pair of shears so that it does not prevent weaker plants from coming through.

20111203 Metre Hypholoma fasciculare 005There are far more fungi than usual: glistening inkcap (Coprinellus micaceus), candle-snuff fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon), sulphur tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare) - see above.  Also several kinds of, to me, virtually unnameable Mycena spp.

Midsummer Pond is full again after some heavy rain during the week and the ground is getting squelchy with mud underfoot.

20111203 Metre Midsummer Pond 008

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

November novelties

Despite the now decidedly autumnal weather, there is still plenty to enjoy in Emthree.  After a bit of sifting among dead leaves and general detritus, I found a few fallen box leaves colonised by the microfungus Sesquicillium buxi, a whitish powdering on the underside of the leaf:

IMG_9502 So far as I know, this has not been recorded from Sussex before.  Though it is probably quite common where box trees grow, I supposed it does not quite have the charisma of a snow leopard (though I fancy I can see an image of a snow leopard in the pattern).  Is it of equal worth I wonder?

20111116 (8)The ash tree in Emthree, now nearly seven years old, has been bitten off again about half a metre from the ground.  It seems quite high for a rabbit and not very appetising, so I suspect it might have been one of the visiting deer.  I am sure the plant will recover.

The St. John's Wort plants have many mines of the tiny hypericum pigmy moth (Ectoedemia septembrella).  It seems quite common in Emthree, and practically every leaf in the picture below appears to occupied.

20111116 (9)

Although it has turned quite cold and grey, there is still plenty to stimulate the imagination and I cannot agree with Thomas Hood:

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member--
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,

I am warm and cheerful; at least some of my members are comfortable; insect life is at a low ebb but there are plenty of fruits, birds and even a few flowers.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Leaf miners and fungi

Yesterday I was gazing (for no good reason) at the bilateral chains of heath speedwell (Veronica officinalis) leaves that spread across the Square Metre.  They seem to stand out at this time of year as the grass dies back.

Then on one leaf I noticed a dark track along the left hand edge.  This turned out to be a mine made by a larva of the fly Phytomyza crassiseta.  I once found an adult of this species in Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, but this would appear to be a first record for the species in East Sussex.

20111107  (13) Metre Phytomyza crassiseta mineSince the heath speedwell arrived in the square in September 2005 it has attracted the scarce flea beetle Longitarsus lycopi, and now this fly.  In the picture above the shot holes in the leaf may have been made by the beetle.

The JNC  database list 11 species associated with this plant, but it is extremely unlikely that all of those would occur in Emthree.  I'll keep looking though, in case I can find some more and there is also a microfungus associated with this plant.

I also gathered up some of the medlars and have put them in a flower pot to see if they attract anything, animal or vegetable.  Today there was one female winter gnat (Trichocera) resting inside the pot, possibly interested in the fruit.

20111107 Metre medlars in flowerpot The other fruits that are very distinctive at the moment are the those of the black bryony (Tamus communis), high up in the medlar tree.

20111107  (14) Metre Tamus communis fruit


So much of each day is taken up with small things. 

I watch a pen gliding over paper leaving its black, twisted trails like drawings of leaf mines.  These word trails represent some sort of reality but only a partial account of what goes on in the brain.

The luminous multichrome internal fantasia that never ceases while we are awake cannot be replicated, or even approximated, in words.  Words are a faint music heard from the distant mountains of the nervous system, the Sierra Nervosa.  So much of what we feel and experience will never be expressed.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

November reflections

Emthree is scattered with fallen leaves: yellow hornbeam, brown oak and sallow, pink spindle.  I am starting to visit more regularly and have been looking for microfungi, mines and galls on the dead leaves, but have not found much yet.

Still, I can tidy the area by picking up a small boxful of leaves and then have the pleasure of sorting through them, lens in hand, in the warmth of the sitting room.

20111105 Metre Butterfly Rock Butterfly Rock is very colourful just now and the fairy cup lichen is covering a greater area than ever before.  It looks to me like Cladonia fimbriata,  from their golf-tee shape, perhaps mixed with another Cladonia.  Simon Davey, in 2008, said that Cladonia on this sandstone rock were C. pyxidata, but that was on the basis that they were not golf-tee shape.  Maybe we have had three Cladonia spp. here.  The grey patches are another lichen, supposedly Lecanora campestris, but I am not too happy with that determination.

