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Sunday Quiz – Blue and Pink – The Answers

Antirrhinums

Goodness Readers, I shall have to set you all a real stinker for next week! No fewer than 3 of you: Fran and Bobby Freelove, FEARN and Liz Norbury, all got 20/20, but I shall give the top prize to Liz, who gave the best answer to the bonus question. And special kudos to Anne, who got 17/20 even though she lives several thousand miles away in South Africa and Alittlebitoutoffocus who also got 17 even though he lives in Switzerland! A big round of applause to all of you, and well done!

Part One – Blue UK Wildflowers

1)f) Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

2)h) Green alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens)

3)a) Common Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis)

4)j) Periwinkle (Vinca major)

5)e) Bugle (Ajuga reptens)

6)b) Ground ivy (Glechoma hederofolia)

7)i) Wood forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica)

8)c) Borage (Borago officinalis)

9)d) Trailing bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana)

10)g) Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

1)1)f) Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

2)2)h) Green alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens)

3)3)a) Common Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis)

4)j) Periwinkle (Vinca major)

5)e) Bugle (Ajuga reptens)

6)b) Ground ivy (Glechoma hederofolia)

7)i) Wood forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica)

8)c) Borage (Borago officinalis)

9)d) Trailing bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana)

10)g) Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Part Two – Pink

11)m) Lesser burdock ( Actium minus)

12)o) Field bindweed (Convulvulus arvensis)

13)r) Everlasting broad-leaved pea (Lathyrus latifolia)

14)l) Common mallow (Malva neglecta)

15)t) Hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica)

16)p) Red clover (Trifolium pratense)

17) s) Red valerian (Centranthus ruber)

18) q) Red campion (Silene dioica)

19)k) Redshank (Persicaria maculosa)

20)n) Red deadnettle (Lamium pupureum)

11)m) Lesser burdock ( Actium minus)

12)o) Field bindweed (Convulvulus arvensis)

13)r) Everlasting broad-leaved pea (Lathyrus latifolia)

14)l) Common mallow (Malva neglecta)

15)t) Hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica)

16)p) Red clover (Trifolium pratense)

17)s) Red valerian (Centranthus ruber)

18)q) Red campion (Silene dioica)

19)k) Redshank (Persicaria maculosa)

20)n) Red deadnettle (Lamium pupureum)

And here’s a bonus: several of these plants can have both blue and pink flowers at the same time. Can you name them, and tell me why?

Many members of the borage family (including borage, forget-me-not, green alkanet and lungwort) have flowers that change from blue to pink as they age – there is some evidence that this might serve as an indication to pollinators that the older flowers have already been pollinated).

On Father’s Day

Thomas Reginald Palmer (5.12.35 to 31.3.20)

Dear Readers, it is my first Father’s Day without my Dad, and as usual I have marked the occasion by falling flat on my face. I have noticed that on occasions of high stress and sadness, when I am too much ‘in my head’, my body reminds me of its existence by bringing me literally ‘down to earth’. Fortunately, apart from a scraped knee and grazed hands, nothing much is damaged apart from my dignity, but it does make me think that it is no use pretending that these days don’t hurt. Carrying on ‘as usual’ doesn’t work.

It is less than three months since Dad died, and while on the face of it things are back to normal, I look in the mirror and can see that they are not. I am anxious about the smallest, most insignificant things at work, because it’s easier than worrying about the existential crises that being an orphan have brought up. I can’t trust myself to have a conversation where I mention my loss because I never know if I’m going to be able to finish the sentence without crying. Everything reminds me of Dad, and of Mum. On my walk to take photos in East Finchley last week, I found myself in tears at the sight of a mallow shrub, one of Dad’s favourite plants. He took a seedling with him from London to Dorset back in 2002 when he and Mum moved, and apparently it, and the roses, are being well looked after by the new owners of the bungalow.

Roses surrounded with the paraphernalia of medications at Mum and Dad’s bungalow back in 2018

And at the moment, there isn’t even a grave to visit. Dad’s ashes are still on a shelf at the funeral home, waiting for his name to be added to the gravestone so that we can inter him with Mum. And although we have a September date in the diary for Dad’s memorial service, goodness only knows if it will actually happen then. Everything is in abeyance, and trying to move forward is such an effort when there is so much uncertainty.

When I think about Dad’s last few months, I wonder if on some level he knew that his time was coming to an end. At Christmas he developed the idea that his mother and father had moved into one of the flats across the way, and that they’d be joining us for the turkey and crackers. He kept springing up and looking anxiously out of the window to see if he could see them coming.

