28 June 2013

In the garden - What's in my lawn!?

Well perhaps, lawn is a bit too grand a term for our patch as it's just an area that even grass struggles to survive.Being clay it is often damp and waterlogged - when it's not dry to the point of cracking.

I scuttled over to have a quick look at the Oxford English Dictionary website, which my to surprise provides quite a few definitions of lawn, so perhaps I'm not so far off the mark, including:
"A portion of a garden or pleasure-ground, covered with grass, which is kept closely mown."
" A stretch of untilled ground; an extent of grass-covered land."
"An open space between woods; a glade" (OED Website)

Anyway! I decided to perform an experiment, whereby we stopped mowing the lawn for a period of a month or so. We could then see what, and how many, plant species are growing in our lawn, whether it be grass species or other species of plant.

It's similar to an experiment that Darwin performed in his gardens at Down House, which a letter to Joseph Dalton Hooker (responsible for the Victorian rhodedendron mania), describes:
"I have let 34 sqe feet of old Lawn grow up, & 18 plants in 17 genera have flowered during this summer. Exactly same numbers as in whole Keeling islands, though so many miles in length!—" Darwin Correspondence Project.

Our experiment wasn't as successful in terms of genera, or even species, but it was interesting all the same. Our findings included: Grass species consisting of a species of Meadow Grass, Yorkshire Fog, Crested Dog's-Tail, and Perennial Ryegrass. Along with other flowering plant species: A dock and a thistle (not in flower yet), Field Madder, Common Mouse-ear, Creeping Buttercup, Red Clover, White Clover, Dandelion (past flowering, so only a rosette of leaves remain), and Daisy. 

Our lawn and a bird's-eye view showing buttercup, red clover, daisy, and grass.

Here are Crested Dog's-tail and a species of Meadow grass.

Another bird's-eye view showing how dominant White Clover can be if left to its own devices.

Yorkshire Fog to the left and an ant's-eye view of the lawn. It's interesting to see the 'canopies' created by the various plants. 

Field Madder and Common Mouse-ear - commonly seen as pest's, but when you get close to them they have a certain beauty to them.

So even though we only had 13 species, I had a great time watching the lawn grow over these past few weeks. It's exciting to see that even after a years of being kept short, all of these plants were just waiting for their time to shine. I'm glad that we gave them that time.

Have you performed a similar experiment in your garden? If so, I'd love to hear about it in the comments - especially any links to posts you've written about it.

Ajuga reptans 'Burgundy Glow'

Date Photographed: 30/05/2013
Location: Tower Road, Melksham
Resources: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/plantselector/plant?plantid=83
Notes: Rather rain-beaten when the photos were taken. A recent addition given to us by Lucy's mum. I can't wait for this to carpet the raised bed and meet up with the other ajuga.

27 June 2013

Blueberry Northland

Date Photographed: 22/05/2013
Location: Portway, Warmister
Resources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blueberry

26 June 2013

Bush vetch - Vicia sepium

Date Photographed: 16/05/2013
Location: Prickmoor Wood, Wiltshire
Resources: http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Vicia+sepium

25 June 2013

Horse Leech - Haemopis sanguisuga

Date Photographed: 25/05/2013
Location: Tower Road, Melksham
Resources: http://www.naturespot.org.uk/species/horse-leech
Notes: I originally thought that this was an immature green worm. But it was noticed on Wild About Britain that there seemed to be a sucker at the end (top right in each photograph). I had a look around and it seems to be a horse leech. Apparently they can survive on land and hunt for snails and worms - luckily not horses or humans!

Sweet Woodruff - Galium odoratum

Date Photographed: 18/05/2013
Location: St. Giles, Stanton St. Quintin
Resources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galium_odoratum

24 June 2013

Wildflowers Count - The Results

In a previous post I wrote about the survey pack that you'll be sent if you sign up to do a survey in Plantlife's Wildflowers Count survey.

