Sunday, October 28, 2012

Autumn ruminations

Last night we had the first frost in the garden since early April and the hour went back this morning at 2 am, so suddenly the feeling is wintry rather than autumnal.  There are many colourful leaves on the ground.
20121028 Metre (12) And various fungi including the group of sulphur tuft, Hypholoma fasciculare, below, a species that was flourishing here last December.
20121028 Metre (6)
There is much activity too on the top of Butterfly Rock.  In this picture there are at least two kinds of lichen, and several mosses as well as evidence of perching birds and rabbits and ambitious tendrils of heath speedwell, Veronica officinalis, climbing up from below.
20121028 Metre (7) Late autumn tends to be a rather sad, dying time of the year and it is difficult for me not to reflect on the newly arrived ash die back disease, Chalara fraxinea.  There has been much talk about this in the media and most of the accounts I have heard are very unbalanced.  A better way of getting an understanding of the situation is by looking at the Forestry Commission's fact sheet on the issue:
The general story from the media is that nearly all the ash trees in Denmark have died, that a few cases have been found in Great Britain and that imports of ashes from nurseries abroad have been banned.
According to the FC the disease was first recorded in Poland in 1992 and infected trees have been found widely across Europe including six places in various parts of England and Scotland.  As it is a fungus presumably it spreads by spores that can travel in all sorts of ways.  The FC add that "It is believed to have entered Great Britain on plants for planting imported from nurseries in Continental Europe. However, now that we have found infected older trees in East Anglia with no apparent connection with nursery stock, we are also investigating the possibility that it might have entered Britain by natural means. These include being carried on the wind or on birds coming across the North Sea, or on items such as footwear, clothing or vehicles of people who had been in infected sites in Continental Europe."  (I wonder how they are going to investigate these possibilities).
The banning of imports might, I suppose, slow the spread of the disease, but it looks rather like shutting the stable door after the horse has gone.  Most of us remember how fast the horse chestnut leaf miner moth spread: stopping imports of its host would have made little difference.
With Dutch elm disease, the various afflictions of oak, phytophthera on sweet chestnut and other species I sometime wonder if this might be the way nature operates, killing whole swathes of trees from time to time and opening up forests for other flora and fauna.  Often a few individuals of the species attacked seem to survive, like post-myxomatosis rabbits, to repopulate the old habitat which, by then, may be relatively free of their pests and diseases since these have had little or nothing on which to subsist.
Anyway, my ash tree in Emthree (naturally self-sown) seems to be doing fine and the slight curling of some leaves is just a natural manifestation of autumn.  I have often reflected that as this ash grows it would eventually take over the whole of the Square Metre.  Maybe Chalara fraxinea will prove me wrong.
20121028 Metre (3)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Trailing tormentil confirmed

In my post of 11th June below I pointed out that in order to confirm the identity of what I thought was trailing tormentil (Potentilla anglica) I needed to see ripe seeds.  I have now managed to do this:


Monday, June 11, 2012

Ash and trailing tormentil

A kind of spring clean after a period of semi-neglect (which Emthree is quite happy with: it looks after itself to a degree).  I spent half an hour cutting back the new bines, nettles and fern in Brambly Hedge noting that everything is now growing very fast during this cool wet period after the May heatwave.

Many of the small plants I have become familiar with over the years are flowering, with heath speedwell, Veronica officinalis, doing particularly well, especially where the soil is poor and dry – on top of the meadow ants’ nest for example.

The ash tree by Hazel Edge has recovered from the severe pruning by rabbits over the winter and is now nearly one metre tall. The young leaves at the highest point are an attractive treacly maroon colour.

20120610 Metre young ash leaves (4)

The yellow potentilla has come into flower again (see picture below) and I also have a plant from Emthree cultivated in a pot. I have little doubt that it is trailing tormentil, Potentilla anglica, though I will need to wait until I have some ripe seed heads to be absolutely sure. Rich & Jermy in The Plant Crib (BSBI, 1996) say: “P. anglica and its hybrids, P. x mixta Nolte ex Rchb. (P. anglica x P. reptans) and P. x suberecta Zimmeter (P. anglica x P. erecta), are extremely difficult to distinguish from one another.” Also the hybrid P. x mixta is commoner than pure P. anglica. One additional clue I have is that last year I found a yellow rust on the leaves of the potentilla in Emthree and this turned out to be the rather scarce Phragmidium potentillae which, according to Ellis & Ellis (1985) has only been found on Potentilla anglica and P. tabernaemontani. The second of these, spring cinquefoil, is a rare plant in Sussex and has only been recorded from one or two sites well outside our area. It also flowers much earlier than the others.  The rust seems to be a first record for East Sussex.