‘I never knew my Dad!’ he said, which was true: Dad’s father was killed in a tank in Tunisia in 1943, after he joined up as a commando at over 50 years of age. Dad remembered his father walking into the house and doing a cartwheel from the living room to the kitchen, and that was the only thing Dad ever told us about him.

When we sat down to eat, Dad couldn’t settle, and wanted us to wait until his parents arrived before we started on our lunch.

‘I don’t think they’re able to come, Dad’, I said at last.

Dad’s face crumpled but then he pulled himself together.

‘I’m really upset’ he said, ‘ they only live across the road’.

I made up some story about ‘Mum’ not being well enough, and that seemed to mollify him a bit. Increasingly he was ‘spending time’ with people that he’d loved and lost years before. Nonetheless, I know that he was enjoying his life, and that he wasn’t ready to die – he had friends at the home, and was always relating the various adventures that he’d had, real and imaginary. Although Dad wasn’t directly killed by Covid-19 (his test was negative), I still believe that the pandemic contributed to his death: he was hospitalised to protect the other people in the home when he developed a chest infection but, while waiting for almost four days for the results of the test, he became so agitated that he was heavily sedated, which would have exacerbated his breathing problems. I blame no one for what happened, because I’m sure that everyone was acting in the best interests of the greatest number, but my Dad became yet another statistic in the figure of ‘excess deaths’ in the UK, which currently stands at over 65,000 people.

In many ways, I have been lucky. I was able to be with Dad when he died, a privilege denied to so many people during the pandemic. He was 84, and I’d had him as my Dad for all those years. He was a good Dad to me, and I have no bad memories of him as a father. We were often allies: we would roll our eyes at one another when Mum ‘went off on one’, and we could sit in peaceable silence watching Pointless or Midsomer Murders for hours, only occasionally trying to outdo one another with the correct answer to a European Capital beginning with ‘T’, or contributing an insightful comment on some MacGuffin in the plot. But the tax we pay on love is the grief when the person is gone, and the sense of rage that somehow, maybe, it could have been otherwise. I accept that Dad is gone, and yet I don’t.

Edna St Vincent Millay probably best sums up where I am at this moment, though in half an hour I might be in a calmer, more reflective space. And when I think of all the other unnecessary deaths that this pandemic has brought, I am not resigned to that either. When all this is over, I hope that someone is held to account for the shambolic incompetence of this government, who have moved from fiasco to fiasco without the slightest sign of regret or apology. Shame on them.

Dirge Without Music

Edna St. Vincent Millay – 1892-1950

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Sunday Quiz – Pink and Blue

Antirrhinums

Dear Readers, this quiz was inspired by happenings at my workplace, where two of my colleagues are expecting babies in the autumn. I should point out that neither they nor I are wedded to this idea of pink-for-a-girl-and-blue-for-a-boy, but my garden does have a blue/pink/white theme, and as so many of my favourite UK wildflowers are in these colours  I couldn’t resist. As usual, this is in two parts: blue first and then pink, and to make it a (bit) easier, it’s multiple choice.

Please submit your answers in the comments by 5 p.m. Monday (UK) time if you want to be marked, but it’s fine to just play along in private :-). If you intend to put your answers in the comments, you might want to write them down first to avoid being side-tracked by any speedy Peeps. Have fun!

Part One – Blue UK Wildflowers

Your choices are:

a) Common Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis)

b) Ground ivy (Glechoma hederofolia)

c) Borage (Borago officinalis)

d) Trailing bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana)

e) Bugle (Ajuga reptens)

f) Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

g) Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

h) Green alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens)

i) Wood forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica)

j) Periwinkle (Vinca major)

1)

2)

3)

4)

5)

6)

7)8)

10)

Part Two – Pink 

k) Redshank (Persicaria maculosa)

l) Common mallow (Malva neglecta)

m) Lesser burdock ( Actium minus)

n) Red deadnettle (Lamium pupureum)

o) Field bindweed (Convulvulus arvensis)

p) Red clover (Trifolium pratense)

q) Red campion (Silene dioica)

r) Everlasting broad-leaved pea (Lathyrus latifolia)

s) Red valerian (Centranthus ruber)

t) Hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica)

11)

12)

13)

14)

15)

16)

17)

18)

19)

20)

And here’s a bonus: several of these plants can have both blue and pink flowers at the same time. Can you name them, and tell me why?

More Fun From ‘Garden Birds’ by Mike Toms

Dear Readers, my new favourite bird book is ‘Garden Birds’ by Mike Toms, in the New Naturalist series. You might remember that I included some titbits (no pun intended) about different species of birds  a few weeks ago, but the book is such a cornucopia of interesting facts that I thought I’d share some more. In particular, this week I have been reading about feeding birds: who does it, how popular it is, what works for different kinds of birds, and how far it changes the behaviour of birds. So, here in no particular order is my new harvest of bird-related facts.

