Flowers and foliage

The greatest thing about a sodden Springtime was the abundance of bloom that resulted. So I spent alot of time this year recording the wild flowers and foliage that flourished in the wake of the deluge.

Some years ago I attended a lecture in which the speaker said that due to modern farming methods which involve the use of mechanisation and toxic chemicals to create a sterile monoculture,  verges and drainage ditches have now become an invaluable seed bank where many of our wild flowers can still prevail. Without these unpolluted conduits criss-crossing the countryside the flora seeking refuge there would be even more threatened. This idea seems to be born out in my local area as the drainage ditches are indeed full of wild flowers year on year.

Hedge woundwort – Stachys sylvatica

Hedge woundwort has lined the field margins and ditches in greater abundance this year than in previous years, its delicate purple flowerheads, growing up to around a metre tall, poking  over the top of the ditches. It’s a lovely flower and it gets its name from its preference for hedgerows and because the crushed leaves were traditionally applied to wounds to stem bleeding.

Hawthorn flowers lined all the hedgerows ealier in the year and heralded a glut of berries which are currently providing rich pickings for the birds, and will continue to do so well into the colder months.

Hawthorn blossom – Crataegus monogyna

The October 2012 edition of British Trust for Ornithology’s BirdTrack reveals that the migrant redwings (Turdus iliacus, Dansk: vindrossel) should be arriving here from Scandinavia any day now and will be followed closely by the fieldfare (Turdus pilaris, Dansk: sjagger), and the hedges fulls of haws will help to replenish their fat reserves after the migration across the North Sea. I think I saw my first redwing over Histon on Sunday, they have a characteristically undulating flight during which they fold back their wings and form a teardrop shape, which is what my sighting today was doing. So the fieldfare should be along soon too, according to the BTO.

Oxeye daisy – Leucanthemum vulgare

Oxeye daisies are my Mother’s favourite flower and she has been pestering me to publish a picture of one. This year they lined my cycle route to work alongside the Cambridge Guided Busway in their thousands so I’m finally able to complete my commission. So, Ma, this one’s yours!

The wild flowers have been spectacular but the leaves and some of the trees have also been contributing their own splash of colour to the countryside such as the cluster of oak leaves below.

(Dramatic interlude: Wow, the first goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis Dansk: stillits) arrived on my niger seed feeder a couple of days ago after being absent through the summer and until a minute ago there was an adult and a late fledgling feeding there. I just caught a blurr out the corner of my eye as I was writing this post and looked up just in time to see a sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus, Dansk: Spurvehøg) swoop through a gap in the buddleia bush next to the feeders, the goldfinches fled but it all happened too fast to see if the hawk was successful. It was all over in less than a second!)

Back to the oak leaves though, they were lovely colours, almost autumnal. Oak trees are amazing organisms, in fact they are substantially more than organisms, they are ecosystems in their own right. They live to be several centuries old and when coppiced or pollarded (pollarding is pruning back a tree to the top of the trunk to promote new branch growth, compared to coppicing which is pruning it back to ground level), but there are numerous examples of oaks living for 1000-1500 years. And they become home to hundreds of other species of fungi, lichens, insects, birds and mammals.

Oak leaf cluster – Quercus robur – the English oak

And right next to the oak was this gorgeous, delicate field rose. The field rose, Rosa arvensis, grows in hedges and has white to cream coloured flowers and lovely golden yellow anthers. It flowers later than the dog rose (Rosa canina) which has pink flowers and the leaves are smaller. Later in the autumn the flowers turn into bright red hips which provide food for birds as well as humans. When I was a kid we used to have rosehip syrup which was sweet and delicious and I’ve been toying with the idea of trying to make some. If I succeed in creating something pleasant I’ll post the recipe here.

Without doubt my favourite wild flower is the field scabius (Knautia arvensis). I think they’re utterly beautiful and if I have a camera to hand I struggle to walk past one! Fortunately for me the field margins around here are replete with them so I’m rarely short of photographic opportunities.

The glorious flower of the field scabius

And from side on:

The hue of the flowers can vary from a pale pastel shade to quite dark purple. Each flower contains male stamens which can be seen protruding from this flower from between the female florets. The stamen consists of the filament (the stalk) and the anther (the pollen bearing part at the end of the filament). The stamens die back before the female florets mature in order to prevent self-fertilisation. Field scabius is named afer the German botanist Dr Knaut and has historically been used to treat skin ailments such as scabies and eczema.

24 responses to “Flowers and foliage

  1. What a great post! I learned a lot. Recently I’ve been doing data entry for a vegetation survey and you’ve just shown me pictures of some of the plants whose names I’ve been handling.
    As you’ll have seen, somebody remarked on my blog recently that cycle-tracks mights be useful wildlife corridors. So might hedges and ditches like the ones you write about here.