20080606 Metre Potentilla reptans 004

Tomorrow I might prune some of the smaller trees - the hornbeam, the second birch – into one metre tall cordons.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Spring flowers & sallow seeds

Emthree is now starting to burgeon and it is good to see so many bugle flowers - probably the greatest number in the last nine years, though they nearly always flower in slightly different places.  Here the Cladonia lichen cover can also be seen on Butterfly Rock behind.

20120512 (9) Metre bugle

The grey willow/sallow, Salix cinerea, that flowered earlier in the year has already produced its fluffy bunches of seed as the catkins burst open.  They are very evanescent and will, I suspect, be gone by tomorrow.

20120512 Metre sallow seed

Close up these look astronomical, like whorls of gas in stellar space with the seeds as black holes.

20120512 Metre sallow seed (2a)

Friday, April 06, 2012

Lawn Rectangle: a Square Metre satellite

At the end of June I am giving a talk on the wildlife of lawns at a seminar for the Wildlife Gardening Forum project to be held at the Natural History Museum in London.  As a bit of an angle for this I have set up a small rectangle of lawn in our garden for close study between now and the date of the talk and its progress can be followed here:


Rabbit dung fungi

Among other things a few rabbit pellets from the Square Metre produced some microfungi like orange blancmanges with slender spikes protruding: pale golden sea urchins.

20120404 (3) My mycological friend Howard Matcham has identified these as Lasiobolus ciliatus, a common species but a new record for Emthree.  He says to keep the dung for longer as other species are likely to appear.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spring sallow: life and death

Yesterday for the first time the sallow tree (Salix cinerea) that was spotted as a tiny seedling in the Square Metre in September 2004 has catkins showing that it is a female plant.

20120321 (9) Metre Salix cinerea

A good thing to encounter on the first day of spring.

At the other end of the spectrum I noticed the intricate geometry of a decaying log on the edge of Medlar Wood.  It was put on the ground as a neatly sawn cylinder a few years ago, but now the ravages of time have worn it into intricate shapes.

20120321 (4) Metre log 

It reminded me of that immortal passage from Shakespeare's Tempest:

And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve                 

And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Non-Euclidian Nature

Robert Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance wrote "Weeds and grass and wildflowers grow where the concrete has cracked and broken.  Neat, square, upright lines acquire a random sag.  The uniform masses of the unbroken color of fresh paint modify to a mottled, weathered softness.  Nature has a non-Euclidian geometry of her own that seems to soften the deliberate objectivity of these buildings with a kind of random spontaneity that architects would do well to study."

20120225 Metre grass b

Though Emthree is not part of the built environment, these non-Euclidian manifestations seem to me to be all too apparent in the 'weathered softness' of late winter.  These shapes, reminders of summer, have a past and a future.   The picture above is of tangled grasses, that below of cut, or bitten, bramble stems.

20120225 Metre cut bramble b

As spring advances and things grow upright, the spirit of Euclid will, to some extent, return.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Frosty February

We have now had two weeks of frost at night, with the temperature falling, at the coldest, to -8 Celsius.  Nine days ago it snowed and, while the temperature is now rising towards the seasonal normal, there is still much of the white stuff on the ground.

IMG_9736 On a brief visit to Emthree there were few signs of wild life but then I pay more attention to some of the remains of summer such as the dead ragwort receptacles below.  Their work ended long ago and they now rustle together like air fossils, the pepper pot receptacles surrounded by all-askew spiky phyllaries that once held up the golden flowers in a green embrace.

IMG_9742 These have a certain gaunt, scratchy kind of feel, but cold weather brings beauty as well.  Here is the upper part of the birch tree which was spotted as a seedling in the Square Metre in spring 2004.  The lower part of its trunk can be seen in the picture at the top of the page.