Public Path Diversion notice.
As I mentioned last time, due to construction work on my assigned square I moved one square along. This square is part of a farm and has rights of way through it. Something I'd never seen before is that rights of ways can change. The photo to the left shows the old rights of way A-B and the new rights of way C-B, which is actually a nicer path as the fields has hedges on one side and is flanked by a river on the other side.

There are three surveys to choose from; the path, the square plot, and the linear plot. During the surveying we decided to do them all there and then, as the weather was nice.

Our company for the afternoon.

We started with the path survey, a 1km by 2 metre walk. The habitat for this area was hedgerow, river, and with a majority - grassland. I decided to keep to the 99 wild flowers in the survey and we found: Bramble, Common Nettle, Cow Parsley, Creeping Buttercup, and Hawthorn.

About half way along the path survey was a large area between fields that provided up with a 5x5 metre square that was around 15 metres away from the path. This was all grassland habitat and was less than a third Cow Parsley and between a third and two thirds Creeping Buttercup. The remainder was grass, but understandably this wasn't on the species list as it's difficult to ID for beginners such as myself.

One of the many interested cows surveying us
that afternoon!
We had a good long rest in-between surveys and some very interested cows came to keep us company.

Eventually we moved on and completed the linear survey, a 1 x 20 metre plot, close to where we started and next to the river. This was 100% grassland in which we noted less than a third each for Common Nettle, Creeping Buttercup, and also Meadow Buttercup - which wasn't present in the other surveys.

A few days later I emailed the results to Sue Southway and received an acknowledgement that we'd completed the form ok. As the survey is done any time between April Fool's and 30 September, we may well revisit our site and see if we can add a few more species to the list.

Survey location. Crown Copyright 2013.
In conclusion, I think this survey is a really great way to get involved with plants. It can be done at any time of your choosing between April and September and with anyone you like. I had a great time going the survey with my fianée, Lucy, who was the record keeper, while I was wandering around looking for the plants with the help of the book.
Even if only one of the three surveys is chosen, important records are being added. One of the things that surprised me was how few species we had in our square! We found species in addition to the 99 species being looked for and in future I may become a super-surveyor as I become more competent and, indeed, confident with my identification skills.

This can be helped by the identiplant course that can be studied at a reduced rate for active surveyors. It may be something I look into nearer to the next enrolment date in January 2014!

So, my advice is: Get involved! It's a great way to spend an afternoon,

21 June 2013

Crosswort - Cruciata laevipes

Date Photographed: 25/05/2013
Location: Farleigh Hungerford, Somerset
Resources: http://wildflowerfinder.org.uk/Flowers/C/Crosswort/Crosswort.htm

20 June 2013

Wood spurge - Euphorbia amygdaloides

Date Photographed: 16/05/2013
Location: Prickmoor Wood, Westbrook
Resources: http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/species/wood-spurge
Notes: As seen above, the stem can be quite red.

19 June 2013

Ribwort Plantain - Plantago lanceolata

Date Photographed: 06/05/2013
Location: Silverstreet Wood, Westbrook
Resources: http://www.arkive.org/ribwort-plantain/plantago-lanceolata/

18 June 2013

Book Review: Grow your own drugs

I remember watching the TV programme, which this book accompanies, quite a few years ago. I found it interesting, but it didn't spur me on to go off and make herbal remedies. Probably because on the whole I don't take much medication or have many ailments.

However, I saw that James Wong has released his new book 'Homegrown Revolution' and though that I'd give this book a go as his new one wasn't available at the library.

It's very well set out with lots of photos and a large, easy to read font. James begins by getting us started with useful terms, where to get the herbs and plants for the remedies and the equipment that is helpful to have around. This is followed by the remedies which are organised into various complaint types, for instance; kids(!), under the weather, and skin complaints. Importantly, each remedy comes with advice on how often to use and how long you can store it after it's been made.

