30 January 2013

29 January 2013

Wild Things 2 of 6 - Salisbury Plain

On Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, Pheasant’s Eye (Adonis annua) and other plants that are now rare, used to be plentiful all around the country. This is due, in part, to modern farming methods, but with Salisbury Plain being no go or restricted for most of the year, wildlife is left to be well – wild. Chris explains that poppies are excellent at growing on recently disturbed sights, but is surprised to see them growing in abundance on Salisbury Plain. Why could this be? To explain, Chris blows up a poppy with explosives. What’s left doesn’t include the poor poppy, but it does reveal a rich seed bank now ready to explode into life. Taking some of the revealed soil to Trevor, we embark on an experiment in an underground munitions store. In light and water controlled conditions, we see that the seeds in the soil are still able to germinate after many years, including buttercups and poppies.

Sally investigates the ruts and pot holes left by the military vehicles and during exercises. The churned up soil fills up with rain creating temporary ponds that readily brings the awaiting creatures to life. We see the volvux through a light microscope to admire the beauty of these spherical green algae cells. Although it’s not safe for long, as it’s just a small part of the food chain; even in this temporary pond that will last for a few months maximum. It’s eaten by tiny crustaceans called ostracods; but the king of this chain is the upside down swimming fairy shrimp (Chirocephalus diaphanous). While the fairy shrimp was quite common in the south of England and parts of Wales in 1964, we see the dots on the map vanishing indicating that their habitat is in decline. This is because they can only survive in places with pure water. Use of herbicides is a cause of this decline; this is also why they can be found on Salisbury Plain.

The pain of the stinging nettle is a reminder of childhood for most of us. We find out that it is the only plant that can sting native to Britain. The large hairs of this nettle, the trichromes, are hollow and very sharp needles of silica. Easily penetrating our skin on even a gentle brush of the hand; the release a cocktail of toxic chemicals from the swollen sack the needle rest upon. Histamine and serotonin are just a couple of the chemicals that are injected into the nerve endings under the skin. Chris explains that the stinging nettle has flourished in the fertiliser rich soils of modern farms, with records filling the whole of the UK and Ireland map. The nettle protects the wildlife that can live on the plant while steering clear of the stingers.

Trevor explains that plants have a variety of seed dispersal methods, but concentrates of the ballistic method used by the invasive Himalayan balsam that was first introduced to Britain as a garden plant that begun its escape in the early twentieth century according to records. The flowers of the Himalayan balsam only last for a few days and when pollinated can create up to a thousand seeds. The seeds are scattered by anything that touches the pod and we see that this dispersal method is much quicker than a bullet being fired from a gun. The pod splits into coils that spring back releasing the seeds.
All in all another great episode. I enjoyed the way that the episode was put together with aspects of plant life being chosen that matches that of the military surroundings. After two episodes now, I feel that the right amount of information is delivered for the length of the episode. Roll on episode 3!

For the episode 1 write up; click here.

28 January 2013

Ruby Tiger Caterpillar - Phragmatobia fuliginosa

Date Photographed: 27/01/2013
Location: Thyme Road, Melksham
Resources: http://ukmoths.org.uk/show.php?bf=2064

25 January 2013


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

W.H Davies

24 January 2013

Seedlings or emerging safely

Seeds are an excellent vehicle for allowing the growth of new plants. Many methods of dispersal; a couple of examples include seeds carried by wind or those dispersed by birds after they have eaten the berry, enabling the producer of the seeds in one location to have offspring in a wide geographical range.

One of the many problems seeds face in their journey is that of the initial stage of growing. Many testicles, for instances rocks or heavy soil, may get in the way of the seedling as is venture up into the world. The main stem of a plant is called the shoot apical meristem, in the beginning stages damage to the shoot apical meristem would mean dead to the plant.

So how does a seedling protect itself?
In monocot seedlings, such as grasses, the coleoptile acts as a sheath-like covering to protect the shoot apical meristem.