I have just read (at one sitting) Peter Medawar's The Limitations of Science published in 1984.  He ends with the famous line from Voltaire's Candide: "We must cultivate our garden." (Il faut cultiver notre jardin.).  I suppose my long involvement with Emthree has been one kind of example of that.  It is my 'garden', though whether what I do can be construed as cultivation or not is a question.

My aim is not to generate produce to feed or clothe the body, or to manufacture artefacts (though I am currently using medlars from the area for some recipes) but material to feed the mind.  It is a privilege to watch the ebb and flow of this small area's teeming life with all its beauty and wonder, from neatly coiled snails with their regularly etched shells under bits of dead wood, to the fluttering yellow leaves hanging on the sky-bound top of the seven year old birch tree.

Emthree is a vortex of life and sometimes I fancy I can see through the kind of glass St. Paul saw through darkly that Emthree is in a sense the entire universe enfolded, with myself in its loving embrace, into a small flake of biosphere on the surface of Planet Earth.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Brown birch bolete, Leccinum scabrum

This project entered its 9th year on 15 September and today I had a find worthy of the event.  In the north west corner of the Square Metre itself was a fine example of the brown birch bolete (Leccinum scabrum).

20110918-20 BHW walk Metre 003 The toadstool is found with birch and must have a mycorrhizal association with one, or both, of the birches in Emthree, one of which is now of substantial size.

The top of this fungus was wet with rain, justifying the name of penny bun toadstool, but the underneath and stipe were characteristic of the species.

20110918-20 BHW walk Metre 006I am sure it will attract many fungus gnats (Mycetophilidae and relatives) and maybe other species of insect I will see what I can breed out from the numerous larvae that invariably burrow their way through the flesh of these toadstools as they mature.

Monday, September 05, 2011

A microfungus new for East Sussex?

Today, in the cold and the damp most untypical of early September, I found several leaves of bugle (Ajuga reptans) that had been affected by the microfungus Ramularia ajugae. According to the NBN this has been recorded from several places in West Sussex by I can find none for East Sussex.

 20110905 Metre Ramularia ajugae 006 

20110905 Metre Ramularia ajugae 012

The fungus makes purplish bordered patches in the leaves that turn into perforations.

I also noted that one of the ragwort leaves was being mined by Liriomyza strigata, a fly I last recorded in Emthree in 2003.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Summer's end

20110904 Metre 001

Emthree, not surprisingly, has an air of neglect about it, partly because it is the end of summer and partly due to the fact that I have not been paying it the close attention it deserves through much of this year. Yet it has remained important in my mind, it is just that sometimes my energy levels seem too low even to walk down the garden. I was 65 in 2003 when I started this project, but now I am 73 ....

Anyway, all the usual things are still in place and mostly doing well. Flowers out include ragwort, fleabane, smooth hawksbeard, herb-robert, knapweed and square-stalked St. Johnswort.

20110904 Metre birch trunk 005

The trees are increasing shade levels and the large birch now has whitening bark at its base while the ash, now about one metre tall, looks as vigorous as it has ever done. The sallow though is indeed sallow with prematurely yellow and rather unhealthy looking leaves.

20110904 Metre Fraxinus ash 006

20110904 Metre yellow sallow leaves 004 There is something like a pale greenish yellow powdery mildew on some of the box leaves and I found two species new to Emthree, both identified from leaf mines: in a bramble leaf the glossy bramble pigmy moth, Stigmella splendidissimella (even harder to spell that ‘Mississippi’) and the agromyzid fly Phytomyza conyzae, in fleabane leaves, a new record for East Sussex I think.

20110904 Metre Stigmella splendidissimella mine 008

The mine of S. splendidissimella (above) is of characteristic shape which makes it distinguishable from that of S. aurella which is very common on bramble leaves.

A cool, damp September day, and I was bitten on the back of my hand between the thumb and the index finger by a mosquito, Anopheles plumbeus.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


My current preoccupation with evolution makes me feel a bit like Don Quixote tilting at windmills: the egregious eccentric fretting about debates on the unknowable.