While I know that plants have many chemicals within them that can help heal us, I'm still a sceptic when it comes to plants having this 'property' or that 'property'. While there's nothing wrong with saying that - I do feel that the word have been misused a lot and therefore I like to hear about the chemicals within the plant that are associated with the property being touted and not just that 'the ancients' or whomever are in favour at the current time decided that a particular plant was good for a particular complaint. So, while properties are discussed, more often than not James does provide the information in the remedy introduction and puts my fears/scepticism to rest.

This is further enhanced by the top 100 plants chapter that closes the book. This provides the name of the plant or part of the plant in use, followed by the latin name. A paragraph then follows explaining why this plant is used - including which oils and vitamins are held within the plant and which complaints they are mainly used for. Some additional remedies are provided here, along with how to grow or find the plant.

While I think it's wonderful that such a popular book has been written for this important topic, I'm not a convert. While I wouldn't mind using some of the remedies, I think it's much more expensive than buying the required medication. If it was something that you had to make a lot of, over a long period of time, then fine. But I can't see myself needing to do that, at least at the moment! So I can just see the beeswax, essential oils, glycerine, etcetera laying there for years having only been used for a single remedy.

This is a nicely done book. It keeps to the basics and presents the information in an accessible way for all readers. And if I decide not to use the remedies, then that's my loss and doesn't indicate a problem with the book itself - which is very well done!

17 June 2013

Silver birch - Betula pendula

Date Photographed: 06/05/2013
Location: Silverstreet Wood, Westbrook
Resources: http://www.british-trees.com/treeguide/birches/nbnsys0000003827

Date Photographed: 16/05/2013
Location: Prickmoor Wood, Westbrook
Notes: I have included this photograph to show that as a silver birch matures, the bark becomes rather cracked and not like the lovely smooth bark of the younger tree.

14 June 2013

Phototropism - or how plants lean towards the light

Many plants have a tendency to lean towards the light. Until Charles Darwin and his son performed what is now a famous experiment in botany, sparking detailed investigations into how plants grow towards the light, spanning three centuries.

1880 - The Darwin Experiments
Most famous for his seminal book, On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin's work on botany was just as important. Darwin and his son Francis wrote a whole book observations regarding how plants respond to stimuli, The Power of Movements in Plants. They thought that plants could grow differentially and therefore in the direction of the light

The Darwin experiments, used oat coleoptiles. The experiment modified the growing conditions of these coleoptiles so that the response could be observed:

Some of the many experimental modifications
to test for a reaction to light stimulus.
A - The coleoptile with no modifications: A bend towards the light can be seen.
B - The coleoptile with tip cut off: No response to light.
C - The coleoptile with tip covered with opaque cover: No response to  light.
D - The coleoptile with tip covered with transparent cover: A bend towards the light can be seen.
E - The coleoptile with base covered with opaque cover. A bend towards the light can be seen.

They demonstrated the following:
  1. Not only did they find that the oat coleoptiles do bend towards a light stimulus, but that it was the tip of the plant which is active in initiating this response. 
  2. This also showed that while it was the tip that perceived the directional light, the reaction happened further down the stem. 
This led Darwin to posit that there was an 'influence' that moved from the site of perception to the site of reaction. 

However, it wasn't until the following century that scientists were able to find out what this influence was.

1920s and 1930s - The Cholodny-Went Model
The experiments of Nicolai Cholodny, who worked with grass roots, and Fritz Went who worked with grass coleoptiles, progressed the knowledge provided by the Darwin experiments. Just as Darwin and Wallace discovered Natural Selection independently, Cholodny and Went independently made the same hypothesis which gave a name to Darwin's 'influence'.

They found that an asymmetric accumulation of auxin occurs in the stem as a response to the unidirectional light.

This means that there is differential growth in the plant stem. This happens when the transport of the plant growth regulator auxin accumulates on the side of the stem furthest from the light source - making those cells grow more rapidly. The auxin is transported from the side of the stem that is closest to, or receiving, the light - whose cells grow more slowly.  With one side of the stem growing faster than the other, a bend is created that is directed towards the light source.

