At this time of year, Nature adorns her shrubs and bushes with exquisite baubles of bright red berries, in this case the fruits of Black bryony (Tamus communis).
‘A seed knows how to wait. Most seeds wait for at least a year before starting to grow; a cherry seed can wait for a hundred years with no problem. What exactly each seed is waiting for is known only to that seed. Some unique trigger-combination of temperature-moisture-light and many other things is required to convince a seed to jump off the deep end and take its chance – to take its one and only chance to grow.’
~ Hope Jahren, Lab Girl
Most of the Ivy bees (Colletes hederae) I spotted when I was out walking last week were living up to their reputation as busy little mini-beasties.
But then I spotted this one, sitting on a leaf, cleaning the pollen off its legs, wings and body. I asked politely if it would please smile for the camera … and it did … I think.
Ivy bees only arrived in Britain in 2001 but they’ve slowly expanded their range across southern England and in to south Wales. They’re very handsome little bees and completely harmless but can only be seen when the Ivy is flowering, from September to November. If you spot one, it would really help if you could report it so that the wonderful folk at BWARS (the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society) can track the bees’ spread around Britain.
This lovely blast of botannical sunshine I found flowering on the clifftops at Lavernock is Rock samphire (Crithmum maritimum).
I’ve never eaten it – apart from the occasional blackberry at this time of year, I’m not a forager – I like to leave things to be appreciated by everyone and eaten by the wildlife that needs it more than me (anti-foraging mini-rant over!) – but I believe it can be eaten as a vegetable and is also used in pickling.
In fact, according to the Oxford Dictionary, the word samphire was once sampiere, from the French (herbe de) Saint Pierre or ‘St Peter(‘s herb)’. And in my trusty Flora Britannica, Richard Mabey writes
In the nineteenth century rock samphire from Dover and the Isle of Wight was sent in casks of brine to London, where wholesalers would pay up to four shillings a bushel for it. Shakespeare knew the plant from the south coast, and in King Lear, in a scene near Dover, has Edgar say to Gloucester, ‘half way down / Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!’
Even if I did want to try this particular Rock samphire, its location is completely inaccessible to all but the most foolhardy. But one huge bonus of photographing a plant that grows along cliff edges is that sometimes, if you’re really lucky, a cute and curious little Rock pipit will pop up to see what’s happening.
When I was walking through Cosmeston on Saturday, I was reminded that the plant name Flax can mean very different things to different people. In New Zealand, my homeland, Flax is a hefty plant, with thick leathery sword-shaped leaves that will quickly blunt even the sharpest secateurs and tall flower spikes full of a delicious nectar that is the particular favourite of the beautiful Tui. The traditional Flax species is Phormium tenax, though nowadays there are many cultivars in a wide range of colours and sizes.
The Flax I see when I’m out wandering in the British countryside couldn’t be more different from the Kiwi version. It is Linum usitatissimum, a small delicate plant, with beautiful pale blue flowers. Despite its seemingly insubstantial structure, the fibres of this plant are used to make linen and that is how the New Zealand plant got its name. According to the Eden Project website:
When Captain James Cook, the great navigator, and Joseph Banks, the great botanist, arrived in New Zealand in 1769, they noticed the native Maori people were wearing a fine cloth similar to linen made from this plant [Phormium tenax]. Linen is made from flax, so this plant became known as New Zealand flax.
Do you remember last Friday I blogged about the abundance of ladybirds at Cosmeston? They were feasting on the huge numbers of aphids on the Wild parsnip plants. Well, it turns out the ladybirds have had some competition for those aphids this week, as the migrating Willow warblers move through. I don’t think we need to worry though – there are more than enough aphids to go around!
I googled ‘What do ladybirds eat?’ today because I was trying to work out why there are so many ladybirds – about a 50 / 50 split between 7-spots and Harlequins – on the Wild parsnip plants at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park. It turns out ladybirds are particularly keen on aphids and, as you can see in some of my photos, there are rather a lot of aphids on these plants. Good news for the ladybirds!