27 May 2016

Tree Flowers: May 2016: Magnolia Stellata

Magnolia's are trees with showy flowers. They're also an ancient genus of tree, with specimens found that are identifiably belonging to the magnolia family from 95 million years ago. Specific to the Magnolia genus, M. acuminata specimens dating to 20 million years ago have been found. I find flowers of magnolia to be evocative - they look so different to most other flowers, so big and beautiful. I knew I had to have one! I eventually decided on the star magnolia.

The star magnolia is closely related to the Kobushi magnolia and for a long time was considered to be a cultivar of that species. However, in 1998 it was finally accepted as a species in its own right.

I chose this tree because it grows slowly and only grows to around 2.5 metres in height and can therefore be kept reasonably happy in a container. I like that it flowers before the leaves have made an appearance and that the flower buds are protected by fuzzy bracts over winter.

Those fuzzy bracts are one of the features that gives us a clue to the magnolias ancient heritage. Most plants that have evolved more recently use sepals to protect the flower buds. The photo to the left shows different stages of development - some buds fully enclosed by the bracts, one flower just emerging from the bracts, and another with the bract falling away.

The bracts are covered with hairs to protect the flower buds from adverse weather, such as frosts. Although in severe frosts, even this adaptation can fail.

The flowers on my tree are tinged with pink before the open, but by the time they have fully opened, they are entirely white.

Another sign that magnolia trees are ancient are the strap-like tepals that resemble petals. Other ancient plants, such as water lilies also have this feature.

The flower is wide open, which presumably helped beetles to get into them - magnolias were around before bees had evolved and therefore tubes and complicated entrances would not have been beneficial.

There are many stamens and styles arranged in a spiral manner. The stamens seem oversized compared to other flowers. While many flowers have the ovary containing ovules below the flower, the magnolia seeds develop above the tepals. The carpels, which contain the ovary, of magnolias have evolved to become very tough, an advantage of this is that the beetles cannot damage them - and therefore the seeds developing within. The stamens and tepals fall away when the flower has finished.

I don't know of any other use for the star magnolia than for aesthetic reasons. Even without the flowers, the leaves start as a beautiful bronze-green before turning a lovely shade of green. The bark is smooth and grey.

There are a couple of hybrids and some cultivars, which should suit a wide variety of situations. As well as plenty of other magnolia species to suit nearly every situation.

“Seeing Trees.” Goodreads. Accessed May 17, 2016. https://www.goodreads.com/work/best_book/16175762-seeing-trees-discover-the-extraordinary-secrets-of-everyday-trees.
Wikipedia. 2016. Magnolia stellata - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnolia_stellata. [Accessed 17 May 2016].
Wikipedia. 2016. Magnolia - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnolia. [Accessed 17 May 2016].

20 May 2016

Last look at the garden before we move

Thought I'd do one last post on our current garden before we move next week. I had high hopes for the garden when we moved in. It was close to a blank canvas with just grass (and tree stumps) at the front and grass and patio at the back.

But then I became ill with ME, which has remained quite constant for the past 4 years. So, I didn't really have much energy to make it the garden I wanted. However, over the years we did manage to add some plants that have really made the garden interesting during each season. Here are a few photos from the past couple of months:

Here's a mint moth resting on salvia.

I grew Brussels sprout last year. As we knew we were moving, I decided to leave them in to see if they'd flower. They actually throw out loads of flowers with 4 delicate petals and I've seen various bees having a feed - so I'm glad I left them in.
The shape of the flower, with its 4 petals, is why this plant - along with many other vegetables - are often called cruciferous, which is modern Latin for "cross-bearing".

It'll be a shame to miss out on the Victoria plums this year - but at least we were hear to look at - and smell - the lovely blossoms on this tree.

This year we've been graced with a multitude of 7-spot ladybirds. Our back path became a ladybird highway, with our garage wall being a nesting sight. I felt very lucky to see a few of these ladybirds lay their eggs.

Here's a video of the ladybird laying some eggs:

Here are the two apple trees that my wife planted a couple of year ago. It's a shame we won't get to see them mature and provide lots of apples, but the ones we have had were good!