In dicots; those plants that have two cotyledons, or embryonic leaves, the stem grows in a hook like formation with the cotyledons protecting the shoot apical meristem. as you can see in the photos below, the seedling is showing the hook like formation and the when it is clear of the soil it opens up the embryonic leaves.

Shortly after opening up the embryonic leaves, the shoot apical meristem begins to grow.

Then the first set of true leaves begin to grow and the plant much better placed to survive.

The roots also have an apical meristem, but it protects itself in a different way from the rocks, dirt and pathogens that it will encounter throughout its life. It is protected by a root cap. The cells of the root cap produce a mucilage to ease the way as the roots grow and are continually sloughed or shed, as they are destroyed, to be replaced by new root cap cells.

23 January 2013

Music Videos about Us

Today is a 'just for fun' post.

Here are a couple of cool videos that have been uploaded to YouTube. They use clips from various documentaries and have original music added. The first is about us as the 'Children of Africa', the second a one minute tapestry of life on Earth since its beginnings.

Hope you enjoy:

22 January 2013

Wild Things 1 of 6 - Midlands

This fantastic new programme looks at the past 50 years of change in our countryside. With previously common plants disappearing and new plants becoming common place.

We are quickly introduced to Chris Myers (@DigChrisMyers), and his excellent Yorkshire accent; a garden designer with a passion for nature. Using maps from the BSBI, he’ll show us what’s growing and where it’s growing today along with investigating why.

This episode is based in the Midlands and sees us understand how the road verges have become a haven for plants. We see Danish Scurvygrass (Cochlearia danica) growing en mass along the verges of the M6. A plant that is known as a resident of our coasts has made a move inland. Chris mentions that it is currently the fastest moving plant in Britain. Thriving under the crash barriers, Chris wonders how a fragile plant can survive in such a location. We learn that the scurvygrass is named for its use in fending off the dreaded scurvy – thanks to high levels of vitamin C. The vitamin C also helps the scurvygrass cope with high levels of salt from the sea and the soil on the coast. We find out that scurvygrass is now a resident of our roadside verge due to the high levels of salt used every winter since the 1960s to keep our roads safe – as a byproduct making an idea environment for this lovely little plant. There’san article about this from the telegraph. Using a car, a slow motion camera, and some polystyrene balls (acting in place of seeds) to see how the spinning column of air created by the car moving at motorway speeds allows the uber-quick spread of scurvygrass.

Lichenologist Sally Eaton (@eaton_sally) is spending some time in urban places. Using maps of lichen surveys, Sally notes that Lecanora conizaeoides was widespread 50 years ago’ but has now started to disappear. This is good news because it was common in polluted towns and cities. This species produces a layer of crystals made from fumarprotocetreric acid that keeps water and therefore pollution from this water, out. Whereas other species would absorb the polluted water to their detriment, a drop of water on Lecanora conizaeoides remains as a drop and is not soaked up. This feature allowed it to thrive and to take advantage of a lack of competition from other lichen – but now with lower pollution in the rain water other lichen are thriving and outcompeting the Lecanora conizaeoides. This makes our actions very visible; within such as short period of time this species has gone from being rare, to common, but is now returning to its former status.

Botanist Dr. Trevor Dines (@DrTrevorDines) looking at how the coverage of our bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) has changed over the past 50 years. One of the most complex scents in nature, as a country we adore our British bluebell, but the introduction of the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) has upskittled things somewhat. 35 chemicals make up the scent of the British bluebell and act to bring bees into the woodland to pollinate them. The Spanish bluebell was introduced to our gardens, but is lacking the wonderous scent of our native bluebell – but can create a hybrid with our native bluebell. The map shows the rapid and wide spread of the hybrid bluebells (Hyacinthoides x massartiana), out competing our lovely native bluebell with the effect of us losing the scent of our bluebell.

