Daily Archives: March 28, 2012

Buds and blooms

Many fellow bloggers out there have been posting some lovely images of spring events and as this time of year is an exciting one from a nature perspective I felt inspired to get out and get some pictures of vernal regeneration in my part of the world.

I didn’t have to wander too far, the apple and hazel trees and the beech hedge in my garden are showing signs of waking up from the winter slumber:


Nascent apple blossom about to burst into life

A catkin – the flower of the hazel tree, above. And below, the diminutive inflorescence that will eventually become a hazelnut.

Hazel trees (Corylus avellana) produce catkins early in the year which are monoecious, which means they are either male or female, the one above is a male one, the females being tiny and hidden in the buds and the pollen is wind dispersed.  They provide not only nuts but if left to their own devices hazel ‘poles’ sprout from the ground which grow tall and straight and are coppiced to make fencing, and in the days when wattle and daub was used for building  walls the poles were used to make the wattle on which mud was plastered to provide the daub.

Beech leaves sprouting from the apical buds at the top of a hedge


A couple of hundred metres along the road on the grass verge was this cluster of lesser celandines (Ranunculus ficaria)

According to the font af all wisdom that is Wiki, lesser celandine used to be known as ‘pilewort’ because it was thought of as a remedy for haemorrhoids. I like this cluster because all the flowers are in different stages of opening, from a tightly closed green bud to a fully open flower.

Once into the fields the hedgerows were lined with the thorny stems and freshly shooting leaves of the bramble:

Lining the drainage ditches which delineate the field margins in this part of the world are willow trees (Salix cinerea) which need the water that drains from the fields and in the spring are covered in the furry catkins which give the tree its common name of ‘pussy willow’:

Willow catkin – unlike the hazel the catkins of the willow are dioecious, containing both male and female reproductive machinery in the same catkin

The wood of another species of willow tree (white willow, Salix alba) is very light and very strong and is used to make cricket bats and the bark of the willow contains a compound called salicylic acid which is the chemical precursor of aspirin. The analgesic properties of willow bark have been known of for centuries and have been maximised by acetylating salicylic acid to make aspirin. As well as analgesia, aspirin is now used as an anticoagulant to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke and recent studies suggest it may have anti-carcinogenic activity too.

The plants in this post are a random selection from the garden, roadside verge and the countryside within 200 of my house and all of them provide us with something useful. The beech is structural and is ideal for hedging. Apple, bramble and hazel all have edible fruits. Lesser celandine may shrink your chalfonts* and the willow provides drugs to treat pain, heart disease and cancer (not forgetting cricket bats).

* Chalfonts = ‘Chalfont St Giles’ (I’m sure you can work it out)

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A short bluesy interlude

Last Saturday found me in Cambridge with my daughter, and on our meanderings through town we dived into Fopp, which is probably my favourite shop of them all because not only does it sell CD’s (terribly 20th century, I know), but it also has a fair vinyl selection! The upshot of that was that I left for home a good few pounds lighter and a few discs heavier, and one of those discs consisted of the entire recorded output of the original Chicago blues man, Robert Johnson.

So as soon as we got home I inserted said Mr Johnson into the CD player and lost myself in the blues, and whilst I was in my blues-fueled reverie I noticed there was alot of avian activity going on in the garden so I grabbed my camera and spent a few minutes photographing them, so here is a selection of my visitors:

My favourite garden visitor is the dunnock (Prunella modularis, Dansk: jernspurv). He hunkered down in the border and watched me taking photographs

Another species which is appearing more and more often in gardens is the wood pigeon (Columba palumbus, Dansk: ringdue). Wood pigeon are a much maligned species in my opinion, they seem to be universally despised by country folk and shot out of the skies in huge numbers. Having said that, there are huge numbers of them, and I often see flocks of many hundreds or even thousands in Histon and one of these flocks can decimate a fields of sprouting crops in a very short space of time. So it’s understandable that they are not at the top of the farmers’ christmas card list.


Much disliked the wood pigeon may be, but they are handsome birds and more than welcome to refuel in my backyard!

And then who should appear, but my resident blackbirds. The gladiatorial action is long past now and they have settled down to the business of reproduction. I can’t confirm it yet but I think they may have built a nest in one of my bushes. I hope so.


The blackbird male in his new found larder

My wife and daughter created this new flowerbed at the weekend and he spent a good few minutes meticulously turning over the surface on a quest for an insect feast. He’d just finished working his way from one end to the other when the female entered from the left and sent him packing  in short order.


The blackbird female mopping up the insects disturbed by the male

The romance is over now and they’re into the serious business of begetting and raising young. Lots of bird species are currently using my garden so I’ll try to post some more pictures of them in the near future, hopefully including fledglings.