Author Archives: Bug Woman

Plant of the Year (So Far)!

Dear Readers, every year there’s something in the garden that does exceptionally well. Last year, if you remember, we had the angelica, which turned into something of a triffid before subsiding under the sheer weight of the flowers. But this year it’s the climbing hydrangea. Just look at it! And right outside the kitchen door too. It has a very faint but sweet smell, and although the main ‘flowers’ on the flowerheads are sterile, the other blooms produce masses of pollen, which the bumblebees are very keen on.

For anyone with a murky dank corner (I have several) this is pretty much the perfect plant. It doesn’t need a trellis as little roots come out directly from the stems, rather like the legs on a millipede, but it doesn’t intrude into the brickwork in the way that ivy and some other climbers do. Yesterday a pair of robins were hopping about in it, so I hope they’re thinking about popping in a nest. And the sheer abundance of it is really cheering me up, even though it’s a dark and dismal day.

I love the way that gardens have rhythms, with plants reaching a pitch of perfection one year, and having a rest the next. It takes my breath away sometimes. How important it is to just find the time to stop and look at such glory! I feel like inviting everyone round to admire this plant, which has pumped so much sheer biomass out of a little hole in the patio.

And I should say (very quietly) that I don’t usually like hydrangeas much, having rubbished them mentally as being no good for the bees. But this one certainly is, and so are some other species: the smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens)…

Photo One by By H. Zell - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, H. Zell - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Smooth hydrangea (Photo One)

and the panicled hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculatus) in particular. I remember this latter plant because not only do the bees love the pollen, but the leaf-cutter bees used to cut perfect half-circles out of its leaves.

Photo Two By KENPEI - KENPEI's photo, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Hydrangea paniculata var grandiflora (Photo Two)

Anyhow, I was wondering if you have a star plant on your patch, or one that you always admire when you see it, What brings a bit of botanical joy to your week? I wish I could package up my hydrangea and share it with you all, but in the absence of a Star Trek-style transporter system, I guess the blog will have to do…

Photo Credits

Photo One By H. Zell – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Photo Two By KENPEI – KENPEI's photo, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Monday Quiz – Rocks Rock!

Title Photo by Nick Bramhall (black_friction on Flickr), CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Vertically-tilted metamorphic rocks near Carn Eighe, Scotland (Title Photo)

Dear Readers, I am currently revising for my final exam in my Open University degree, which takes place on Monday 13th June. Gosh, we’ve covered a lot of ground this year! We’ve spent time on everything from quantum theory to genetics, from chemical bonding to frictional forces, and my head is in a right old spin. However, this weekend I have been revising my earth sciences, and in particular rocks, something that I knew little about until this year. Look at these splendid Scottish rocks, for example! They were created many miles under the surface of the earth by a combination of intense heat and pressure, and have eventually come to be visible as the rocks around them have been eroded. Not only that, but they’ve been swivelled through 90 degrees from the horizontal to the vertical. The earth is such a dynamic system, but the changes are so gradual that it takes millions of years to see them.

It might not surprise you to hear that many, many plants and animals have the word ‘rock’ in their names, so for this week’s quiz, all you have to do is name the plant or animal pictured below, which has the word ‘rock’ in their common name. To make it just a bit easier, I will put asterisks where the words that aren’t ‘rock’ should be – after all we haven’t had a quiz for a while so I will try to restrain my sadistic urges. Pop your answers in the comments, and I will disappear you as soon as I see you.

I’m going to publish the answers next Sunday (May 29th), so please submit your answers by 5 p.m. on Saturday May 28th if you would like to be marked.


Photo One by By Devin Morris - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

1) ****-**-***-rock

Photo Two by By Andreas Trepte - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5,

2) Rock *****

Photo Three by By Jan Frode Haugseth - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

3) Rock *********

Photo Four by By Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0,

4) Rock****** *******

Photo Five by By Charles J. Sharp - Own work, from Sharp Photography,, CC BY-SA 4.0,

5) Rock *****

Photo Six by By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 3.0,

6) Rock ****

Photo Seven by By Tigerente - first upload de.wikipedia 10:52, 22. Aug 2004 as de:Bild:Sonnenröschen.jpg by Tigerente (153995 bytes), CC BY-SA 3.0,

7) ****** rock****

Photo Eight by By Huw Williams (Huwmanbeing) - Own work, Public Domain,

8) ****’* rock**

Photo Nine by By Ivar Leidus - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

9) ***** rock-*****

Photo Ten by By Pierre Dalous - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

10) ****** rock-******


Venturing Out….