  • The earliest description of bird feeding comes from the ancient Hindu writings of the Vedic period. One practice was known as Bhuta Yajna, and was one of the five great sacrifices used to develop spiritual growth. It involved placing food offerings known as bali on the ground: these were intended for ‘animals, birds, insects, wandering outcastes and beings of the invisible worlds‘.
  • In 2015, 55% of all households in the UK fed birds, with 65% saying that they fed all year round.
  • In the UK, there is at least one bird feeder for every nine potentially feeder-using birds.
  • An estimated 150,000 tonnes of bird food are sold every year, with an annual consumer spend of over 200m GBP. About 1000 tonnes is probably me (or at least that’s how it feels at the height of starling season).
  • Older people seem to be more inclined to feed birds than younger people, but of course this could relate to lots of factors: older people often have more time on their hands, are more likely to have a home and garden of their own, and are also more likely to be financially secure.
  • Within Europe, feeding of wild birds is common in Germany, Poland, Finland, Switzerland, the UK (of course) and the Netherlands, but is much rarer in Mediterranean countries. Toms speculates that part of that might be cultural (there’s a much higher incidence of hunting of small wild birds in southern Europe), but also that the winters are so much harsher in Northern Europe that people are more inclined to take pity on those poor feathered scraps shivering in the snow. At least, that’s how I feel about it. Interestingly, a study of bird feeding in Michigan and Arizona found something similar  – 66% of respondents in Michigan provided food, as opposed to just 43% of people in Arizona. Humans love to feel needed, and that they are doing something useful, and I can see how this would be much more apparent in a Michigan winter than an Arizonan one.
  • The top three reasons that people give for feeding wild birds are ‘pleasure’, ‘contributing to the survival of wild birds’, and ‘studying behaviour’. I think they would be my top three as well.
  • The reasons that people worried about feeding birds were ‘the risk of disease transmission'(between the birds rather than between birds and humans), the risk of attracting predators, and the risk of attracting unwanted species to the garden. For me, the first two are a worry – I was particularly upset by the lurking cats in the first few years in the house. I’ve never worried about unwanted species, because I tend to be careful about what I feed, and how much, though I do understand how being inundated with feral pigeons could cause problems with the neighbours.
  • Both Great and Blue tits seem to be extremely reluctant to provide supplementary food (given by humans) to their nestlings – they obviously have a very finely-tuned understanding of what their youngsters need, and will not give them anything that they’re unsure of. On the other hand, they visit feeders for food for themselves, so our suet pellets and sunflower hearts seem to help to fuel the adults during the busiest part of their year, which can only be a good thing.

Great tit (Parus major)

  • Sunflower hearts are among the most desirable (and expensive) of bird food offerings: at 6,100 kcal per kg, they are higher than peanuts(5700 kcal per kg) and because they don’t have to be dehusked, they are also better than black sunflower seeds (5000 kcal per kg). Most sunflower seeds in the UK come from Eastern Europe and Russia, where they have long been bred to maximise their fat content. Just as well that wild birds don’t have to worry about cholesterol or obesity.
  • We’ve talked before about the way that goldfinches seem to be abandoning nyjer seeds for sunflower hearts, but there’s an interesting corollary in the book. Previously, goldfinches were often beaten back from the sunflower seeds by greenfinches, who are more aggressive and used to arrive in large flocks (those were the days). Since the greenfinch numbers were horribly reduced by finch trichomonosis, the goldfinches haven’t had to mess about with the nyjer and have the sunflower seeds (mostly) to themselves. It will be interesting to see what happens when/if the greenfinch population recovers.

 

  • Do not put away your nyjer feeders just yet though: siskins and lesser redpolls apparently favour these seeds above all others. Report back, Readers! In my garden siskins only ever appear when it’s snowing. Goodness only knows where they go the rest of the time.

  • Many birds prefer live mealworms to anything that you can offer, because they are closest to the wild food that robins, blackbirds and starlings would normally choose. Blimey they’re expensive though. I suppose the fact that they are higher in protein than beef or chicken is instinctively known by our avian friends.

