Three’s a crowd.
Four’s … an orgy? The Gorse weevils I observed during yesterday’s exercise walk in a local park were blatantly ignoring the social distancing rules. Please don’t act like Gorse weevils!
I got some strange looks today when I was out walking – nothing unusual about that really. This time it was because I had my nose in a gorse bush looking for its special critters – and I found them. First, I was delighted to spot two tiny Gorse weevils (Exapion ulicis). I’ve only found them once before and these two led me a merry dance, in and around the gorse leaves, not wanting to have their photo taken. One disappeared but I managed to grab a couple of pics of the other.
The other critters were much easier, at least ten of them, probably many more, hiding in plain sight – that’s how well camouflaged they are. These Gorse shieldbugs (Piezodorus lituratus) were also camera shy and the gorse thorns made a few holes in my hands as I tried to pull the gorse this way and that to get some photos. But it was worth every speck of blood!
Though the weather has been pretty miserable most of this week, I have been seeing more and more wildflowers when I’m out on my wanders.
There will be no big fat juicy red berries from this little strawberry as this is a Barren strawberry (Potentilla sterilis) (it has fruit but they don’t become ‘fleshy and red’). I can tell which species it is from the top of the leaf that’s showing – the ‘terminal tooth’ is shorter than those on either side of it.
Last Sunday I saw my first Bluebells (Hyacinthoides sp.) of the year, almost certainly Spanish or hybrids rather than native Bluebells, but still beautiful to my eye.
I think this is Common stork’s-bill (Erodium cicutarium), a nice surprise growing amongst the grass at Cardiff Bay Wetland Reserve.
Cornsalad is such a dainty little plant, with very delicate, pale blue flowers. I almost missed these growing by the path at Grangemoor Park and have since seen them in a couple of places. This is probably Common cornsalad (Valerianella locusta), but the only way to be sure it’s not one of the other four varieties is to check the fruit, which won’t be possible till later in the season.
This is Danish scurvygrass (Cochlearia danica), originally a seaside plant that has now become widespread by following the road-salting trucks along the roads of Britain.
Gorse (Ulex sp.) never seems to stop flowering, though the truth is that there are two Gorse species and, when one stops flowering, the other takes over.
These Grape hyacinth (Muscari sp.) have become naturalised in my local cemetery, probably spreading from one or two deliberate grave-top plantings, or from nearby home gardens. I love their blue.
Petty spurge (Euphorbia peplus) is a very common little wildflower that’s often overlooked.
Spotting this flowering Ragwort by the roadside near Cardiff Bay was a bright surprise. It’s probably Common ragwort (Senecio jacobaea).
Red dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum). I’m a big fan of all the dead-nettles – the ‘dead’ in their name refers to the fact that they aren’t covered in stinging hairs!
Allium triquetrum, the Three-cornered leek, is a pretty, if somewhat smelly flower but considered an alien invasive plant species here in Britain.
What a week it’s been weather wise! We’ve gone from a generous dumping of snow and temperatures hovering around -5°C last Sunday through occasional rain, sunny periods, UV factors up and down, zephyr winds and mustang gales. Is it spring or isn’t it? Well, I’m seeing increasingly more wildflowers so I guess it must be. Here’s a selection from this week’s wanders.
It was lunchtime on our Glamorgan botany group walk and, rather than get a wet bum from sitting on the damp grass, I was eating my roll and cheese while poking around the flowers of a nearby gorse bush. I was looking for Gorse shieldbugs, of which I found not a sign, but I did find this tiny creature and, after a bit more poking, a couple of its friends.
It’s a Gorse weevil (Exapion ulicis) and, as you can judge from its size relative to my finger, it’s tiny, only 2 to 3mm long. Its snout is (relatively) enormous, about half as long as its body, making it look like a cross between an elephant (without the ears) and a spider (those legs!). And that snout is its secret weapon – the weevil uses its snout to burrow into the stem and spines of the gorse bush to eat the soft tissue inside.
Apparently this little weevil was introduced to my homeland, New Zealand, back in 1931 in an effort to control the introduced (by British migrants as cheap hedging) gorse bushes that were thriving in New Zealand’s favourable climate. The weevil’s larvae live inside and eat gorse seeds, thus preventing the bushes from reproducing. The little gorse weevil has done its job well but it seems the scientists hadn’t banked on the fact that the weevil larvae only eat gorse seeds in the springtime and the gorse also flowers and seeds in the autumn.
They say ‘Good things come in small packages’ and you couldn’t get much smaller than these tiny packages, the eggs of the Gorse shieldbug (Piezodorus lituratus) sitting on a gorse flower in Lavernock Reserve. I’ll be heading back soon to try to find the hatchlings.
Bluebell, Bute Park, Common dog-violet, Daisy, dandelion, Germander speedwell, Golden saxifrage, gorse, Greater stitchwort, Green alkanet, Herb Robert, Lesser Celandine, primrose, Red campion, Sweet violet, White deadnettle, Wild garlic, Wild strawberry, Wood anemone
This weekend I could have paid £12 to see what I’m sure would have been gorgeous flowers and inspirational displays at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Flower Show being held here in Cardiff’s Bute Park but, as I don’t have that kind of cash to splash at the moment, I decided to see what flowers I could find in Bute Park for nothing. With 18 different types of wildflowers currently in bloom I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Enjoy!
There were: Bluebell (mostly Spanish but I found a few natives) (Hyacinthoides non-scripta); Daisy (Bellis perennis); Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale); White deadnettle (Lamium album); Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum); Germander speedwell (Veronica Chamaedrys); Gorse (Ulex europaeus); Greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea); Green alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens); Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria); Opposite-leaved golden saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium); Primrose (Primula vulgaris); Red campion (Silene dioica); Common dog-violet (Viola riviniana) and Sweet violet (Viola odorata); Wild garlic (Allium ursinum); Wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca); and Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa).
Mention gorse to a farmer in New Zealand and he’ll curse and swear and grab the nearest strong weed-killer. It’s considered the country’s worst agricultural weed, and millions of dollars have been spent trying to eradicate it. Obviously, then, it is not a New Zealand native but was introduced in the very early days of colonial settlement for use as hedges and windbreaks. Little did those early settlers realise how invasive the plant would become in New Zealand’s temperate climate or how much angst they would cause their descendants.
So, you will, I hope, forgive me for not waxing lyrical about the joys of gorse in my newly adopted country of Wales. Yes, I recognise it has a very pretty flower, and I also acknowledge that it is a useful source of pollen when very few other plants are flowering. Apparently, the scent of its flowers reminds people of the smell of coconut – I admit I haven’t given them the sniff test. And I have read that gorse provides shelter and a good nesting habitat for a range of birds, including the stonechat, yellowhammer and linnet. But, in this instance, I just can’t set my heritage aside – to my eye, it’s a weed, and always will be!