The Sunday Quiz – Butterflies

Dear Readers,

This week we’re looking at butterflies. The quiz is in three sections.

1) Match the butterflies to their names.

2) Match the caterpillars to the butterflies

3) Match the foodplants to the butterflies!

So hopefully the first part will be easy-ish, but the next two will be rather trickier. Feel free to give up at any point! Answers in the comments please, but if you don’t want to be influenced by those who have gone before, I would suggest not looking at the comments until after you’ve written your answers down.

Section One

So, without further ado, match these butterflies to their names. So, if you think butterfly 1 is a Small tortoiseshell, your answer will be 1) a).







a) Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

b) Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

c) Holly blue (Celastrina argiolus)

d) Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)

e) Orange tip (Anthocharis cardamines)

f) Comma (Polygonia c-album)

Section Two

Ok so far? Now, see if you can match the caterpillars to the photos of the butterflies. So, if you think the caterpillar of butterfly number 1 is caterpillar number 7, your answer will be 1) 7).

gailhampshire from Cradley, Malvern, U.K / CC BY (


AnemoneProjectors (talk) (Flickr) / CC BY-SA (


By Dean Morley at


By Peter Eeles from



Ilia Ustyantsev from Russia / CC BY-SA (


Section Three

I think that was really tough. Maybe this last bit will be a little bit easier? Or maybe not? So, the caterpillar of which butterfly eats which plant? If you think the caterpillar of butterfly 1) eats plant 13), your answer will be 1)13). That way, even if you haven’t got the caterpillar right you can still have a bash at the foodplant.  Please note that one of the plants is eaten by two of the caterpillars 🙂

If that doesn’t make sense, just shout (in the comments).

The answers will be posted on Tuesday, so if you want to be ‘marked’ please comment before 5 p.m. UK time.on Monday.  Please feel free also just to have a go in private if you prefer. And have fun!



By No machine-readable author provided. Pere prlpz assumed (based on copyright claims). - No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 2.5,


By Rasbak - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,



Good luck!




Little Things…

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)

Dear Readers, it’s funny how ‘weeds’ seem to appear in the garden in waves. Earlier this year, I was inundated with cleavers, or goose-grass. But as I sat in the garden this evening, sipping a cup of tea at the end of the work week, I thought that I had never seen so much herb robert, or noticed how delicate and pretty it is. True, it smells of mice, or burning tyres, depending on your sense of smell. True, it’s a bit of a thug. But how pretty it is, with those soft pink flowers, furry stems and lacy leaves!

As the plant grows, the foliage and stems turn fiery red – you can just see the colour changing in the photo above. It’s been used medicinally for nose bleeds and headaches, to ease tummy upsets and even as a mosquito repellent. Deer and rabbits can also be deterred from their nibbling by the smell of the plant. It’s also known as bloodwort, though I’m not sure if this is because of its late-summer colour, or because of the nosebleed connection.

Not all the flowers are pink, either: I found one plant that was lily-white, blooming away in a dark corner. Herb robert is a great plant for a shady area, and rather underappreciated, I think.

White herb robert

While I was admiring the herb robert, though, a very familiar noise drifted into my consciousness. There was a strange wheezing sound, and looking into the cherry tree next door, I saw my first fledgling starling of the year.

Young starling waiting to be fed.

No doubt the next few days will follow the usual pattern. To start with, the youngsters are completely hopeless, expecting their parents to pick up the suet pellets and feed them. But the patience of mum and dad wears thin very quickly: first of all they start flying away from their youngsters with a harried expression. Then they leave them parked in various trees for longer and longer periods of time. The hungry fledglings soon start to peck at everything that looks remotely edible, and eventually the garden is filled with gangs of marauding adolescent starlings, who squabble and get into all sorts of trouble. I fear that the cats and corvids who visit the garden may soon be having a lot of fun. Infant mortality is high, especially as young starlings have no sense of danger – every year I fish one out of the pond, and spend time on high alert for predators, though I can’t save them all. But nonetheless, many survive to join the growing flock of starlings. I love the idea that some of the birds visiting the feeders now might be the great great great grandchildren of the starlings who first found that there was food available in the garden. Will there soon be an East Finchley murmuration, I wonder, to replace the great clouds of birds that used to mass over St James’s Park and Leicester Square? I can but dream.