Dear Readers, for the past few days I’ve been hearing the wheezy calls of young starlings as they chase their parents around the garden begging for food. There doesn’t seem to have been the enormous influx that there has been in past years, when I’ve been worried that the neighbours will complain about the racket, but numbers seem to be growing steadily day by day. As these wide-eyed innocents gaze around, wondering why all the other birds have flown away and failing to notice a creeping a cat, I feel a particular kinship with them as I, too, am starting to venture out after two years of lockdowns and being careful.

Today, for example, I am off to the theatre to see ‘Straight Line Crazy’ at the Bridge Theatre. It’s about Robert Moses, the man who tried to redesign New York, and the lead role is played by Ralph Fiennes, so it should be good. You can have a look at the link below.

But I find myself a bit anxious. After so long avoiding crowds, I’m going to be in the middle of one, for two hours and fifty minutes. I don’t think it’s so much about Covid (after all, I’m triple-vaxxed and have actually had the disease) as it is about social contact. I feel as if my world has shrunk over the past few years, and to ratchet it open is actually a little painful, like going back to the gym after a long break. My trip to Canada helped, but somehow getting back to ‘normal’ at home feels more difficult.

Still, I am a great believer in not letting our worlds become smaller if we don’t have to. It feels like finding a balance at the moment. I am still wearing a mask on public transport, and will do so in the theatre, as much to protect others as to protect myself. I do think that the current wave of covid has whistled through the UK, but I also think that there are new variants waiting in the wings. I do intend to get back into the world, but I also want to be prudent. I would love to hear what’s happening where you live, and how you’re negotiating any return to the new normal. In the UK I have the distinct feeling that the pandemic has been declared over and we are all just trying to work out what the best thing to do is, which will vary widely according to circumstances.

On a more personal level, we have a weeks’ worth of Away Days coming up shortly. This will involve actually meeting people in person, and I fear that my social skills will have atrophied while I’ve been happily interacting on Zoom. There are people in my wider team that I’ve never met in the flesh, and the thought of discussing work-related stuff with them for the best part of three days is frankly a bit overwhelming. And being an introvert, the thought of ‘fun’ activities fills me with horror. It’s not that I don’t like being with people, it’s just that with lots of folk all having Fun I often feel like the odd one out – I’m much better getting to know a small number of people well. I crave meaningful connection, and I find that hard to achieve in a big group. But I am trying to have an open mind, and to not let my anxiety get in the way. I intend to take it  one day, one hour, one minute at a time. I imagine there will be things that are enjoyable and stimulating, and things that are rather less so, but at the very least I will learn about my colleagues and about myself, and that’s no bad thing. Is anybody else negotiating a return to face-to-face activities? How are you doing? Is it fun, or do you want to crawl back to bed and pull the covers over your head? Or, like the young starlings, are you emerging happily back into the light?

Little Green Spheres

Photo One by By コムケ at Japanese Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Marimo at the bottom of Lake Akan in Japan (Photo One)

Dear Readers, a few weeks ago I mentioned that I was looking into the formation of algal balls for one of my Open University assignments, so today I thought I’d share a bit more about this strange phenomenon. Marimo are round balls of algae that form when a free-floating algae is gently rocked against a lake bottom, which turns them from a mass of threads into a rather delightful green sphere, as seen in the photo above. Japanese people seem to have a particular fondness for ‘cute’ things, and there is something rather endearing about these emerald balls – you could imagine them purring, much like the tribbles in Star Trek.

Photo Two from By Star Trek: The Original Series episode, "The Trouble with Tribbles", Fair use,

Captain James T. Kirk with a pile of tribbles (Photo Two)

Devotees of the TV series might remember that the problem with the tribbles was that they bred with great enthusiasm. Marimo, on the other hand, tend to breed very slowly, living as the algae does in cold shallow lakes not only in Japan, but also in Iceland in Lake Myvatn. The big threat to the ‘ball’ form of the algae seems to be excessive nutrients in the water – the marimo used to be found in lakes throughout Northern Europe, but these days although the alga that forms the balls still exists, it is more often found attached to rocks. I am not quite clear why this might be, but one theory is that the excess nutrients cause an increase in sedimentation at the bottom of the lake – if the algae has nothing to roll against, it won’t form into balls. Plus, too many nutrients may encourage the growth of algae that do not lend themselves to spherification. Many of the lakes that used to have marimo, such as Lake Zell in Austria, have not had the ball form of the algae since 1910, and Lake Myvatn nearly lost all its marimo, though in 2014 the Icelandic government realised what was happened and organised a clean up. Since then, tiny marimo have started to form again.