  • One for my North American readers: apparently the increasing use of hummingbird feeders has been linked to the changes in the range of Anna’s hummingbird (Calypte anna), which now overwinters and probably breeds at higher latitudes than it did a few decades ago. The question is, though, has the increase in food driven the range expansion, or has the range expansion encouraged people to put out food for these wonderful birds? Correlation does not always mean causation, as we know, and add in climate change to the picture and things get even more confusing.
  • And on the subject of nectar feeding: to my surprise, Toms describes many cases of birds in the UK nectar-feeding from plants. Blue tits feed from a variety of flowers over 33 different counties in the UK, and although it wasn’t the preferred food (the birds would rather take peanuts, but were often outcompeted) the nectar taken in this case from flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) could account for up to 50% of the bird’s daily calorie intake. Blackcaps have also been seen feeding from Mahonia and Kniphofia, and a wide range of other warbler species will also take nectar as they travel through the Mediterranean regions during their migration. I will have to pay a lot more attention to what the birds in my garden are doing on the Ribes that I have during the spring – I’d always assumed that they were just perching and waiting their turn at the feeder. Time to get the binoculars out, I think.
  • And finally, a quick one for my Australian readers: apparently in Australia it’s not unusual to put out meat for birds such as the Laughing Kookaburra and the Grey Butcherbird. Who knew? Well, not me, obviously. Let me know how that works, folks! I have visions of bird barbecues with steaks hanging from the trees, but I’m sure I’m just being fanciful.

Well, all in all ‘Garden Birds’ is a positive cornucopia of information, and I suspect that I will be sharing more information with you shortly. Let me know what you’ve discovered about the birds in your garden – it’s endlessly interesting to me to hear who visits, and what they get up to. I suspect that gardens are a treasure trove of useful information about the populations and behaviour of all kinds of birds, and what better time to observe them than when most of us can’t get out and about very much? Lockdown birding is definitely a ‘thing’.

A Witch’s Broom

Babylon witches broom on crack willow

Dear Readers, whilst admiring the crack willow for Wednesday’s post, I noticed this rather strange growth on one of the twigs. So splendid was it that I had to get my husband to hold the branch down so that I could get a photograph. It looks rather as if the catkins, normally so long and elegant, have gone completely berserk, and so I contacted my friends over at the British Plant Galls Association to see what they thought.

Apparently, this is a Babylon willow witches broom. Who ever guessed that there was such a thing? And the mystery doesn’t stop there. I had alway thought of galls as being caused by tiny insects such as the larvae of moths or wasps, or by fungi, but this is caused by something very different.

There are many different types of ‘witches broom’. What they have in common is that the growth of the plant is distorted, and is often multiplied or mutated – in the echinacea in the photo below, the leaves have been ‘persuaded’ to behave like flowers.

By Estreya - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4608429 One by

Phyllody on a coneflower (Photo One )

The cause of the distortion is a tiny bacterium known as a phytoplasma. These mysterious creatures were only discovered in 1967 – they are tiny even by the standards of bacteria, have no cell wall, and have proved to be more or less impossible to culture. They are spread from plant to plant by sap-sucking insects such as leafhoppers, and once inside a plant they live in the phloem, which transports both the sugars and nutrients that the plant needs, and the phytoplasmids which it definitely doesn’t.

Our witches broom is probably not good for the crack willow, but there is only one gall that I can see. Other variants can be much more harmful – there is one kind of witches broom that can devastate cocoa plantations, and some others that can affect trees grown for timber. Furthermore, all kinds of organisms can cause this kind of growth – viruses and fungi can affect normal shoot and leaf development, as can various insects. All you need is something that affects auxins, which are chemicals at the shoot or bud tip – normally, these tell the plant to stop growing, but if they are somehow turned off, the plant continues to make catkins, or leaves, until you get a matted, nest-like mass. In fact, some animals actually take advantage of this nest-like appearance by using it as a place to sleep, like the Northern Flying Squirrel (North America’s only gliding rodent).

Photo Two byBy PJTurgeon - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23282295

Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus)(Photo Two)

I am especially impressed by the effect of phytoplasma on the bamboo below, though I wouldn’t be quite so happy if I was a giant panda, as although the bacterium can induce a huge mass of distorted flowers, these are usually sterile.

Photo Three By Amityadav8 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62620401

Witches broom disease of bamboo (Photo Three)

So, here I am with a whole new selection of things to think about. As is usual, I imagine that I’m about to see galls everywhere. If you have a favourite plant gall (hasn’t everyone 🙂 ) do share. The natural world is full of all sorts of strange and wonderful things, for sure.