Where’s my dinner?


Friday Books – London Flora and Fauna

The Great Trees of London from Time Out

Dear Readers, as the whole purpose of this blog is (ostensibly) to look at wildlife in London, it will come as no surprise that I have amassed a collection of books on urban flora and fauna. Let’s start with The Great Trees of London, which is a small but beautifully-formed guide to the an award which was born out of the terrible storm of 1987. In 1997, the public were asked to nominate London’s ‘Great Trees’. To qualify, they had to be publicly accessible, and have either historical significance or imposing physical stature. If it was in some way a landmark this was also taken into consideration. 41 trees made the cut, followed by another 20 in 2008. One of the many things that I plan to do in retirement is to visit all of them, and I have already featured one or two: the Totteridge Yew was an early subject, as was the Marylebone elm. This is a snappily -written book, and it has the added advantage of fitting into a largish handbag for when one goes exploring (whenever that becomes a possibility). I’m sure that there are champion trees all over the world,  and they are always well worth getting to know.

Next, another little guide that has found me several sites for birdwatching: David Darrell Lambert’s Birdwatching London. I have had this book for ages, but only just noticed what fun the front cover was. That is surely the photo of a lifetime.

I am indebted to this book for not only indicating where things like heronries are, but also for alerting me to the smaller nature reserves such as the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park and East India Dock Basin, which I would probably otherwise not have known existed. I can see my retirement becoming even busier with all these sites to visit.

One of my ambitions is to see some little owls (i.e. the species, not some diminutive individuals) and according to my next book, ‘The Birds of London’ by Andrew Self, there are at least 30 pairs in Richmond Park (and several in Regent’s Park and Kensington Gardens). Although this book is definitely for information rather than fun, it can be a fascinating read: it follows each species’ decline and fall over the past few hundred years, and gives an indication of where they can be found today.

But I have left my favourite till last. ‘London’s Natural History’ by Richard Fitter was first published in 1945, and every page has a fascinating titbit. I learned, for example, that Epping Forest was the last redoubt of the red squirrel in London at the time the book was written, but all was not as it seemed: in 1910 a local landowner bought some live continental red squirrels in Leadenhall Market and released them on his estate. The ‘native’ red squirrels in the forest were found to be from this original stock. Incidentally, Fitter maintains that the grey squirrels moved into a niche vacated by red squirrels following a catastrophic plague of squirrel pox: he suggests that red squirrels always preferred coniferous forest, and that they were forced into deciduous forest by sheer force of numbers.

As you might expect, there is also a lot about London’s bombsites. I found this photo interesting because it is just around the corner from where I now work. Who can imagine prime London real estate laying vacant these days?

Fitter even has a list of the flowering plants and ferns recorded from bombsites: I note that 88% of them had rosebay willowherb as a feature. What a sight it must have been with all those cerise flowers painting the debris! And there are also the absences: not a single mention of rose-ringed parakeets, for example, nor of collared doves, but much talk of the house sparrows in St James’s Park. I also remember the clouds of little birds that would settle on the head and arms of one particular man who used to feed them. How much things change, and how fast! And how precious are the creatures and the plants that remain.

Coltsfoot on a bombsite





A Tale of Two Birds

Sycamore flowers turning into samaras

Dear Readers, every morning since the lockdown began, my husband and I have gone out for a walk before work. Our usual destination is Coldfall Wood, followed by a brisk trot around the Playing Fields. I have written the fields off as a nature destination in previous visits, but goodness there is a lot to see if I pay attention! Having remarked on the beauty of the sycamore flowers, I am now impressed with the way that each blossom is turning into a samara, one of nature’s helicopters. How I used to love playing with them when I was a child, but I had never noticed the way that they emerged from the flowers before.