Finally the team stop at a roadside truck stop and while the lads head off for a brew and food; Sally is on the hunt for a lichen; Xanthoria. Using this lichen, Sally explains the mini ecosystem created by other wild things that live on them. Specifically water bears, or Tardigrade; one of the hardiest creatures in the world (even surviving a spell in an oven at 100 degrees centigrade during the programme). By washing the water bears off the lichen, they use a microscope to see the water bears. Sally explains that their resilience is the ability to expel all of the water from within it during times of extreme heat or cold and then entering a dormant state, 'waking up' when favourable conditions return.

In conclusion, what an excellent first programme. The team are all great characters that know their stuff. I can’t wait for next week and the exploding of the poppys!

21 January 2013

Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs

Date Photographed: 18/01/2013
Location: Cycle Path nr. King George V park, Melksham
Resources: http://www.birdguides.com/species/species.asp?sp=161001

18 January 2013

Quaking-grass - Briza media

Date Photographed: 17/06/2012
Location: Can't remember. UK
Resources: http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/species/quaking-grass

17 January 2013

Oakmoss or Stag lichen - Evernia prunastri

Date Photographed: 05/01/2013
Location: Westonbirt Arboretum
Resources: http://www.naturespot.org.uk/species/oakmoss

16 January 2013

Poundshop Shrubs

Today we decided to buy some cheap shrubs to try to cover the eyesore that is the garden fence. One day it will need replacing, but after recent quotes, it won't be any time soon! Much cheaper and hopefully cheerful are the 4 shrubs that we procured from the Poundshop (other shops that sell things for a pound are available).

We got a pink bush rose sp., a Philadelphus (mock orange), a Weigela (bristol ruby) and a Hibiscus syriachus. Apart from the Philadelphus, which has white flower; they all flower in various shades of pink/red. I'm hoping at some point that we'll be able to get a Mahonia or a Forsythia to add a bit of variation.

I've potted them up to get them going again and will keep them on the table in the garage during the night. They are all hardy, so don't particularly require the protection, but I'd like them to have a bit of a head start and make some impact in our little garden this summer.

When things start to happen in the garden again, I'll post on a monthly basis so let you all know what's happening and as a record.

See you soon!

Cut-leaved Crane's-bill - Geranium dissectum

Date Photographed: 09/06/2012
Location: Can't remember. UK
Resources: http://www.naturespot.org.uk/species/cut-leaved-cranes-bill

15 January 2013

Dog-rose - Rosa canina

Date Photographed: 10/06/2012
Location: Bath

Date Photographed: 27/01/2013
Location: Sandridge Common, Melksham
Resources: http://www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/plants/plant_finder/plant_pages/11310.shtml

14 January 2013

Clock Vine - Thunbergia mysorensis

Date Photographed: 20/11/2012
Location: RHS Wisley
Resources: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/plantselector/plant?plantid=3507

11 January 2013

10 January 2013

Passion flower - Passiflora spp.

Date Photographed: 20/11/2012
Location: RHS Wisley
Resources: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/profile.aspx?pid=295
Notes: This was photographed in the glasshouse at RHS Wisley. It also made a surprise appearance in our front garden. It must have been planted years ago, because we have been here for 3 years and it has never shown itself. However by mid-summer the gravel under our front window was covered in its green stems and leaves and by the end of summer we had 3 or 4 flowers. If it continues to grow this year, then I'll provide it with some wire so it can grow up the front of our house next to the window.

09 January 2013

Chinese Witch Hazel - Hamamelis mollis

Date Photographed: 05/01/2013
Location: Westonbirt Arboretum
Resources: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/plantselector/plant?plantid=3022

08 January 2013

Raising Ladybirds - Larvae to Adult

Last May I found some ladybird eggs and posted about the development from egg to the first larval stage (see here), but as life overtook me I didn't get around to posting an update. This is that update.
The last time we saw the larvae, they were around this size. But soon they were ready to grow and this is how I learned about the stages of development called instar. Each instar stage shows differences in body size and colours. Depending on the type of ladybird, some instar stages increase the size of the 'spikes' on their back, which I assume is for protection.