So far as ecology is concerned David Deutsch (2011) summed up one of my own feelings when he wrote “if you fill a kettle with water and switch it on, all the supercomputers on Earth working for the age of the universe could not solve the equations that predict what all those water molecules will do – even if we could somehow determine their initial state and that of all the outside influences on them, which is itself an intractable task.” Substitute the molecules in Emthree for those in the kettle and the task becomes even more intractable.  I cannot predict what Emthree will do.  And even if I knew all the biological and physical variables, I cannot predict what I will do.

I also liked Gordon Rattray Taylor’s remark in 1983: “within one square metre of ground, a score of species of snail may be found. What advantage can any one of them have?” (Emthree has so far produced 15 species of mollusc, but I expect it would have been 20 if it was on calcareous soil).

Maybe each species of snail evolved long ago when there was significant competition with a neighbouring species, but once one had died out, the survivor could live with less closely related relatives because they were not directly competing. Explanations can, of course, be thought up for anything, but they are not necessarily correct.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Dry June arrives

After a cold winter, a long drought is now causing serious concern among the farming community in South East England. Today it was warm, but for the last week or two it has been dry, cold and windy with only a few inconsequential showers.

Emthree is really only just beginning to show the effects of the weather. The grass is bright green, but rather sparse, with a dead, dry layer on the ground. In the midday heat many of the larger plants wilt.

There are a good few flowers: creeping buttercup, narrow-leaved vetch, smooth hawksbeard, still a few forget-me-nots, herb robert, cinquefoil and heath speedwell that has now spread far and wide. There is sweet vernal grass and rough meadow grass, the first going over, the second just beginning. A gladdon iris is flowering in Medlar Wood and so is the plant of herb bennett, a first for the project area.

The leaves of the smaller birch are heavily mined by the fly Agromyza alnibetulae (ostensibly a first for Sussex, but I expect it is not uncommon) and there are great colonies of purple aphids, Uroleucon jaceae, on several of the black knapweed stems.

20110601 Emthree Houseleeks 010

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Birch leaf mining fly

The shorter of the two birches in Emthree has many long, squiggly leaf mines on its rather large, soft leaves.

Agromyza alnibetulae mine M3

These are unquestionably those of the small two-winged fly Agromyza alnibetulae, a species that also attacks hornbeam.

This seems to be a first record for Sussex, though I expect it is quite common.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nature unknowable

I have recently come across two quotes that are particularly appropriate for the Square Metre project. The first from the early 20th century is from Edward Connold’s Gleanings from the Fields of Nature (1908): “Many hours of most careful search may with great profit be devoted to a space so small as one square yard of roadside bank, and a rich fund of facts accumulated.” Connold lived in St Leonards-on-Sea some 9km from the Square Metre as the crow flies, so he must have been familiar with many Emthree-like sites.

The other is from Tony Aldous in New Scientist[1]: “If you cannot know the present in its entirety, you can have no idea what the future might bring.”

Despite years of close study, there is much about the Square Metre that I do not know. What is happening, for example, in the soil where thousands of small organisms, many of microscopic size, are going about their business. I cannot know the full spectrum of visiting organisms: animals and insects, fungal spores and organisms carried in on the feet and fur of night visitors.

It is not, of course, my aim to discover everything about Emthree and I do not attempt to predict the future, but I do wonder on the worth of many ecological studies that purport to make predictions without “knowing the present in its entirety.”

To paraphrase John Donne "No species is an island, entire of itself."

[1] Google’s data junkie. New Scientist 210 No. 2810, 30 April 2011.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Birch comes of age

20110430 Metre birch catkin 020 

The birch tree that appeared from seed 7 years ago in spring 2004 in the south west corner of the Square Metre itself, has a few green catkins among its delicate leaves.

I estimate the tree is now about 6 metres tall.

These are the first catkins that have been produced and it shows how quickly birches can reach reproductive size from seed.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

In the heat

There is much activity in Emthree in the welcome warm weather.  Many of the usual insect friends are making an appearance and there seem to be more solitary bees this year paying particular attention to North Wall which is becoming more earthy as it collapses into the mould.

Cardinal beetles are on the wing and this red-headed (Pyrochroa serraticornis) is resting in the shade under a bramble leaf.

20110422 Metre Emthree 002 The wild rose that appeared in the square metre itself in spring 2004 and which was later moved to the north west corner of the square is growing well this year, though still a long way from flowering.  On one of the leaflets I found a tiny moth caterpillar chomping little holes out from beneath a thin veil of silk.