And then there is the sunlight through the leaves. What a delight!

The cow parsley is in full flower and the hogweed is just getting started. I love how the flowers burst through those closed-fists of buds.

Hogweed opening

I love how the umbellifers follow one another, with the cow parsley, then the hogweed, then the wild carrot – there’s something for hoverflies to feed on for months on end.

But one big delight has been the single male blackcap that I’ve heard singing from an ash tree every single morning, except this one when I had my camera. I love these slate-grey birds with their black Beatles-style ‘haircuts’. I’ve had one visit my garden in winter very occasionally, but I’ve never heard one in full song before. Here’s a recording (sadly not by me):

Photo One by Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK / CC BY (

Male blackcap (Sylvia atripicilla) (Photo One)

As I passed the ash tree I looked up and listened hard, but no luck. And then, twenty metres away, I heard him singing from the depths of a sycamore. Hopefully he’ll be a bit less bashful tomorrow.

The Japanese knotweed has grown into an impassable thicket, and my favourite dock is now almost up to my shoulder.

There has been some excitement on the Playing Fields this week because, after many, many months of waiting, the council are coming to try do something about the quagmire that appears at the entrance every year. The wood and the fields have had drainage problems for as long as I’ve been visiting: there are a number of streams and rivulets that water the woods, the fields and the cemetery, sometimes with rather too much enthusiasm. However, today there is a van, and an earth-mover, and the start of what could be a very fine hole, so fingers crossed that it all works.

And then I’m at home, and sitting at my desk, listening to a conference call, when something catches my eye. Look at this little beauty sitting on the buddleia outside.


A pair of them have been sitting just outside my window for most of the day, flitting in and out and apparently munching up all the aphids. They have been singing and preening one another, and have been most excellent companions, even when I had four hours of User Acceptance Testing for a new system and thought that I would lose the will to live. It’s always a treat when nature comes to you, rather than you having to go out and find it.

Wednesday Weed – Ragged Robin

Ragged robin (Silene flos-cuculi)

Dear Readers, the overgrown patch at the side of Muswell Hill Playing Fields continues to be an unexpected source of interesting ‘weeds’ – in amongst the red campion and the comfrey, I spotted some ragged robin, a plant that I have been wanting to write about for about five years. What a strange, exotic flower it has! Looked at closely, each petal  is divided into four lobes: which gives the flower the appearance of a group of small pink men with very long legs joining hands for ‘Ring-a-ring-of-roses’.

Photo One from CC BY-SA 3.0,

Ragged Robin (Photo One)

Ragged robin is often described as a bog plant, and I suspect that this one is doing so well because under all the plant life there is a drainage ditch. It is a member of the Caryophyllaceae family, otherwise known as the campions and chickweeds. The family also includes carnations and the Antarctic pearlwort, which is one of only two flowering plants that survive in Antarctica. This latter plant hunkers close to the ground to avoid the freezing winds, and produces these tiny yellow flowers – it reminds me of the moss campion that I often see in the Alps, where the climate can be almost as inhospitable.

Photo Two by By Liam Quinn - Flickr: Antarctic Pearlwort, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Antarctic Pearlwort (Colobanthus_quitensis)(Photo Two)

But, as usual, I digress.

The plant is dedicated to St Barnabas, whose feast day is 11th June. The pink flowers would have been seen amongst the hay which would have had its first cut at around this time (the Latin name ‘flos-cuculi’ means ‘cuckoo call’, which is also a reference to the time of flowering. . St Barnabas is the saint who is said to protect against hailstorms, which would have been devastating during haymaking season. Regular readers will know that practically every wild plant that I write about has some kind of dire warning concerning what will happen if the flower is brought indoors attached to it. Ragged robin is said to cause thunderstorms if picked, which connects rather nicely with the St Barnabas/hailstorms link. How anxiously our ancestors, without the benefit of fairly accurate short-term weather forecasts, must have watched for signs of incoming tempests that would ruin their hay harvest!