 

Photo Credits

Photo One By Estreya – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4608429 

Photo Two byBy PJTurgeon – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23282295

Photo Three By Amityadav8 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62620401

A Brisk Walk on Summerlee Avenue

Some Peace roses on Summerlee Avenue

Dear Readers, today was Wednesday, which means a 9 a.m. work call for my husband and so a rather more energetic and speedy early morning walk than usual. Today, we did a quick loop along Summerlee Avenue, which features a splendid selection of 1920’s and 1930’s houses, with their big bay windows, and medium-sized front gardens. I was struck by the array of Peace roses in the garden above – this was my Mum’s favourite rose variety (along with an inexplicable fondness for ‘Blue Moon’, which always seemed to me to be grey rather than blue).

This part of East Finchley is probably technically known as Fortis Green, and is slightly posher  than the County Roads where I live. This particular road slopes gently downwards towards Cherry Tree Wood.

There are some wonderful gardens here. I especially like this one.

I love a garden that looks as if you couldn’t fit in another leaf, and this one hits the spot. I love the bright orange and red of the alstroemeria as well, plus the sedum just starting to change from green to pink. I imagine the pollinators will be delighted.

Further along the road there is a positive sea of ox-eye daisies.

And this is the most magnificent hydrangea, fully the size of a small tree.

This garden used to have a fountain in the front, but now it has a pond. I’m not sure if the netting is to deter humans or herons, or maybe it’s just to keep the leaves out. I am enjoying the yellow loosestrife, very cheerful!

And then it’s into the woods, and our usual game of dodging the runners and dog walkers whilst waving and shouting ‘hello’. Cherry Tree Wood, like Coldfall Wood, used to be part of a much larger tract of ancient woodland, and so it has the same mix of hornbeam with oak standards. There are some magnificent trees here, but it’s more of a ‘park’ and less of a ‘woodland’. The Friends group for Cherry Tree are hoping to create a development plan, which will probably include some coppicing, as in our wood – it’s amazing what’s lurking in the seedbank ready to spring forth once it gets some sunshine.

I love the way that this oak has twisted as it’s grown.

This is a very mature wood, with little understorey. It’s very atmospheric, though. I half expect a wolf to run along the pathway (though normally it’s a labradoodle which is not at all the same thing).

Then it’s out of the wood and along the unadopted road where I found the corncockle a few weeks ago. The corncockle has faded, but there are still a few poppies and cornflowers holding on, and some rather lovely corn marigolds. These are listed as vulnerable, and are yet another declining arable weed.

Poppies (Papaver rhoeas)

Corn marigold (Glebionis segetum)

There is a magnificent stand of pendulous sedge too. I just hope that no-one ever wants to get rid of it, as they’ll need a machete for sure.

My field guide to plants describes this plant as ‘easily overlooked’, and so it is – I’d been cheerfully writing it down as red deadnettle, when it clearly isn’t. In fact, it’s black horehound (Ballota nigra), and I definitely feel a Wednesday Weed coming on.

I used to know this grey-foliaged, yellow-flowered plant as Senecio, but these days apparently it’s Brachyglottis. It comes originally from New Zealand, and loves full sun. This one was doing extremely well.

Now, Readers, I need your help with this one, that I have fallen in love with. The flowers remind me of tansy, but the whole plant has a cool, pale green air about it which I find very appealing. What on earth is it, though?

Mystery plant!

Someone is growing a crop of Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium) which is pink and white candy-striped – very interesting! Field bindweed (Convulvulus arvensis) is a small-flowered pink and white plant, but I’ve never seen this colouration on the larger plant. If it wasn’t such a pain one could almost grow it on purpose.

And no walk in this area is complete without a quick look at this unpromising bit of garden at the top-end of Park Hall Road. This has provided me with some very unusual Wednesday Weeds – I can only wonder if some soul planted it with wildflower seeds many moons ago. It is the only site locally that I know for : tufted vetch (Vicia cracca)…

Tufted vetch

hedge bedstraw.(Galium album)…

….and lucerne (Medicago sativa ssp sativa)

And then it’s a final loop back to the High Street as we hot-foot it for home. I am delighted to see that the pollarded London plane trees are starting to fight back: each branch looks as if it’s holding a leafy bird’s nest aloft. It really surprises me how many plants it’s possible to see in half an hour, even if one is travelling at speed. And a walk always sets me up for the day. I heartily recommend it if it’s possible for you in your lockdown circumstances, and if it isn’t, I hope it will be soon. I have so much to be grateful for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday Weed – Crack Willow

Crack willow (Salix x fragilis)

Dear Readers, I am rather fond of this ‘weedy’ willow, with its shiny, elegant leaves and graceful habit. Its common name comes not from any connection with the Baltimore drug trade (I am just catching up with the TV series ‘The Wire’, nearly 20 years after everyone else) but from its habit of dropping branches or splitting with a loud cracking sound. This plant, which has parked itself next to Muswell Hill Playing Fields, is a mere baby – the tree can grow up to 25 metres tall. Crack willow is dioecious, which means that an individual plant can be either male or female: the female catkins are green, and the males are yellow. I took a photo of this tree a few weeks ago, and the catkins were green, so I think it’s a girl! There are several crack willows in the area, and the bees love the pollen, so I suspect that pollination isn’t a problem.