    • I think that any interconnected network can act as a conduit and a refuge for wildlife, and the transport system is a good example because it’s subjected to minimal human management and is largely free of agrochemicals. I once saw the kestrel described as the ‘motorway falcon’ because it was so often seen hunting alongside the big roads. And the reason was that its traditional hunting grounds, the fields, no longer contain sufficient rodent numbers to maintain the kestrel population. So in that context, railways, canals, roadsides, cycleways, all have an increasingly important part to play.

  2. Lovely photos, Finn. I agree with you on the Scabious, which I’ve always thought to be a beautiful flower. What you said about the Goldfinches is striking. They’re appearing only now?! Here, the American Goldfinch, which I regard as less beautiful, begins losing its summer plumage this time of the year. Come wintertime, the yellow and black will have given way to a more drab green.

    • Thanks Robert. I was very surprised to see a fledgling goldfinch as late as this. They first appeared with youngsters in May but so many natural phenomena have been late this year due to the unusual weather and I guess this was one of them. Fortunately ours don’t change colour for the winter so they’ll add a splash of brightness year round.

  3. What a royal purple is that Hedge woundwort…and very pretty Field scabius. I didn’t know oaks could live so long…that’s incredible. We have a wild rose that grows here in our mountains…similar flower, but it’s pink…and the branches have hundreds of tiny spikes that can surprise your legs when hiking through or along stands of them out on the trails. Enjoyable post, Finn…thank you. 🙂

    • Hello Scott, you’re welcome. Is your pink rose a dog rose? We have dog rose growing through the hedgerows, lovely flowers, but as you say they can surprise the unwary.

      • Hello again, Finn…I’m not sure if it’s called a dog rose…I only know it by wild rose, but have found pictures of it that say it’s “rosa woodsii.” These are smaller plants that often mix with the other low brush on the mountainsides…they might grow larger, I suppose, if they had more open space and less competition…but I’m just guessing….

      • The one in our hedges is Rosa canina, so it’s a different species. I just googled ‘woodsii’ though and the flower and leaves look similar to a rosebush that’s common in Denmark and has big round red seedpods. My parents have got some of them growing in their garden and they really are the thorniest bushes imaginable!

      • Interesting…I’ve seen some plants with seedpods that sound similar…and yes, I have had many bloody scratch marks on my legs after finishing hikes in areas where they are common. 😉

      • They’re interesting plants. As well as being thorny the bushes are very dense, and I don’t know if the practice persists, but the Danes used to plant them along the central reservations of motorways (freeways in the US I think) to serve as a crash barrier. I reckon that’s a very elegant solution to that particular problem especially as they have a glorious aroma too.

      • They must grow very dense to be able to serve as a crash barrier for speeding vehicles…wow….

  4. Just discovered your blog, lovely. Beautiful pictures. I shall surely benefit from your knowledge, particularly about birds as though I love them and include them in my posts I’m not hugely informed! You’re not following me already are you? I have a Finn following but it never connects to a blog…?

    • Hello Sarah, welcome to The Naturephile. I guess you must see alot of interesting birdlife, and wildlife in general, on your ten acres. The non-connective Finn was a different one but I’m looking forward to reading about your experiences in animal husbandry. BW. Finn

  5. Another batch of splendid photographs! I had no idea that scabius was used to treat scabies, but I’ve always thought it had rather an unattractive name for such a pretty flower. I was in Royal Deeside a few days ago and came across some double-trunked coppiced oaks and a board explaining their presence there. Apparently the people who lived there a couple of hundred years ago used the oak wood and the trees are still going strong and looking magnificent. Just about every time I pass rosehips I think it’s a pity that I’m not harvesting them and making something out of them, I’d like to try it some time so if you do come up with a recipe I’d be keen to see it.

  6. Lovely pictures as always Finn; scabious is one of my favourite wildflowers too and very important to butterflies and a whole host of other insects, especially in the late summer. On the subject of oaks, how are your local ones doing for acorns? Some areas of the country really seem to be struggling.

    • We do have acorns on the oaks but I don’t know if they are as abundant as normal. I’ve read that jays are upping sticks in huge numbers and heading to areas where the acorns are. Which I think must mean that our oaks are OK because I’m seeing numerous jays every day. I had one in my garden for the first time on Sunday, there were two in the trees outside work today and I saw five on my way to work.

  7. They are all beautiful, but I can see why the scabies is your favorite! That is a marvelous shot of the hawthorn too! We have a native species of Hawthorn here, Black Hawthorn.

    • Hello Terry, that scabius is one of my all time favourite pictures (of the ones I’ve shot myself). Is your native hawthorn as important for the birds as ours?

      • It does produce berries and they are edible, but not juicy and they wither and dry up rather quickly. The Black Hawthorn usually lives surrounded by serviceberry which produces more and better berries for the wildlife.

  8. You have definitely given me a new appreciation of nature!

  9. Wonderful, Finn! I’d love to scramble the waterway edges with you any time!

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