The name ‘robin’ was often associated with evil and mischievous goblins, which would have been another reason to leave the plant alone. On the other hand, all bets are off when it comes to romance, as if a gentleman placed a ragged robin in his pocket and it survived, it indicated that he would be lucky in love. What ‘survived’ looks like is anybody’s guess, as this looks like a rather delicate plant to me.

In the Victorian language of flowers, the plant is said to signify ‘ardour, aversion and wit’, which sounds like quite a tricky combination to pull off, even if you have a couple of wilted ragged robins stashed about your person.

In Shakespeare’s time ragged robin (which sounds like a very Shakespearian name) was actually known as crowflower, and as such it appears in Gertrude’s speech describing Ophelia’s suicide:

There is a willow grows aslant a brook
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do “dead men’s fingers” call them.


Medicinally, ragged robin has been used to treat snakebite and in infusion as a treatment for wounds. It has also been used to alleviate migraine in some countries in the Mediterranean. Like all campions, ragged robin contains chemicals called saponins in its roots, which have been used to make soap in the past – one closely-related species (Saponaria officinalis) is known as ‘soapwort’. As a result of all those soapy chemicals, it has no culinary uses that I’ve been able to find, although one site did enigmatically refer to the root as ‘tasting like wasabi’.

Ragged robin is a good plant for pollinators, in particular long-tongued bees such as the garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum) which can reach right into the depths of the flower. In the photo below, I was initially stumped – is that a hoverfly with a bumblebee’s backside? I think there might actually be two insects – a hoverfly at the front, and a bumblebee feeding behind. Either way, it proves that this is a great plant for insects.

Photo Three by Clint Bud from

Insects on ragged robin (Photo Three)

Now, here’s something that I found very interesting, and it harks back to my earlier mention of the Victorian language of flowers. In her book ‘Women Poets in the Victorian Era‘, Dr Fabienne Moine refers to a poem called ‘The Flower Girl’ by one Mrs Cobbold. In it, the flower girl of the title offers flowers to the passing gents, summing them up with a quick glance in much the same way that merchants in street markets from Kiev to Marrakesh are able to tell what language to use when approaching their potential customers simply by looking at their clothes and body language.

I have always thought of the language of flowers as being a rather languid and prissy way to think about plants, but this poem has some real bite to it – there is ‘ardour, aversion and wit’ in it. And I love that it has been written from the point of view of a feisty young woman, who obviously brooks no nonsense. The poem has been seen as a possible inspiration for Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’, but I think it stands very nicely on its own.

The Flower Girl by Mrs Cobbold (circa 1813)

Come buy, come buy my mystic flowers

All ranged with due consideration

And cull’d in Fancy’s fairy bowers

To suit each age and every station.


For those who late in life would tarry 

I’ve snowdrops, Winter’s children cold;

And those who seek for wealth to marry

May buy the flaunting marigold.


I’ve ragwort, ragged-robins too,

Cheap flowers for those of low condition;

For bachelors I’ve buttons blue 

And crown imperials for ambition. 


For sportsmen keen who range the lea

I’ve pheasant’s eye and sprigs of heather;

For courtiers with the supple knee 

I’ve climbing plants and prince’s feather. 


For tall thin fobs I keep the rush;

For pedants still am nightshade weeding;

For rakes I’ve devil in the bush;

For sighing Stephens, love-lies-bleeding. 


But fairest blooms affection’s hand

For constancy and worth disposes

And gladly weaves at your command

A wreath of amaranth and roses. 

