This is Clematis vitalba, commonly known as Traveller’s joy though, at this time of year, when its feathery seeds festoon hedgerows, clamber over fences, and bedeck stone walls, I think its other common name of Old man’s beard is more apt. Today, the Old men’s beards were looking a little damp and they’ll now be completely sodden – I managed a walk early this morning before the heavy rain came in.
They glisten silver and gold in the late autumn sunshine these Carline thistles, with their thick fringe of papery bracts and heads of soft golden down. I blogged about the flowers last year; now here are the ‘everlasting’ seed heads that can be seen all through the chilly months of winter.
With its seeds attached to tiny botanical parachutes that can be distributed far and wide by the wind, the Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale agg.) has evolved an extremely efficient method of disseminating its seed. It’s not surprising, then, that many other species use a very similar method to disperse their seeds.
I don’t think I’m getting my wish this time around!
‘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
I gave it a really good sniff but I smelled nothing. It was only later that I read the smell comes from the leaves, but only when you crush or rub them, which I didn’t do. And, even then, some people can’t smell the ‘slightly stale, raw beef’ smell that Stinking iris is named for. Even its scientific name, Iris foetidissima, refers to the smell, as do two of its vernacular names: Roast-beef plant and Bloody bones.
However, I’m not here to warn about this iris’s smell nor, in fact, to extol the virtues of the plant itself, which is often a bit untidy and tatty looking, but rather to praise the beauty of its seeds. The flowers themselves are nothing to write home about, being a rather dull greyish-purple but the seeds erupt in the autumn, like bright orange peas in a papery brown pod. As the weather gets colder, if they’re not plundered as food by birds, they turn a fabulous scarlet and then, eventually, if the weather’s not too wet, dry to a rich golden brown. Just beautiful!
I’m still pretty useless at identifying native British trees: I can get most of the more common big species, like Oak and Ash and Beech, but I probably couldn’t identify a Spindle if you paid me … except at this time of year. Because in the autumn, the Spindle (Euonymus europaea) lights up in psychedelic colours that remind me of a dress I had in the ’70s (yes, I am that old!).
The Spindle (so named because its wood was used to make the spindles used to hold wool and in spinning) has fruits that are hot pink. And not only that … when those fruits open up, the seed inside is bright orange. It’s such an outrageous colour combination that it makes me wonder why it’s so very bright … and I haven’t found the answer. I thought perhaps the orange was a way to attract birds and many websites say the seeds are eaten by small birds like Robins and Tits but, when I google images, I can’t find any showing birds actually eating them. The other alternative is that the colour is a ‘don’t touch me I’m poisonous’ warning – and certainly the fruits are poisonous to humans but to birds? If anyone has any information about this eye-popping colour combination, I’d love to hear it. Meantime, put on your shades and check out these psychedelics, man.
‘The vegetable life does not content itself with casting from the flower or the tree a single seed, but it fills the air and earth with a prodigality of seeds, that, if thousands perish, thousands may plant themselves, that hundreds may come up, that tens may live to maturity; that, at least one may replace the parent.’
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
‘But few indeed, strong and free with eyes undimmed with care, have gone far enough and lived long enough with the trees to gain anything like a loving conception of their grandeur and significance as manifested in the harmonies of their distribution and varying aspects throughout the seasons, as they stand arrayed in their winter garb rejoicing in storms, putting forth their fresh leaves in the spring while steaming with resiny fragrance, receiving the thunder-showers of summer, or reposing heavy-laden with ripe cones in the rich sungold of autumn.’ ~ John Muir, The Mountains of California