20110422 Metre Emthree 003

Monday, April 11, 2011

Artist's conk fungus on the medlar

At the base of the medlar trunk I found a, small, hard bracket fungus.  With the help of Martin Allison, the county fungus recorder, this was determined as Ganoderma applanatum, the artist's bracket or artist's conk.

20110407 007 A distinguishing feature is the soft, thin, whitish surface underneath which if scratched leaves a brown mark.  This surface can be used for writing or drawing as with white scraperboard (or scratchboard).   The example below is on the under side of the fungus above.  It looks strangely like a graffito written over a cave painting.

20110411 Ganoderma word 001

Some artists have produced remarkable effects. Have a look at these drawings by Marie Heerkens which are somewhat better than my script:

Recent research has shown that chemicals from this fungus could be of value in the treatment of diabetic complications.  It is also said to make an excellent, if rather bitter, medicinal tea.  However, what it was excellent for (or against) was not specified.  It  can also be used for dyeing wool, some fabrics, or paper and will yield a rust colour with wool when ammonia is used as a mordant.

Ganoderma applanatum causes white rot within the host tree, which explains why a large chunk of the medlar died back last year.  I expect the rest will go fairly quickly, but some suckers may survive.  It is rather sad really as it is a wild medlar (with thorns) that came, many years ago, from the bank close to my parents house at top of Whydown Hill at the far south of the parish.  Ganoderma, mankind or medlar, we are all headed for the same destination.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Forget-me-not time again

The forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvestris) are in flower now, little sky mimicking flowers between Midsummer Pond and the western edge of Emthree.

20110407 002There is a certain vagueness about this plant, well expressed by John Hill who wrote in 1756 "It is said to be an astringent, but its virtues are not certainly known."

People used to give someone forget-me-nots if they were going on a journey on 29 February.  Since it is not usually in flower at that season of the year, this could be problematical.

Writers like it.  For example Miss Price in Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood said "I will knit you a wallet of forget-me-not blue, for the money, to be comfy."

John Neal in Goody Gracious and the forget-me-not wrote "if you get tired of being here, all you have to do will be just to pull it up out of the earth, and wish yourself at home, and you will find yourself there in a moment, in your own little bed."  I wonder what he was on.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

23 March 2011

Small insects swarming in the early evening sunshine over The Meadow, each capturing the golden beams and transforming themselves in whirling scintillae of light.

More trimming of brambles and dead stalks this evening: sorting things out after the long break.

22 March 2011

On the smaller of the two birches in M3, the lower buds swell and break earlier than those higher up.

20110322 Metre 017 The seed pods of the red campion are like pale brown, castellated cauldrons, some still with a few black seeds within.

20110322 Metre 020 Clearing long grass at the south east corner of M3, I found a seedling holly and a seedling ash, protected under the herbage from the rabbit attack so prevalent elsewhere.

20110322 Metre 023 It shows how matted winter grass can give early protection to tree seedlings that might later find shelter under brambles and eventually be able to grow to their full height.

The holly above looks as though it might be Highclere holly, Ilex x altaclerensis, a common garden escape and with flatter leaves than the native British holly, Ilex aquifolium, in the picture below.  Note the rabbit-bitten stubs of the leading shoots.

20110322 Metre 026

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring toadstools

Spring has arrived with an appropriately sunny and reasonably warm day and I have returned to Emthree after repining for much of the winter with a sort of dukkha composed of tiredness, cold, anxiety and a variety of small afflictions. Maybe M3 will help me transcend all this.

The Square Metre itself is fleeced under a close-knit mat of pale brown and green grass, with various forbs starting to grow through. The box bush behind North Wall is in flower and a queen bumble bee boomed among the brambles in the southern hedge as she looked for a site to make her nest.

Most of the previously recorded plants seem to be happy, the rose is leafing and buds are breaking on birch and sallow.

20110321 Metre Coprinus micaceus 001

One surprise was the presence of three bright brown toadstools like the three wise monkeys. I have identified them as shining inkcaps (Coprinus micaceus) growing, I expect, from buried dead wood. The last time I saw these inM3 was Christmas Day 2008 – they seem to like special days!