30 September 2013

Fragrant Orchid - Gymnadenia conopsea

Date Photographed: 09/07/2013
Location: Morgan's Hill, Wiltshire
Resources: http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/species/fragrant-orchid

27 September 2013

Five Fact Friday: Plant Hunters - Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker

1. Born on 30 June 1817 in Halesworth, Suffolk to Sir William Hooker. Joseph took a keen interest in botany from an early age, often attending his father's lectures. He died peacefully at the age of 94.
2. On 28 September 1839, Hooker sailed out of the Medway to Antarctica on board HMS Erebus. Despite many dangers, the trip set the record at the time of crossing the 78o parallel. Hooker was also able to botanise on three different continents, including the following locations: Cape of Good Hope, New Zealand, the Falkland Islands, and South America. He arrived back in England on September 9 1841.
3. After receiving a £400 pa two year grant from the treasury, Hooker left Southampton on November 11 1847 bound for Alexandria. He travelled extensively through Sikkim and unknowingly set another world record of the time - ascending to 19,300 ft on Mt donkia - to get a better view.
4. Hooker was a fiercely loyal friend, commonly known for keeping Darwin's studies of Natural Selection a secret until Wallace sent his letter unknowingly making the same observations. Another episode shows how good a friend he could be: in Sikkim, his friend Campbell was taken prisoner. Hooker was told that he was free to go, but decided to stay at his friend's side. This incident lead to Sikkim being annexed to India.
5. Important plants discovered by Hooker, of course include the Rhododendrons - which lead to the mania for Rhododendrons. Other discoveries include the primulas, P. capitata and P. sikkimensis.

Musgrave, T. (1998) The Plant Hunters, London, The Orion Publishing Group

26 September 2013

Knopper (Acorn) Gall - Andricus quercuscalicis

Symptoms: The gall wasp (Andricus quercuscalicis) convert acorns into ridged structures. This process begins around September and the yellow-green galls age over time to become brown and drop off the tree.

Cause: Caused by a small gall wasp, which lays a single egg in each gall. This is a two-part process with the sexual generation developing galls on the catkins of the Turkey Oak in spring.

Control: While there were initial fears that this would impact the ability of the tree to reproduce, there doesn't seem to be any real issues and treatment is not required.

25 September 2013

Russian Comfrey - Symphytum × uplandicum

Date Photographed: 03/06/2013
Location: Conigre mead, Melksham
Resources: http://www.luontoportti.com/suomi/en/kukkakasvit/russian-comfrey

24 September 2013

Book Review: Amazing Rare Things

This book is a built around a collection of art work from five natural history artists. The artwork is part of the Royal Library that is held at Windsor Castle.

The book begins with a short history of natural history art by David Attenborough and he writes short pieces about some of the individual pieces of art. The history of each artist is written by experts on the artist and are written in separate chapters as follows:

Leonardo Da Vinci is written by Martin Clayton. We hear about Leonardo's research into the anatomy of natural subjects, including the excellent drawings of the anatomy of the bear's foot. Along with his interest in accurately representing the geology of his surroundings, we also hear that Leonardo became very interested in botany - not just for accuracy when the were included in other paintings, but in and of itself.

The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo is written by Rea Alexandratos. We hear of this great collector of natural history artwork. While Cassiano dal Pozzo wasn't an artist himself, he clearly had an eye for excellent art and built up a wonderful collection of art for his paper museum - an encyclopedia of natural history.

Alexander Marshal is written by Susan Owens. Alexander Marshal was primarily a painter of botanical subjects, but would also include animals in some of his work. His great work was a florilegium, which consisted of 159 sheets of plants and flowers of English gardens.

Maria Sibylla Merian is written by Susan Owens. Maria Sibylla Merian spent from 1699 to 1701 in the Dutch colony of Surinam, which is in South America. She was an entomologist and produced a book about the stages of life insects go through, for instance by life-cycle of butterflies. Along with the amazing detail of the insects, Maria also painted insect interactions with plants.

Mark Catesby is written by Susan Owens. Mark Catesby's great work was a two-part book on the natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. He seems to have been fascinated by birds and fish. He found that the colour of fish fade quickly when they are died, so to ensure that his paintings were accurate, he made sure he had a ready supply of them. While this may seem wasteful, his paintings are marvellous and must have inspired all who saw them.