Photo Three by By Pjt56 --- If you use the picture outside Wikipedia I would appreciate a short e-mail to or a message on my discussion page - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Lake Myvatn (PJT56 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0) (see Photo Three link below)

Very occasionally marimo are found in marine environments – in cases such as this, it might be tidal action that shapes a free-floating algae into green ‘eggs’, such as the ones that washed up on a beach in Sydney in 2014, and again in 2017.

Photo Four from

Green algal balls on Dee Why Beach in Sydney

In this case, what seems to have happened is that the algae was forming dense mats in a lagoon just behind the beach, when there was a period of heavy rainfall. This breached the entrance of the lagoon and the algae was washed out to sea, only to be washed back in when the tide turned. Each turn of the tide (and it was a particularly heavy swell) appears to have turned the threads of algae until they formed a ball. The tides then started to deposit the strange alien spheres onto the beach, much to the fascination of local people and scientists alike. One of the scientists, Julia Cooke, came up with the first real hypothesis, outlined above,  for how the ‘green beachballs’ ended up on the beach.

And so, what can look like a mass of unsightly green ‘stuff’ on the surface of a lake can, in the right circumstances, turn into a tidy little sphere instead. If only I could find a way to persuade my duck weed to do the same thing.

Photo Five from by Ragnar Sigurdsson (, Iceland

Algal balls from Lake Myvatn (Photo Five)

Photo Credits

Photo One by By コムケ at Japanese Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Photo Two from By Star Trek: The Original Series episode, “The Trouble with Tribbles”, Fair use,

Photo Three By Pjt56 — – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Photo Four from

Photo Five from by Ragnar Sigurdsson (, Iceland

A Spring Walk at Walthamstow Wetlands

Dear Readers, today I went back to Walthamstow Wetlands to meet up with my dear friend S – I hadn’t seen her since before I went to Canada, so we had lots to talk about! So much, in fact, that by the time we actually started walking we only had about 30 minutes, but even so there was lots to see, like this very fine heron, who seemed unsure whether to fly off or to stay put when he saw us. We moved on and he decided to stay where he was, which was a relief – I do hate disturbing creatures, even by accident.

As we walked along the path by the edge of the reservoir, we noticed common terns flying back and forth between the various water bodies. This one sounded especially agitated, calling and calling, and it had a small fish in its mouth. Suddenly, I remembered something that happened when I was in Orkney. I was riding my bike with my boyfriend of the time when suddenly a pair of terns flew up and circled us, sounding most unhappy. One of them actually flew down and started to tweak my boyfriend’s ginger hair, and then another started what I can only describe as tapdancing on his head. We picked up speed and realised that the terns were just being territorial and trying to protect their nest – they’re ground nesters, and so their eggs and chicks are especially vulnerable. We moved on quickly and the tern seemed to settle down.

They are not easy birds to photograph, as the picture below will attest.

There are all manner of ducklings and goslings about, but I was especially taken with these Egyptian Goose youngsters – their parents were keeping a very close eye on them, but they were already pretty independent. When tiny, a lot of the young waterfowl are taken by gulls, but by the time they reach this size they’re pretty much safe.

And for anyone who hasn’t yet got their fill of damselflies, there was a new species (for me) at the entrance to the Wetlands – a banded demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens). We’d seen a male earlier (they have a dark band on their wings). This is a species that likes slow-flowing water, so I’m unlikely to find it in the pond, but there was a leisurely stream just behind the car park that seemed to be just the thing. It’s so nice to see something so beautiful.

So it was lovely to catch up with my friend, and to take a walk in nature. We both have our challenges at the moment, but there’s something about the fact that life goes on, with birds breeding and plants bursting forth and damselflies flittering, that is very consoling. I love to see the sheer variety of plants and animals at the Wetlands, and there is always something surprising and intriguing. So much so that we have a return visit planned for next week. Let’s see what we can see!

A Bit of a Dilemma

Large Red Damselflies laying their eggs

Dear Readers, nothing is ever simple when you’re a wildlife gardener. Today there were half a dozen pairs of Large Red Damselflies (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) laying their eggs in the pond, which, as mentioned on several occasions, is pretty much covered in duckweed this year. However, have a look at this little film and see exactly what the female is doing…look away for the first few seconds if you’re prone to sea-sickness but it does steady down after that.

It looks to me as if she’s quite deliberately laying her eggs under the duckweed leaves, which means that we really shouldn’t be clearing them at the moment. On the other hand, if they completely cover the pond the oxygenating plants won’t be able to photosynthesise, so that won’t be good for the pond either.