2013 -  Research by Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) and Universit√© de Lausanne (UNIL)
The Cholodny-Went model, while popular was not the only hypothesis. It was also noted that plants with known defects in auxin transport still responded perfectly well to unidirectional light stimulus. This story has only this year seemed to reach a conclusion to this important, yet seemingly simple, question.

New research has confirmed that the Cholodny-Went model is correct. Scientists from UNIL inactivated several PIN transporters, important for proper cellular coordination, while scientists from TUM demonstrated the function of the D6 protein kinase, important for the regulation of PIN-mediated auxin transport.

They found that without these transporters and kinase components the plant was unresponsive to light signals that would have previously triggered phototropism.

Therefore we now know that Darwin's 'influence' - the auxin discovered by Cholodny and Went - is definitely the substance that the plant uses to mobilise the bending towards the light in response to blue light.

To read more about this new research, click to visit Science Daily or the original press release from TUM.

Willige B.C., Ahlers S., Zourelidou M., Barbosa I.C.R., Demarsy E., Trevisan M., Davis P.A., Roelfsema M.R.G., Hangarter R. & Fankhauser C. & (2013). D6PK AGCVIII kinases are required for auxin transport and phototropic hypocotyl bending in Arabidopsis., The Plant cell, PMID:

13 June 2013

Pendulous sedge - Carex pendula

Date Photographed: 06/05/2013
Location: Silverstreet Wood, Westbrook
Resources: http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/species/pendulous-sedge
Notes: Some researched shows that this was sold in mass amounts as a garden plant. It is now commonly seen as an invasive garden plant.

12 June 2013

Yellow Ice Plant - Delosperma nubigenum

Date Photographed: 30/05/2013
Location: Tower Road, Melksham
Resources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delosperma
Notes: The flower of this plant closes at night time and opens again with the sun the following day.

Houseleek tree - Aeonium sp.

Date Photographed: 21/04/2013
Location: The Courts, Holt
Resources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeonium

11 June 2013

Ghost Plant - Graptopetalum paraguayense

Date Photographed: 21/04/2013
Location: The Courts, Holt
Resources: Here's a lovely blog post showing the adaptability of this plant: http://www.gardeninggonewild.com/?p=22817

Sempervivum sp./spp.

Date Photographed: 21/04/2013
Location: The Courts, Holt
Resources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sempervivum#Identification
Notes: The plant below looks like S. arachnoideum or S. 'Kappa' - but reading up on houseleeks has told me that it can be difficult to identify specific species due to growing conditions and hybrids.

10 June 2013

Wildflowers Count - Survey Pack

I recently saw that the charity Plantlife have an annual survey and got very excited indeed! I feel that over the past year my identification abilities have increased quite a lot. Not only am I needing to ask the people over at Wild About Britain for identification help less, most of my posts on there are noting my method reaching my identification - and happily hearing that people agree with it (most of the time).

So I felt the time was right for me to have a go at doing a survey and sent off for a survey pack. Within a day I received an email from the Wildflowers Count Survey Officer, Sue Southway, with lots of information and explaining further that the aim of the survey is to look at long term plant population trends, which will help with understanding the effects of pollution and climate change.

I (impatiently) waited for my pack to arrive. Then, last week, it did arrive!

Survey Pack
So, what was in the pack?
  • There was a survey safety guidance sheet, which includes a really helpful checklist to ensure that all surveyors ensure that they have their safety in mind during the surveys.
  • Survey guidance notes were also included. This provides instructions on how to select and survey the 1km wildflower path, the 5 x 5 metre plot, and the 1 x 20 metre plot - Plantlife note that you can choose to do either or all of the surveys.
  • A leaflet that explains and encourages more people to join in the survey. Which I shall pass on to my living churchyard group this coming weekend.
  • A recording sheet that has all the plant species and habitat types listed.
  • A map of my area.
  • Most importantly an excellent full colour booklet that provides an illustration and a photograph of each of the 99 plants that are included in the survey. The identification points are very clear and concise. Each species entry includes the flowering time, habitat and information on the leaves and stems of each species. Ideally the plants are organised by flower colour.
Importantly the 99 plants are selected to be easy to identify. The list includes herbaceous plants; such as Buttercups, ferns; such as Bracken, trees; such as Scots Pine, and shrubs; such as Hawthorn.