The Flower Girl (1913) Eugene de Blaas (Public Domain)

Photo Credits

Photo One from CC BY-SA 3.0,

Photo Two by By Liam Quinn – Flickr: Antarctic Pearlwort, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Photo Three by Clint Bud from




Sunday Quiz – Wonderful ‘Weeds’ – The Answers

The long, bell-shaped flowers of the Yellow Corydalis

Dear Readers, what a clever, clever bunch you are! Winning this week is FEARN with 29 out of 30 correct (and you’ll kick yourself when you see which one was wrong). Liz actually answered all the questions correctly, and would have got 30 out of 30 if it wasn’t for getting the answers to questions 17 and 20 the wrong way round :-(, so I have had to give a score of 28 out of 30, equal with Fran and Bobby Freelove, who win the prize for the quickest response of the week. Sarah got a very respectable 15 out of 15 for the photos, but didn’t do quite so well on the second lot of questions. So, thank you to everyone who took part and commented, and watch out for next week’s quiz. It’s going to be a humdinger (whatever that is).

1. Herb Bennet (Geum urbanum)

2. Hedge Bindweed ((Calystegia sepium)

3. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)

4.Pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea)

5.Cuckoo-pint/Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum)

6.Ivy (Hedera helix)

7. Green alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens)

8. Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

9. Red deadnettle (Lamium purpureum)

10. Loddon lily (Leucojum aestivum)

11. Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna)

12. Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum)

13. Garlic mustard (Allaria petiolata)

14. Dandelion (Taraxacum agg.)

15. Borage (Borago officinalis)

And here are some additional questions for those of you with stamina! The answer to each question is one of the plants shown above, and you can find the answers in the Wednesday Weed for each species.

16. Which plant has proved efficacious in the treatment of migraine?


17. Which plant has smooth leaves at the top and prickly leaves at the bottom, and why?


18. Which plant was Wordsworth’s favourite flower?

Lesser celandine

19. Which plant is the foodplant for the orange-tip butterfly?

Garlic mustard

20. Which plant got its common name from the blessing ‘Benedictus’?

Herb bennet

21. Which plant has leaves that taste of cucumber?


22. Which plant was described thus, in 1913:

In bushy places, common; and a most mischievous weed in gardens, not only exhausting the soil with its roots, but strangling with its twining stems the plants that grow nearby’.

Hedge bindweed

23. Which plant is also known as ‘pissenlit’ because of its diuretic qualities?


24. Which plant generates its own heat, to entice insects to pollinate it?


25. The seedheads of which plant were believed to be used as hairbrushes by the Banshees in the folklore of Ireland?


26. Which plant is closely related to chamomile?


27. Which plant is described thus, and is the County Plant of Berkshire?

‘White flowers hanging in severe purity from long stems’.

Loddon Lily

28.Which plant is the larval foodplant of the holly blue butterfly, and has been described as ‘the most divisive wild plant in the UK’?


29. Which plant is also known as ‘purple archangel’?

Red deadnettle

30. Which plant is ‘always green’ although its flowers are blue?

Green alkanet

And finally, for bonus points: three of these plants are members of the daisy family (Asteraceae), but which ones?

My Favourite Plants for Pollinators

White comfrey

Dear Readers, what follows is a very idiosyncratic list of my ‘favourite’ plants where pollinators are concerned. I expect a bit of controversy with some of them, but in all cases I have observed the comings and goings of various insects, and have noted that the flower in question is much appreciated. Onwards!


  1. Dandelion. I happen to love dandelions: they flower for most of the year, and are an invaluable source of early pollen, just when queen bumblebees and honeybees need the protein to rear their young ones. Plus, they always remind me of my husband’s father, Richard, who died on 11th May: the cemetery that he was buried in, Mount Pleasant in Toronto, was absolutely full to busting with dandelions in flower, and dandelion clocks, their seeds sailing away on the breeze. I thought it was one of the loveliest sights that I’d ever seen. Our local cemetery, St Pancras and Islington, can be just as pretty if the strimmers haven’t been too vigorous.

    St Pancras and Islington Cemetery in May 2015

  2. Ivy. I know that it can damage brick work and pull down trees, but its Sputnik-shaped flowers are a late-summer feast for all manner of pollinators, including the newly-arrived ivy bee shown below. I have lost count of the number of species that I’ve seen feeding in autumn, when there is little else in flower.