Crack willow catkins

Like many willows, crack willow loves damp places, and I suspect that there are the remnants of some kind of drainage ditch here, or at least a spot where the water collects. It is useful for a variety of insect species: the puss moth that I described here would have been very happy on this plant.Other stunning species that munch on crack willow include the caterpillars of the eyed hawk-moth and the red underwing.

By Didier Descouens - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26868574

Eyed hawkmoth (Smerinthus ocellatus) (Photo One)

Photo Two byBy Simon A. Eugster - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7712401

Eyed hawkmoth (Smerinthus ocellatus) caterpillar (Photo Two)

Photo Three byBy John de Haura - first uploaded to en wp by Lode (2006-07-30): Red underwing - catocala nupta (wings closed) Photographed by John de Haura Free to use, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1509408

Red underwing (Catocala nupta) (Photo Three)

The ‘cracking’ of crack willow is most probably a way of colonising river banks – the twigs and branches that break off can root themselves downstream if they happen to fall into the water. It can also often be seen along the banks of canals for the same reason. This has led to the plant, which is originally a native of mainland Europe and Western Asia, becoming an invasive species in South Africa, New Zealand and the northern part of the USA. Left to its own devices it can form stands of crack willow which squeeze all the other plants out. In New Zealand, however, only the male plants have been imported, but there is always the risk that it will hybridise with other willows. In their book ‘Alien Plants’, Clive Stace and Michael Crawley note that crack willow is ‘capable of achieving biomass at which it is likely to influence vegetation structure). Incidentally, willow is one of the plants being considered as fuel for biomass power stations.

In the UK, crack willow is counted as an archaeophyte (a plant that arrived here prior to 1500). It has also recently been discovered that the plants in the UK are not ‘pure’ crack willow, but a hybrid between white willow (Salix alba) and a species from Turkey and the Caucasus (Salix euxina). However, it has been around for such a long time that it forms part of the most typically English landscapes: it was often used to stabilise riverbanks, and was pollarded at about 3 metres so that browsing animals couldn’t nibble the new growth.

Photo Four from http://www.artuk.org/artworks/pollard-willows-44903

Hugues, Victor Louis(1827 – 1889) Pollard Willows; The Bowes Museum (Photo Four)

And here’s rather haunting picture by Jean-Baptiste Corot (1796 – 1875) called ‘The Willows of Marissel’. Where are the couple heading off to, I wonder?

Jean-Baptiste-Camille_Corot_-_The_Willows_of_Marissel (Public Domain)

The inner bark and leaves of many willow species, including crack willow, have been used for their ability to relieve pain: the ancient Assyrians suggested that chewing the leaves was a way to alleviate the pain of arthritis, and Hippocrates suggested that the plant could help with the pain of childbirth. As the plant is one of the sources of salicylic acid (aspirin) it can also reduce inflammation, and calm a fever. Although commercial aspirin is synthetically produced these days, many herbal practitioners still consider that decoctions of the bark are just as effective. In a rather interesting book on Herbal Treatments in Veterinary Science, I note that okapis have been seen to develop neuropathy after treatment with salicylic acid, so I guess the various permutations of drug and species can’t always be foreseen.

Willows of all kinds are often associated with sadness, and with lost love: the ‘willow grows aslant a brook, that shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream’ in Gertrude’s recounting of Ophelia’s death in Hamlet is most likely a weeping willow, but wearing willow in one’s hat or on one’s clothing in remembrance of a loved one seems to have encompassed all the willow species. And who could forget Steeleye Span singing ‘All Around My Hat’? Have a listen, I guarantee you’ll be singing it for days. The version above was recorded in (gulp) 1975, but here’s the same group singing it in 2016. I rather like the way that age and experience has added a whole new dimension to the way that Maddy Prior puts the song across. What do you think?

In some parts of England, the crosses for Palm Sunday were made of willow, and the ‘floors of churches were strewn were the green leaves of willow. In Dorset, a fragment of willow is left in each of the church pews on Palm Sunday. It’s also said that if you have a burning secret that you can’t tell another human, you should tell it to a willow, who will keep the secret for you.