The square I was allocated is currently being built on. Hundreds of houses have popped up in the past couple of years, with more appearing on a weekly basis. However, the square next to my square has a right of way path that follows a stream, meaning that I could easily perform all three surveys. I had a quick chat over email with Sue and she was happy that I changed squares and emailed me across a new copy of the map.

So, now I have everything I need to get on with the surveys. How did I get on? I'll let you all know in a future post.

If you'd like to become involved, then you can find out more on the Wildflowers Count page on the Plantlife website.
You can also follow Plantlife on Twitter: @Love_plants

Have you completed some of these surveys in the past? I've love to hear your experiences, or any questions about the surveys, down in the comments.

Euphorbia Characias subsp. Wulfenii

Date Photographed:21/04/2013
Location: The Courts, Holt
Resources: http://www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/plants/plant_finder/plant_pages/10346.shtml
Notes: I suspected that this plants was a E. characias, but was unsure so, as I often do, asked for confirmation on Wild About Britain. Thanks to aertdemole and dorts for their assistance. This plant is variable, it would seem that this individual is struggling a bit as the flower spike isn't as vigorous as some in photos I've seen.

07 June 2013

White English Bluebell - A short study

On a short Geocaching walk a few weeks ago I was very excited to see some white bluebells along a swath of english bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta).

I was sure it was an english bluebell, rather than a spanish or hybrid due to the long slender bell shaped flower, whose tips curl back. The spanish and hybrid bluebell flowers flare out rather than really curl back and the flower is not parallel along its' length. Rather the spanish and hybrid bluebell flowers become wider nearer the tip.

Along with this the anthers in my specimen are cream, rather than blue - a good indicator that I was looking at an english individual.

The hybrid is very common in England and it would seem that it is commonly mistaken for the spanish bluebell.  As you can see the perianth segments flare out. The petal is a mix of colours, a lilac and darker blue, but this can vary. The anthers are are bluey-cream colour, but can vary from cream to blue.
Here's a piccy of a hybrid for comparison to the english bluebell.

But then as I went in for the final test, disaster struck. As I tried to kneel down to see if there was a scent to this bluebell, the camera swung down and severed one of the flowers from the plant. A few obscenities later and I came to the decision that I wouldn't let this be for nothing. I'd take it home and investigate the flower further.

Can you spot the white flower in this see of blue and green?

Firstly I wanted to get a close photo of the flower tube and the amazing way that the tips curl back. In the lily family, of which the bluebell is a member, what we'd call petals are called perianth segments. This is because the petals and sepals are identical in colour and form (shape). So each of the tips curling back are the ends of each perianth segment.
The scent was so strong that I could smell it even taking these photos! Putting the flower to my nose unleashed an explosive fragrance that was powerful, but not overwhelming.

Here's the flower after some dissection. Here we can see the carpel, with the anthers in the middle and the perianth segments

Here we can see a perianth segment with the filament attached to the segment nearly all the way to the anther. Reading the entries for the bluebells in The Wild Flower Key (Rose and O'Reilly) we can see that this is a distinguishing feature between the species. On the outer 3 segments of the spanish species and the hybrid between the english and spanish species end the attachment lower down the filament. At the middle or lower for the hybrid and well below the middle for the spanish bluebell.

Taking the flower to the microscope, we can see that the pollen is a lovely smooth oval shape.

Here's the ovary of the bluebell, showing clearly the ovules - the eggs.

I really enjoyed going a bit deeper with my plant studies and may post more of these in future. It's amazing what you can learn by spending just a bit of time with practical hands on with plants. I really hope that you enjoyed reading this.

The Natural History Museum has a good website for identifying bluebells. To visit the page, click here.