An osteospermum that my mother-in-law gave us 2 years ago. I find it to be a wonderful plant for ground cover. Oh, and of course, these pretty blooms.

This rowan was planted during the 'tree o'clock' initiative in 2009 as nothing more than a stick. It has since grown to around 3 metres tall and provides lots of flowers and berries. Hopefully the birds will realise this soon and frequent the garden

This is a primrose that I've shared photos of before. We'll be taking this with us as it's potted. We decided to leave all the plants in the ground and just take our potted plants. Hopefully the new owners will appreciate some established plants - but with plenty of space to make the garden their own.

I'm looking forward to having a new garden. As always I have plans to do it 'properly' and create a plan and identify every plant in the garden over the course of the next year before making changes - let's see how long that idea lasts!

Thanks for reading, Tim

(Originally posted on my Grows on You account: http://www.growsonyou.com/timmyh/blog/29962-last-look-before-we-move)

13 May 2016

Book Review: Seeing Trees by Nancy Hugo Ross and Robert Llewellyn

This is an outstanding book - a sort of travel guide for looking at trees. Nancy is a great writer, who can weave diary pages, biological fact, personal experience, and quotations seamlessly. This mix of information really makes you feel like you're standing next to the author and she's pointing out the latest new tree part that she's discovered with enthusiasm that's infectious.

But, really, the star of the show has to be the photographs. Robert Llewellyn uses focus stacking to increase the range of focus and make sure that the reader can see everything that is described in the text. Such images are inspiring and at times rival any botanical illustration for detail and beauty.

The book is divided into 3 main parts: Tree Viewing, where we discover tips on how to get starts and different strategies for viewing the trees. We then move on to Observing Tree Traits: Leaves, flowers and cones, fruit, buds and leaf scars, bark and twigs. These two parts really set us up for understanding and appreciating the final part of the book.

The final part is entitled: Ten Trees: Intimate Views. Here we look at 10 trees chosen by Ross and Llewellyn. As this is an American book, many of these specific trees aren't common here - But they don't have to be. We have some relatives of those trees down our streets and in our parks in Britain, so I can transfer observations in the book to trees I have the opportunity to see on a regular basis. Importantly, the observations detailed in this book should help you view all trees in a more detailed and systematic manner - that's what makes it so enjoyable.

I think that this book is great for anyone interested in trees and specifically for any tree followers out there.

This is the first of (currently) three 'Seeing' books. The others being 'Seeing Flowers' and 'Seeing Seeds'. I will review 'Seeing Seeds' soon and already have 'Seeing Flowers', which I'm looking forward to reading in the near future.

05 May 2016

Recording Wildlife with iRecord

Since 2013 I've been adding my sightings of wildlife to iRecord, the best place to record wildlife. So far there are 1,146,393 biological records on the site and I've contributed a measly 402 of those records. But, I hear you ask, why bother?

Well, you can't protect what you don't know about.

These records are checked by experts, often the Vice County Recorder for that taxon. If your record is correct, it will be verified. If not, the record will be either rejected or a photograph/additional information will be requested.

Importantly, verified records are added to the National Biodiversity Network's Gateway, which incorporates many datasets and houses 130,024,128 records itself. On a smaller scale, the records are free to anyone (apart from sensitive records) such as local Biological Records Centres and the RSPB (along with many others) and can be used to assist with things ranging from research, to conservation to planning permission.

iRecord Homepage showing recent sightings, recent photos, and a location map.

But, it's not just organisations that have access to this important data. There's an interactive map and the ability to search via filters for folks like you and me.

What's great about this is that you can add records whenever you like. I hadn't added any since Noah was born because I didn't have the time or energy or motivation or... well you get the picture! But this week I've added over 80 records.

The only downside is that because you have to wait for a real person to check your records is can sometimes be many months before receiving an email that 'verifies' your record - but when it arrives, it feels great.

I can't stress how important I feel recording schemes like this are. If you want to help conserve the life around you, if you want to help with studies about your favourite species, if you want to make sure accurate data is known about your favourite wild space before a new housing estate is built over it; then join the 14,712 members of iRecord and get your sightings verified and available. It's quick, easy, and rewarding.

Thanks for reading.