And now, a poem. This is only tangentially related to the willow, but I love the way that it conjures a summer’s day, and the way that the song of the ploughman, and the croaking of the crow, seem to form a kind of harmony. Plus, doesn’t it complement ‘All Around My Hat’ very nicely? John Clare is for me the quintessential English poem, more so than even Wordsworth, because his observation of the countryside is so acute that I sense that he feels it in his bones, to his marrow. Let me know what you think.

The Crow Sat on the Willow Tree by John Clare (1793 – 1864)

The crow sat on the willow tree
A-lifting up his wings,
And glossy was his coat to see,
And loud the ploughman sings,
'I love my love because I know
The milkmaid she loves me';
And hoarsely croaked the glossy crow
Upon the willow tree.
'I love my love' the ploughman sung,
And all the fields with music rung.

'I love my love, a bonny lass,
She keeps her pails so bright,
And blythe she trips the dewy grass
At morning and at night.
A cotton dress her morning gown,
Her face was rosy health:
She traced the pastures up and down
And nature was her wealth.'
He sung, and turned each furrow down,
His sweetheart's love in cotton gown.

'My love is young and handsome
As any in the town,
She's worth a ploughman's ransom
In the drab cotton gown.'
He sang and turned his furrow oer
And urged his team along,
While on the willow as before
The old crow croaked his song:
The ploughman sung his rustic lay
And sung of Phoebe all the day.

The crow he was in love no doubt
And [so were] many things:
The ploughman finished many a bout,
And lustily he sings,
'My love she is a milking maid
With red rosy cheek;
Of cotton drab her gown was made,
I loved her many a week.'
His milking maid the ploughman sung
Till all the fields around him rung

Photo Credits

Photo One by Didier Descouens – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26868574

Photo Two by Simon A. Eugster – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7712401

Photo Three byBy John de Haura – first uploaded to en wp by Lode (2006-07-30): Red underwing – catocala nupta (wings closed) Photographed by John de Haura Free to use, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1509408

 

Photo Four from http://www.artuk.org/artworks/pollard-willows-44903

 

Sunday Quiz – Love A Duck! -The Answers

Shelduck at East India Docks

Hi Everyone, winners of this week’s quiz were Fran and Bobby Freelove, with 20 out of 20 (and you can’t get better than that!) Second was Anne, who got 17 out of 20 which is remarkable cosidering that she lives in South Africa. And third was Alittlebitoutoffocus, with a respectable 12 out of 20 – it was the ladies who tripped him up. Well done to all of you, and let me know how you got on if you didn’t submit your answers. Next week, plants!

Hi Everyone, here are the answers to Sunday’s quiz. I hope you enjoyed it!

Part One

The correct answers were: 1) f 2)h 3)i 4)g 5)b 6)j 7)e 8)c 9)a 10)d

By Bengt Nyman - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49064212

1) Mallard (Anas platyrhyncohos)

Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

2) Gadwall (Anas strepera)

AshishTripurwar / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

3)Northern shoveler (Anas clypeata)

Andreas Trepte / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)

4) Wigeon (Anas penelope)

DickDaniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

5) Eurasian teal (Anas crecca)

Dr. Raju Kasambe / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

6) Pochard (Aythya ferina)

Andreas Trepte / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)

7) Tufted duck (Aytha fuligula)

Ross Elliott / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

8) Eider (Somateria mollissima)

DickDaniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

9) Smew (Mergellus albellus)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sbern/ / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

10) Common Goldeneye (Buchephala clangula)

Part Two

The answers were: 10)d 11)b 12)j 13)e 14)f 15)i 16)g 17)a 18)d 19)c 20) h

Josephus37 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

11) Teal

Alpsdake / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

12) Pochard

Andreas Trepte / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)

13) Tufted duck

Kyores / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)

14) Mallard

DickDaniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

15) Shoveler

Photo by Laitche / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

16) Wigeon

Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

17)Smew

Mehmet Karatay / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

18) Common goldeneye

Thomas Quine / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

19) Eider

Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

20) Gadwall

Photo Credits

1)By Bengt Nyman – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49064212

2) Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

3) AshishTripurwar / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

4) Andreas Trepte / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)

5) DickDaniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

6) Dr. Raju Kasambe / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

7) Andreas Trepte / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)

8) Ross Elliott / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

9) DickDaniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

10) https://www.flickr.com/photos/sbern/ / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

11) Josephus37 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

12) Alpsdake / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

13) Andreas Trepte / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)

14) Kyores / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)

15) DickDaniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

16) Photo by Laitche / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

17) Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

18) Mehmet Karatay / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

19) Thomas Quine / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

20) Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

 

The Good Father

Dear Readers, as we approach the first Fathers’ Day since my own Dad died, my thoughts have been turning to what makes a good father. I believe that nature often has lessons for us, although, humans being humans, we cherry-pick what appeals to us. After all, many fathers in nature do nothing more than provide the DNA for their offspring, as do many mothers, and their children are none the worse for it. Take frogs, for example. Once the spawn is laid, the mothers take off, and it’s still not clear to scientists where exactly they go. The males may hang around in the pond for longer, and there are one or two individuals left in my garden, but they show not the slightest interest in the next generation, apart from occasionally looking at them with a hungry eye.