What also interests me as that towards the end of the film, you can see another tandem pair of damselflies heading in. Apparently in this species, the sight of one pair laying their eggs seems to attract other pairs – maybe there’s safety in numbers, or maybe the sight of one pair laying indicates that this is a suitable spot. It might also indicate that frogs, one of the damselfly’s most important predators, are not around at this particular bit of the pond.

Apparently the eggs hatch in two to three weeks, so I think the answer is maybe to just clear away a window so that the light can get into the pond, and worry about a bigger clear out later on. Getting the balance right between one thing and another is tricky, and too much meddling can cause more problems than it solves. Still, having too many damselflies reproducing is a quality problem for sure.

And then, I was thinking about cutting back the marsh marigold, but as I passed about 6 frogs jumped out from under its droopy leaves, so I think I’ll leave that as well. By the sound of it, I’ll just be able to put my feet up at the weekend….

Battling Damselflies

Dear Readers, the Large Red Damselflies are out in force today, and while you might think that a garden with a pond is a peaceful place, at the micro scale it’s nothing but small creatures beating one another up. Take this inoffensive looking male damselfly. There he sits on a leaf, occasionally cleaning his enormous eyes with his front legs, and looking as if butter wouldn’t melt.

And here are a loving couple. Well, as loving as you can be when a male has his claspers wrapped around your neck.

Still, although this looks a bit drastic, it’s the way that the male tries to make sure that the female doesn’t run off and mate with anyone else. She decides when it’s time to lay her eggs and flies off with the male attached, dashing her rear end into the water and letting go of a few eggs at a time.

However, the other male is waiting for just this opportunity.

Mating couple above, single male below

When the couple leave the leaf, the lone male flies up like a fighter plane, there’s a flurry of wings, and the ‘ownership’ of the female changes hands so quickly that you almost can’t see it. And then peace reigns again, briefly, until the next time.

What elegant creatures these are, though, and how it brightens my day to see them! They have been breeding in the pond every year for the past four or five years, and although their nymphs no doubt put paid to many tadpoles, they help to maintain the balance of the ecosystem. Plus, I often see them at the front of the house, perched on the buddleia or flittering around the green alkanet. They are gradually dispersing, and hopefully they’ll colonise any other ponds that people have in the neighbourhood, much as the frogs are doing.

And fortunately the duckweed doesn’t seem to have slowed them up too much.  My husband is on duckweed duty every Sunday, and by every Saturday the blooming stuff is back. I wonder why it’s so bad this year, having been entirely absent last year? Another mystery.

Still, it hasn’t slowed up the flag iris.

And the honey garlic will be in flower soon…

And the climbing hydrangea is gently opening too – it has a very faint floral scent which is lovely in the confined space of the side of the house. A few years ago this was visited by ashy mining bees, and what a treat that was! So fingers crossed that they’ll be back, and that I’ll have the time to actually sit and watch them.



Fascinating Phyllody

Dear Readers, when my friend A delivered this to me on Friday I was puzzled. What the hell is this? It was growing on my friend’s ivy, and where there should have been a flowerhead there was this bunch of little leaflets, probably close to a hundred in total. At the time I couldn’t remember the name for this phenomenon, but then it occurred to me, and a very fine word it is indeed.


Phyllody occurs when the flower of a plant is replaced by leafy tissue . Also known as phyllomorphy or (an even better word in my view) frondescence. It was first identified by the poet Goethe, who guessed that the structures that create leaves and flowers are essentially the same, and that at some point the plant ‘chooses’ which to make. Occasionally this goes wrong, usually as a result of damage at the tip of the growing stem – it can be caused by everything from bacteria, viruses and insect damage to frost or drought conditions, though if the condition is caused by environmental conditions it will usually right itself. Some insects, in particular leafhoppers, can transmit the bacteria that cause phyllody.

However, humans being humans we have found some variations on phyllody that we actually like, and have bred for these characteristics. The ancient Chinese had a passion for roses, and developed a form of Rosa chinensis called Viridiflora, where the petals on the flowers are replaced by leaves to give a ‘green’ rose.