    Ivy bee (Colletes hederae)

    3. Mahonia. What a spikey and unruly plant this is! I have a very sad specimen in a pot, which is basically just a stem with a crown of prickles on top. And yet, when it puts forth its few sad yellow flowers as early as January, I can bet that it will be visited by queen bumblebees popping out of hibernation in a warm spell, and the blue tits can often be seen flying off with the berries. Earlier this week a young squirrel was half way up the stem trying to get to the fruit, as the whole plant swung back and forth like a pendulum. I believe that it’s worth having for that early nectar and pollen, if for nothing else. Maybe hide it at the back of a bed somewhere if you’re dubious. Incidentally, the flowers smell rather lovely.


    4. Scabious (of all kinds). This is a lovely little flower, and seems to be particularly favoured by butterflies. I can never get it to grow properly in my north-facing garden, but I’ve seen it positively covered in six-spot burnet moths in Austria. The garden varieties seem to be equally popular, but do let me know your experience…

    Field scabious

    5. Buddleia. I know, I know. The RHS is telling us not to plant it, the wildlife books are increasingly advising against it, and yet, for the few brief months when it is in flower it attracts pollinators of all kinds in abundance. And it smells like honey. And it grows alongside railway lines, forming a thicket of flowers in lilac and white and purple. I have two huge self-planted buddleia bushes in my front garden, and in August I sit at my desk with my binoculars and watch the butterflies come and go.


    Red Admiral (Vanessa Atalanta) and Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais utricae) on buddleia

    6. Cardoon, and thistles in general. I watched entranced at all the bees feeding from these cardoons in Regents Park, but thistles are almost always great for insects. In Austria I look out for the beetles on the melancholy thistles, and for a while I had some very fine thistles in the garden. I have watched bees fall asleep in the flowers as if overcome with all the nectar.

    Cardoon (Cynar cardunculus)

    Melancholy thistle in Austria

    Bumblebees on thistle Cirsium atropurpureum

    7.Hemp agrimony. What a tatty flower this is: it becomes unkempt very quickly and the wild variety goes from a kind of vague pinkish colour to a whitish grey within about ten minutes. However, it loves the damp areas around my pond, and because it is so tall it makes watching the bees a delight, because I don’t even have to bend over or change my glasses. I love the way that the bigger bees seem to fumble through the flowers as if desperate to find the nectar. Much loved by hoverflies and smaller bees as well.

    Hemp agrimony

    8. Meadowsweet. I grew this for the first time last year because it was another waterside plant that was supposed to be good for pollinators, and I was delighted – again, hoverflies seemed to love it (I think all those small open flowers make life easy for them), but it also attracted my first ever gatekeeper butterfly. It looks as if it’s going to be even more impressive this year.


    Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)

    9. Foxglove. I’m not sure there’s anything more redolent of a drowsy summer day than the muffled sound of a bumblebee inside a foxglove flower. I sometimes wonder if they’re relieved when they finally escape!

    White foxgloves in my garden

    10. Bittersweet. I love this plant, which has self-seeded in the middle of my honeysuckle, and which provides more year-round entertainment than anything that I’ve ever planted. In the autumn the birds seek out the berries, but in the summer the air is filled with the high-pitched sound of common carder bees buzz-pollinating the flowers. I have rarely seen anything as fascinating as the way that they vibrate the blooms in order to persuade them to drop the pollen out of the cones in the centre. This is the way that other members of the family, such as tomatoes and potatoes, are pollinated too.

    Common Carder Bumblebee buzz-pollinating Bittersweet

    And here’s a little film of them doing their work.

So there we go, with my top ten. But I am thinking that this is a most incomplete list. Where are the nettles (food for the caterpillars of many moth and butterfly species)? Where are the umbellifers, like wild carrot and queen anne’s lace? Where are the brambles, probably the most useful plants of all? And more to the point, having shown a picture of comfrey at the top of the page, why is it not included (oops). I can see that this list is just the start, and I’d love to hear from you. What are the most valuable plants in your garden, from a wildlife point of view? I’m sure that I’ve always got room to pop another one in…