Mr Frog

I used to wonder if the male frogs were actually occasionally eating the tadpoles, but fortunately they’re all too much of a mouthful now. I love the way that they are all developing at different rates, which I imagine gives the generation as a whole an advantage – who is to know when the best time is to leave the pond? There are baby frogs hopping around at the moment, but also individuals who seem resigned to being tadpoles for as long as possible. Some might even spend the winter without metamorphosing completely, to emerge next spring. In the photo below you can see four different stages of development – tadpole, tadpole with long tale, froglet with short tail and, on the bottom left-hand side, froglets.

But what has intrigued me most this week has been the male blackbird. I wrote about him a few weeks ago – I’m pretty convinced that this is his first brood. What a champ he’s being, though! He’s prepared to tough out a whole bird table full of argumentative young starlings, for a start.

I have never seen a bird who is able to stuff so many mealworms into his beak at one time, and this makes sense: by the time you come back, the whole lot might have been hoovered up by somebody else.

And that somebody else might be a lot, lot bigger than you are, as in the case of this jackdaw who was stuffing his or her crop with food.

The male sparrow in the background of this photo is a very determined little character as well – he too often holds his own with the young starlings, though discretion was the better part of valour here.

And when the jackdaw, who is actually much more nervous on the bird table than the blackbird, took fright, the blackbird was in like a shot.

And so, somewhere close at hand there is a nest full of baby blackbirds. I am hoping that they will fledge successfully, and that I’ll get to see some young ones in the garden. If I don’t, it certainly won’t be because their father has lacked courage, intelligence or determination.

Incidentally, the mealworms that I’m feeding at the moment are live ones; much as it pains me to offer live prey, the dried mealworms aren’t suitable for nestlings, but they do need protein, and natural insect prey such as worms are very difficult to come by in the semi-drought that we’re having at the moment. So, I’ve put my scruples to one side for a bit. I also notice that some of the mealworms manage to escape, so maybe some of them get a reprieve. Things are never straightforward, are they?

Sunday Quiz – Love A Duck!

Shelduck at East India Docks

Good morning Readers! Here is your Sunday Quiz. I think that our ducks are some of our most underrated birds for sheer good looks – the males are often magnificent, and the females, though their colouration is more subdued, often have a subtle beauty all of their own.

For Part One, can you identify the species of the handsome drake in the photo? And for Part Two, can you match the duck to the drake? Simple, huh?

As usual, pop your answers in the comments if you want to be marked (not compulsory!) If you don’t want to be influenced by those who’ve already had a go, write your answers down first on a piece of paper (or on a slate if you’re as old as I am).

Ready? Ok, let’s go!

Part One

Here are some very handsome male ducks. Can you match the photo to the name? So, if you think drake 1 is a smew, your answer is 1)a.

Possible answers:

a) Smew

b) Teal

c) Eider

d) Goldeneye

e) Tufted duck

f) Mallard

g) Wigeon

h) Gadwall

i) Shoveler

j) Pochard

By Bengt Nyman - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49064212

1)

Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

2)

AshishTripurwar / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

3)

Andreas Trepte / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)

4)

DickDaniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

5)

Dr. Raju Kasambe / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

6)

Andreas Trepte / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)

7)

Ross Elliott / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

8)

DickDaniels  (http://carolinabirds.org/) / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

9)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sbern/ / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

10)

Part Two

Same thing, but for ducks! What species do these lovely ladies belong to? I think this is pretty tricky, but here’s a hint – the shape and colour of the beak is often the key to identification.

So, if you think duck 11) is a wigeon, your answer is 11)g

Possible answers:

a) Smew

b) Teal

c) Eider

d) Goldeneye

e) Tufted duck

f) Mallard

g) Wigeon

h) Gadwall

i) Shoveler

j) Pochard

Josephus37 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

11)

Alpsdake / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

12)

Andreas Trepte / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)

13)

Kyores / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)

14)

DickDaniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

15)

Photo by Laitche / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

16)

Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

17)

Mehmet Karatay / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

18)

Thomas Quine / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

19)

Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

20)

Have fun! Answers will be posted on Tuesday, so if you want to be marked, please get your answers in before 5 p.m. UK time on Monday.