Sunday, February 28, 2021


Cold spot

The cold weather from the east brought frost and snow to the Square Metre in mid-February but most of the snow had gone by 14th or 15th of the month.

A small amount remained at the base of the north side of the birch tree, that part of the Square Metre the sun cannot not reach.  Generally the quadrat is warm and sunny, but this area at the back of the birch must have a relatively cool and moist microclimate.


A short distance to the north east is the entrance to an animal's route through the bushes from our neighbour's garden (see below). Such features of the countryside are, or were, known as 'smeuses'.  It has been suggested that the word 'smeuse' is a corruption of 'meuse'. This is thought by etymologists to derive from Middle French 'muce' meaning a hiding place and was in widespread use in England in mediaeval times. It seems to have nothing to do with the river Meuse.  The s prefix could come simply by running one word into another, e.g. 'it's a badgersmeuse.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Last year's comma

Last August  I was examining the sallow cordon (Salix cinerea) that has been growing in the south west corner of the Square Metre for many years when I spotted a strange brown creature on one of the leaves.  To begin with I couldn't work out what it was.

After looking at various books I worked out that it was a full grown larva of a comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) a species that is quite common around the garden and whose larvae I have occasionally found on stinging nettles.  While nettle is the usual foodplant, the caterpillars have been recorded from sallow.  In our garden there is plenty of both these plants and it is interesting that sallow was chosen by the egg-laying female.

Birds are known to eat comma larvae and as a defence against predation, especially in their earlier stages, they are said to look like bird droppings. In the photograph above the caterpillar is clearly adopting a threat position with its hinder end raised and  its penultimate pair of legs imitating short arms.  The head, perhaps the most vulnerable part, is kept well down on the right.  Also the body is twisted well out of normal caterpillar position to give the impression of a large bird dropping.  If, when startled, the caterpillar adopted this position rapidly the sudden movement, combined with the other factors, might be enough be deter a hungry bird.

Despite searching online and in my books, I can find no reference to this kind of distinctive behaviour in comma caterpillars.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Plum Blossom Day

The 25th February is celebrated as Plum Blossom Day in many parts of Japan and, right on cue, a few delicate white flowers have appeared on the scrubby cherry plum bushes in our garden not far from the Square Metre.

As well as bringing on early flowers, the warm weather is encouraging insects to appear.  A seven-spot ladybird was sunning itself in Brambly Hedge and several bumble bees zoomed  through the Square Metre air space.  One settled among the dead leaves and ivy and remained there once it was well tucked in.  It looked too small for a queen (most early flying bumble bees are queens) and I suspect it was a worker that had managed to overwinter.


 The hiding bumble bee is in the centre of the lower picture.

Vegetation is still mostly at a standstill apart from goosegrass (Galium aparine) whose autumn germinated plants seem to grow in a cheery fresh and green manner whatever the weather.  Goosegrass is one of many English names for the plant and geese are reputed to enjoy eating it.  Perhaps it supplies some welcome fresh green stuff for them in winter.  One baffling name (to me ) for the plant is the Welsh lau'r offeiriad which means 'louse of the priest'.  I would welcome an explanation.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Franchet's cotoneaster

Several small cotoneasters have appeared in Medlar Wood over the years, the seeds, no doubt, occurring in droppings from the branches overhead.  Last year one of the largest produced flowers and fruit and, using all the botanical resources I could, find it appears to be Cotoneaster franchetii, Franchet's cotoneaster.  My plant shed its leaves quite rapidly in autumn and C. franchetii is said to be evergreen or semi-evergreen.  The leaves also turned a quite vivid red.  The indicates it could be var. sternianus introduced from Myanmar in 1919, a variety sometimes misnamed as C. wardii.  It has been given an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) by the Royal Horticultural Society.

The summer fruits (below) and the flowers agreed closely with descriptions of C. franchetii.  

The shrub's specific name commemorates the 19th century French botanist Adrien RenĂ© Franchet.  There appears to be no English equivalent for 'cotoneaster' which is from Latin meaning quince-like.  I think Franchet's false-quince would be a nicer name, but I don't suppose it will catch on.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Early spring 2021

Now winter seems to have passed and we are getting some sunny February days.  The corona virus pandemic seems to be receding too, so spirits are rising.  Today I re-found the two older dandelion plants I spent so much time enjoying last year. They have been hidden under fallen leaves and worm casts for months.  They are currently quite small with very narrow leaves, each from a single rosette, but they look healthy enough.

I have a view down the garden from my new position at the desktop on the table.  The 18-year-old birch tree that grows in the south west corner of the Square Metre is tall enough to see it from my room.  The picture above shows it behind one of our juniper bushes during the recent cold and snowy weather.

Ivy is starting to climb the lower part of the trunk of the birch and, I suppose, will one day overwhelm it. The ivy leaders all start on the rough black bark and mostly remain on this as high as it goes when they move on to the much smoother white bark.  They seem to be able to cling tightly to either substrate without any difficulty and it makes me wonder, if it is not coincidence, how the ivy selects the black rather than the white.