It's a really good read. Hours can be spent looking at the art work that over time has been purchased or gifted to the Royal Family and kept safe. It's nice that such books are being published. It allows future generations to know of the genius of those past artists. This book is good in that there is enough written detail, but not too much that the focus leaves the art work.

23 September 2013

Wild Mignonette - Reseda lutea

Date Photographed: 09/07/2013
Location: Morgan's Hill, Wiltshire
Resources: http://www.naturespot.org.uk/species/wild-mignonette

20 September 2013

Five Fact Friday: Plant Hunters - The Lobb Brothers

Phalaenopsis lobbii
Named for Thomas Lobb, who in 1845
found the first of the genus growing
in the Himalayas.

1. William Lobb was born in 1809 and was followed two years later by his brother Thomas. They grew up in Egloshayle in the North of Cornwall.
2. Thomas joined the Veitch nursery around 1830, but it was William who was the nursery's first plant hunter - recommended by Thomas - and travelled to South America on 7 November 1840. Thomas was inspired by his brother's journeys and was send by Veitch to the East Indies in 1843.
3. By 1843, Veitch & Sons were selling seedlings of the Monkey Puzzle tree at 100 for £10, after William had sent back a package of 3000 seeds. Thomas and William finally saw each other again between Thomas arriving home in 1847 to arrange his collections and setting off again on Christmas Day 1848.
4. After many years of successful plant hunting, William eventually remained in California. He died in 1864 and was buried in San Francisco. Thomas retired back in Cornwall and his last contact with Veitch was in 1869. He died peacefully in 1894.
5. Both brothers discovered many wonderful plants new to Britain. William found plants such as: Ceanothus x veitchianus and Sequoiadendron giganteum. Thomas found plants such as Phalaenopsis amabilis, Nepenthes sanguinea, and Vanda caerulea.

Musgrave, T. (1998) The Plant Hunters, London, The Orion Publishing Group

19 September 2013

Red Admiral Butterfly - Vanessa atalanta

Date Photographed: 26/08/2013
Location: Langford Lakes, Wiltshire
Resources: http://www.ukbutterflies.co.uk/species.php?species=atalanta

18 September 2013

Common Blue Butterfly - Polyommatus icarus

Date Photographed: 31/08/2013
Location: Morgan's Hill, Wiltshire
Resources: http://www.ukbutterflies.co.uk/species.php?species=icarus

17 September 2013

Squinancywort - Asperula cynanchica

Date Photographed: 09/07/2013
Location: Morgan's Hill, Wiltshire
Resources: PFAF

16 September 2013

Brimstone Butterfly - Gonepteryx rhamni

Date Photographed: 26/08/2013
Location: Langford Lakes, Wiltshire

13 September 2013

Five Fact Friday: Plant Hunters - Francis Masson

1. Francis Masson was born in August 1741 in Aberdeen. He was put forward as Kew's first plant hunter by Sir Joseph Banks. He died after a short illness on 23 December 1805 in Montreal and was buried on Christmas day.
2. His first voyage was in 1772 on HMS Resolution with Captain Cook to South Africa. He travelled extensively throughout the land around Cape Town. One such excursion from 25 September 1774 to 29 December 1774 saw Masson with his plant hunter friend Hurnberg travelling hundreds of miles. During which, Masson collected over 500 new species. He was recalled to Britain at the end of 1775.
3. Finding it hard to readjust to life back in Britain, Banks eventually found him another adventure. This time a transatlantic journey first visiting Madeira before making their way to the West Indies. This trip was fated with bad luck. He was forced into joining the local malitia in the Carribean against the French, during which he lost his plant collection, captured by said French and was only released after high level negotiations by Banks. Later, in St. Lucia a hurricane devastated Masson's new plant collection. He eventually sailed back in 1781.
4. After a few more trips spanning his adult life, he was unable to settle back at Kew. He travelled to North America in the September of 1979. Sadly his body couldn't cope with the harsh climate, especially after years of getting used to the heat of South Africa. His condition deteriorated through the winter of 1805 and died on 23 December.
5. Let us not forget, though, the wonderful plants that Masson introduced. These include: Strelitzia reginae, Protea cynaroides, and what had become the world's oldest pot plant (see video below) Encephalartos altensteinii.