This is an example of what is left each time the ladybird larvae molts and goes on to its next instar stage. There are four instar stages before adulthood. Here's a handy guide from Ladybird Survey to help ID ladybird larva.

I was a bit sneaky and added a larva that I found on our Willow. It was interesting to see them develop and the amount of aphids that they ate.
The aphids didn't seem to make any effort to avoid the larva. as seen in the photo above.

This is the pupa stage of the ladybird lifecycle, which occurs after the four instar stages. After this the adult emerges.
It was amazing to see the adults emerge. The colouration seemed to need time to develop, but didn't take very long. The ladybird above is a harlequin ladybird and while there are those that talk of a Harlequin Invasion it's important to take a step back and realise that this is natural selection in action.

Pine Ladybird
I really enjoyed raising the ladybirds, it was a surprise project and one I was happy to take on. Every day for around two months I went out to our hedge to snip of a branch covered in aphids to provide a continuous supply to the ladybird larva and was amazed at the size difference between instar stages. In the end I raised three ladybirds to adulthood before placing them on the hedge to fend for themselves.

One final note: During 2012, I saw many harlequins - but also many native ladybirds, so while it may be upsetting that perhaps our native ladybirds may potentially die out overtime due to competition with Harlequins and by being consumed by the harlequins it is something that has happened many times before and will happen many times again. The best thing to do is to appreciate our native ladybirds in the here and now.

07 January 2013

Mahonia x media 'Charity'

Date Photographed: 05/01/2013
Location: Westonbirt Arboretum
Resources: http://www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/plants/plant_finder/plant_pages/11042.shtml
Notes: The 5th of January is the anniversary of when Lucy and I met online.  2013 is the 6th anniversary of that meeting!

04 January 2013

What I discovered in 2012

Lucy over at Loose and Leafy posted about things she'd learned about in the last year and I thought I'd do a short post about what I've discovered in the last year too. To see Lucy's post pop over to her brilliant blog: http://looseandleafy.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/what-i-have-learnt-through-year.html

 Mid-January last year I was signed off work with work-related stress, which was later diagnosed as depression and anxiety. For much of the year I rarely left the house, but found that I had an interest in flowers. Much of this blog is a testament to that interest.

I've discovered the people in my life that are real and that are there for me even though they may not have understood how ill I was. When I'm better, these are the people that I'll share my success with.

I've discovered that I have an even more wonderful girlfriend than I thought I had. Without whom I don't know what would have happened to me over the past year. If living with someone with depression wasn't bad enough, she was wonderful in looking after me when I suffered with appendicitis and began the road to recovery from that.

I've discovered that I can live on very little money without losing any comfort. Luckily Lucy and I have been on the same page with this and have budgeted so well that it takes less than 1 wage for us both to life. This has made me more confident with money and has made the ESA money stretch very far indeed.

I have discovered a new found trust in people. When my employer sacked me for being signed off work, it was the people at the job centre that told me I was too ill to work and that I should apply for ESA. My doctor has been great at supporting me and I've been lucky that my ESA assessment result allowed me time to recover.

I've discovered a wonderful interest, not only in photographing flowers, but in understanding them much better. I've watched many documentaries and lectures about plants and botany and even completed a short module with the Open University about Plants and People.

I discovered that I really like decluttering and being more minimal. This has meant many items being sold or given to charity shops so that others can get some use out of the things we longer have room for in our lives.

I discovered that I like cats! We have our own cat now called Toby. He's blind, mostly deaf and totally toothless; but he's brilliant and has brought much joy into our lives.

I've discovered that even in my darkest days, I am comfortable in my own company. That is a blessing as I rarely have any wish to spend time with many people. So while I'm not 100% yet, I do feel that I'm on my way.

Thank you to all those that have supported me, it was very important to me. And while from the outside it may have looked like I was wasting time or that my life had gone off the rails - I was actually very ill. Yet, I have achieved many things in the past year. It was done without some whom I had thought would be here, but has brought me much closer to those that were.

Thank you to everyone for my lessons and to those that read my blog. Happy 2012.