Tag Archives: beech

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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Forests and fungi

Norsey Wood is a small oasis of ancient woodland situated on the edge of Billericay in Essex.


Beech and birch of Norsey Wood in Autumnal sunshine

It’s a lovely fragment of forest left over from the days when the kings of England had hunting grounds where they would hunt wild boar and red deer, and it consists predominantly of oak, beech and birch. It was devastated by the hurricane in 1987 and many of the trees are still leaning at some rather unnatural angles.

Hurricane damage

I attended a nature photography day at the Wetland and Wildlife Trust at Welney in Norfolk a couple of weeks ago where four top flight professional photographers talked about their work. I was inspired by all of them, but one in particular, a guy called David Ward, made me really think about how I take pictures. He called it ‘making‘ rather than ‘taking‘ a picture, which turned everything on it’s head for me. Previously I’d viewed photography in a rather scientific way as a means of creating a record of an exisitng phenomenon, but the concept of ‘making‘ a picture by focussing down on a small part of a subject to create something more abstract and thought provoking was a  notion which I really like. And there’s nothing like an ancient English wood in the autumn sunshine to suffuse me with paroxysms of artistic fervour!

So I tried to use a similar thought process when I was taking these photographs of the woods. I gave rather more thought to the composition, and as it was quite dark under the tree canopy with intermittent bright sunlight above it, the conditions were tricky. Technically I could have done better, but experimenting with new  thought processes was alot of fun and I hope you like the results!

Layers of light

In the ‘hurricane damage’ picture I wanted to capture the angles of the trees that were blown over against the uprights of the undamaged trees, and in the ‘layers’ picture it was the sunlight on the four layers of yellow leaves against the mysterious darkness deep in the wood that captivated me. I think these images are OK and hopefully they convey a little of the atmosphere amongst the trees. If you agree – or indeed if you don’t – or you have  any other thoughts please post a comment and let me know.

If you’re still reading, thankyou for indulging me through my artistic interlude, but now I’ll return to the more familiar and prosaic territory of documenting my wildlife encounters. Going back alot of years to when I was sixteen and had just acquired my first SLR I took alot of ribbing about my fascination for fungi. But I still think they make great pictures and inbetween trying to shoot the trees of Norsey Wood I was capturing some of the amazing variety of fungi growing on and amongst the trees.

The floor of the wood was covered in a deep layer of multicoloured leaves which changed as the sun waxed and waned and poking through were tree stumps and dead branches plastered with bracket fungi,

I think this bracket is an ‘oak curtain crust’ (Hymenochaete rubiginosa)
And this resupinate is the toothed crust fungus (Basidioradulum radula)

The oak curtain crust grows on other trees than oak, in this instance a silver birch stump and the toothed crust is growing on a dead birch branch. Fungi are biochemically fascinating and they specialise in extracting nutrients from wherever they grow, in this case dead wood, but it could also be live wood or even live humans, as either parasites such as athletes foot, or saprophytes which extract nutrients without harming the host, or in a symbiotic relationship where the association with another live organism is mutually beneficial.

The most recognisable fungus which adorns many a Christmas card and childs drawing is the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria). So called because in days of yore in central Europe it was mixed with milk and used as an insecticide to kill flies. The specific name ‘muscaria‘ is derived from ‘musca‘ which is Latin for fly.


The bright red cap of the fly agaric. The gill structure, the ring on the stem and the white flecks on the cap are also diagnostic, but the flecks can be washed off by heavy rain

The fly agaric is generally considered to be poisonous due to a compound called muscimol, which also has psychoactive properties. Because of this, myths and legends have been ascribed to this mushroom including the use by the Vikings to induce the berserker rages in which they went into battle. Apparently, parboiling it deactivates the toxins and renders it edible, but I reckon if I served it up to my wife she’d suspect nefarious intant!


A group of fly agarics of various ages and sizes, and all of them have been nibbled by other inhabitants of the wood