Musgrave, T. (1998) The Plant Hunters, London, The Orion Publishing Group

12 September 2013

Common Twayblade - Neottia ovata

Date Photographed: 09/07/2013
Location: Morgan's Hill, Wiltshire
Resources: http://www.ukwildflowers.com/Web_pages/neottia_ovata_twayblade.htm

11 September 2013

Chicken of the Woods - Laetiporus sulphureus

Date Photographed: 15/06/2013
Location: St. Giles, Stanton St. Quintin
Resources: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/laetiporus_sulphureus.html
Notes: Found growing on the Yew in the churchyard.

10 September 2013

Common Mouse-ear - Cerastium fontanum

Date Photographed: 03/06/2013
Location: Southwick Country Park
Resources: http://www.naturespot.org.uk/species/common-mouse-ear

09 September 2013

Escallonia rubra var. macrantha

Date Photographed: 03/06/2013
Location: Lowbourne, Melksham
Resources: PFAF

06 September 2013

Creeping Buttercup - A Short Study - Part 2

Ever since watching the television programme Wild Things and hearing about the genetic mutation that occurs every seven years and results in a plant with additional petals, I've been on the look out for such a plant. Which along with research about the buttercup lights up your chin, will be discussed in part 2 of this study. Part one is available here.

Imagine my surprise when one popped up in my back garden! Normally creeping buttercup has 5 petals, but there are plants that flower with additional petals. The additional petals can also be used to date meadows in which they occur.

As creeping buttercup primarily reproduces by sending out creeping runners, a meadow of hundreds of buttercup flowers can be made or just a few plants. This means that each new plant created by this vegetative reproduction carries identical genes to the parent plant. Over time some of these genes begin to mutate (somatic mutation), resulting in flowers with an extra petal.

A 2011 study found that each plant that flowers with additional petals in a sample of 100 plants was found to equate to approximately 7 years. Therefore a meadow with a known age of around 100 years could be expected to contain about 14 flowers with these extra petals. This method works well in estimating meadows up to 200 years old.

But this isn't the end of the wonders of the buttercup, as research published in 2011 goes to show. A research team look in to the 'directional scatter' from the buttercup flower. This directional scatter is often used by children holding a buttercup under a friend's chin to see if they like butter.
Directional scatter, as displayed by my beautiful assistant.
The earliest documented research regarding this was done by Mobius in 1885, who showed that the oily appearance of the yellow flower is caused by a pigment. This current research found that the structure of the petal, particularly the epidermal layer has a large part to play. The epidermal layer is the outermost layer, and is akin to our skin. In the buttercup petal the epidermis has two extremely flat, semi-transparent surfaces that bear pigments that reflect yellow light with a high intensity. The epidermis is separated from a paper-white starch layer in the petal by a layer of air. This interplay between the layers serves to double the gloss of the petal allow for a highly directional reflection.

So the next time you're in a field playing the game to find out who likes butter, remember is has nothing to do with whether you like butter. Instead it is all to do with the biology of the buttercup and the lengths it will go to attract potential pollinators! Oh, and while you're there you may as well check for some 6 petalled buttercup flowers - perhaps they might become the new 4 leaf clover.

Warren J. (2009). Extra petals in the buttercup (Ranunculus repens) provide a quick method to estimate the age of meadows., Annals of botany, PMID:  
Vignolini S., Thomas M.M., Kolle M., Wenzel T., Rowland A., Rudall P.J., Baumberg J.J., Glover B.J. & Steiner U. (2011). Directional scattering from the glossy flower of Ranunculus: how the buttercup lights up your chin., Journal of the Royal Society, Interface / the Royal Society, PMID:
Carotinoids and Related Pigments

05 September 2013

Buzzard - Buteo buteo

Date Photographed: 10/06/2013
Location: Semington, Wiltshire
Resources: http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/b/buzzard/index.aspx

04 September 2013

Changing Forget-me-not - Myosotis discolor

Date Photographed: 05/06/2013
Location: Southwick Country Park
Resources: http://www.plant-identification.co.uk/skye/boraginaceae/myosotis-discolor.htm
Notes: The flowers of this plant are very tiny, no more than 2mm in diameter. I was very surprised to find it.

03 September 2013

Hawthorn Hybrid - Crataegus monogyna Hybrid

Date Photographed: 02/06/2013
Location: King George V, Melksham
Resources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crataegus_monogyna
Notes: Many hybrids of C. monogyna × C. laevigata are known.

02 September 2013

Guelder Rose - Viburnum opulus

Date Photographed: 03/06/2013
Location: Conigre Mead, Melksham
Resources: http://www.british-trees.com/treeguide/viburnums/nbnsys0000004328