Photo One by By Obsidian Soul - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The ‘Green Rose’ of China (Rosa chinensis var viridiflora) (Photo One)

Interestingly, according to the RHS strawberries can be particularly prone to phyllody, with the tiny seeds on the fruit turning into leaves instead of luscious red fruit. In strawberries the damage is often caused  by a bacteria, but weedkillers can also cause abnormal growth, in particular glyphosate. Lordy people, why the hecky-deck would anyone spray such a biocide close to their food? One variety, Malwina, can sometimes be hit with what the RHS calls ‘genetic fail’, when all the fruit in the first year is replaced by leaves (very frustrating I’d imagine). Strangely, the plant is said to produce normal fruit in subsequent years. If anyone has experience of this I would love to know all the details, it sounds most peculiar to me.

Photo Two from

Strawberries showing phyllody (Photo Two)

Phyllody is often found in members of the bean, rose and daisy families, but I can’t find any mention of it on ivy before. The specimen that I have is showing some signs of aphid or mite damage, so maybe one of these little lovelies has transmitted some kind of bacterial disease. It will be very interesting to see if this is a one-off on a few buds, or if it affects the ivy next year. I shall wait with bated breath.

Photo Credits

Photo One By Obsidian Soul – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Photo Two from

A Spring Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Well, Dear Readers, finally I have the bandwidth to write about my walk in the cemetery yesterday, as my assignment has been sent off and now I just have the exam to worry about (on 13th June, so keep your fingers crossed). This has been a very wide-ranging, demanding module, on all aspects of science from geology to quantum mechanics via environmental science, chemistry, biology and physics, so my brain has been very well stretched. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t ping back to its normal size over the summer.

Anyhow, we haven’t been to the cemetery for at least a month, and there has been another ‘changing of the guard’ as far as the plants are concerned. I was very pleased to see that the chaps in the cemetery are having a bash at ‘no-mow May’, at least in a few pockets of the lawns. The sound of strimming was pretty relentless in some areas, but there are still places where there are old graves where the plants grow long and wild.

No Mow May in action!

The horse-chestnuts are in full flower now, and at this time of year (before the leaf-miners get them) they look absolutely magnificent.

The buttercups and the cow parsley (Queen Anne’s lace) has taken over from the bulbs and lesser celandine.

Cow parsley in the woodland grave area

Buttercups always attract the smaller pollinators

I am much amused by the salsify, which seems to be pinging up all over the place. Where did it come from? It is so spikey and stately and somehow eccentric. There is something very medieval about it, to my eye.

The dog rose is in flower, and very pretty it is too. I love the way that the flowers start out blush pink and end up white.

We saw some butterflies too – a fresh new comma, a rather worn peacock and a very energetic male orange-tip who was much too fast to photograph.

Peacock (Aglais io)

Comma (Polygonia c-album)

The crack willow is exuding pollen from its catkins, and my husband is sneezing as a result…

And I suppose it was inevitable but the green space close to the stream and to the beehives is being dug up for graves. I guess it’s easier to do this here than in the woodier parts of the cemetery, but last year this was alive with butterflies.

The azaleas and rhododendrons are just coming into flower by the crematorium, and some of them are magnificent – just look at this orange one! These are not amongst my favourite plants, but they are very striking all the same.

No, what I like are those woody paths through dappled sunlight, where you barely meet a soul.

The clenched fists of the hogweed are unfurling, ready to take over from the cow parsley…

And in some places the buttercups and dandelions are putting on quite a show. It reminds me of the few drowsy summer days that I had as a child – on one occasion, we drove to Waltham Abbey and I remember laying down among the wild flowers and  watching all the insects moving through a miniature jungle. That’s really where Bugwoman was born, I think.

And finally, we were standing under these three plane trees when we heard the most extraordinary noise from very high up in the branches.

We’ve been watching ring-necked parakeets around here, and after a few minutes an adult flew off. I suspect that there’s a nest up there somewhere, and we will certainly keep an eye open next time we’re in the cemetery. Everyone seems to be producing babies at the moment, so why should the parakeets be an exception?

And to round off our trip, we saw this handsome crow. No doubt s/he will have babies to feed too.


Darling Readers, I am mightily up against it today because I have my final Open University assignment for this year due in on Monday, and what with having two weeks in Canada/jetlag/ work yadda yadda I am a bit behind. Which is a shame because my subject is the appearance of green algal balls on the beaches of Sydney, Australia, and if I had more time I would rabbit on about all the interesting things that I’ve discovered (though I should probably wait till the deadline for the paper is over because, plagiarism etc etc).

Image from

Anyhow, fortunately I had time this morning for a sanity-saving walk in St.Pancras and Islington Cemetery. I shall write a bit more about this tomorrow (and at some point soon will also get into the swing of quizzes again), but for now, here are a few of my favourite photographs. Enjoy! I might have known that as soon as I had to get stuck into something indoors we’d have a heat wave, but there we go.