Sunday, 24 July 2016

I Don't Need No ... Chlorophyll


Myxomycete, Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa.  High Elms Country Park, 19 June 2016.
Myxomycete, Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa.  High Elms Country Park, 19 June 2016.
If you think about plants that are not green, have no green leaves and do not need sunlight to make their food, you might think of fungi and perhaps slime moulds (Myxomycetes).  Actually, though, neither of these can really be called plants. 

Myxomycetes eat all sorts of tiny things, including bacteria and fungus spores, and most of them slurp around as a sort of mobile jelly until they settle down and put up spore-bearing organs like those shown here.  You can see the jelly form in this photo too.

Pale Stagshorn, Calocera pallidospathulata.  High Elms Country Park, 23 May 2016.
Pale Stagshorn, Calocera pallidospathulata.  High Elms Country Park, 23 May 2016.
This one is a fungus.  Athough it looks rather like the Myxomycete and lives in the same sort of place, on rotting wood, it is not any sort of close relation, just as, for example, dragonflies and swifts are not closely related even though they both fly around snapping up insects. 

But there are also quite a few true plants that do not have any chlorophyll.  They are parasitic, leeching off the root systems of plants that do get their energy from the sun.

Common Toothwort, Lathraea squamaria.  High Elms Country Park, 24 March 2016.
Common Toothwort, Lathraea squamaria.  High Elms Country Park, 24 March 2016.
Here is one, the Common Toothwort, that comes up early in the year in old woodland.  It is usually associated with Hazel. 

Common Broomrape, Orobanche minor.  High Elms Country Park, 19 June 2016.
Common Broomrape, Orobanche minor.  High Elms Country Park, 19 June 2016.
There are also a whole group of Broomrapes that parasitise various plants.  They are not very common, and this is the only one I have seen locally.  I think it's the Common Broomrape, which parasitises a range of plants.  It was certainly in amongst a mixed group.

Yellow Bird's Nest, Monotropa hypopitys.  High Elms Country Park, 20 July 2016.
Yellow Bird's Nest, Monotropa hypopitys.  High Elms Country Park, 20 July 2016.
This is another parasite, but at one remove.  It feeds off fungi which in turn are linked to tree roots. The fungi provide minerals and basic food substances to the trees, and the trees provide sugars to the fungi.  Then the Yellow Bird's-nest grabs its food from the fungi.  SOmetimes you can trace a tree's roots by looking at the growth patterns of this plant.

I used to wonder how it got its common name, but this year I saw a mature flower:

Yellow Bird's Nest, Monotropa hypopitys.  Closeup of flower.  High Elms Country Park, 8 July 2016.
Yellow Bird's Nest, Monotropa hypopitys.  Closeup of flower.  High Elms Country Park, 8 July 2016.
And it became less of a mystery.

All these so far have been seen at High Elms Country Park this year.  This last example, below, was photographed in the same park a couple of years ago.

Bird's Nest Orchid,  Neottia nidus-avis.   High Elms Country Park, 29 June 2013.
Bird's Nest Orchid,  Neottia nidus-avis.   High Elms Country Park, 29 June 2013.
Not to be confused with the Yellow Bird's-nest, though it often grows near it - as it does here - this is the Bird's Nest Orchid.  It is also associated with tree roots; Beech, in this case.

As you can see, most of these plants are yellowish and sickly-looking.  But they are actually bursting with health, which makes one woonder about the state of their victims!

Friday, 15 July 2016

Lullingstone Butterflies

Small Skipper, Thymelicus sylvestris.  Lullingstone Country Park, 4 July 2016.
Small Skipper, Thymelicus sylvestris.  Lullingstone Country Park, 4 July 2016.
A few butterflies that I saw in Lullingstone Country Park, all on differently coloured flowers.  It was a sunny morning and I saw dozens flying around the meadows. 

The Small Skipper above is a male.  The diagonal mark on the wing is known as the sex brand, and it's the origin of its pheromones. 

Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus.  Lullingstone Country Park, 4 July 2016.
Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus.  Lullingstone Country Park, 4 July 2016.
This Common Blue, conversely, is a female.  Female Common Blues are often brownish, sometimes nearly all brown except for a blue tinge to the body hairs.  The males are always a bright blue, so at least the name is partly right - unlike the Small Blue butterfly, in which both sexes are always completely brown.

Small Tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae.  Lullingstone Country Park, 4 July 2016.
Small Tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae.  Lullingstone Country Park, 4 July 2016.
I only saw this one Small Tortoiseshell, feeding on a Field Scabious.  It was the most colourful butterfly of the day.

Marbled White, Melanargia galathea.   Lullingstone Country Park, 4 July 2016.
Marbled White, Melanargia galathea.   Lullingstone Country Park, 4 July 2016.
On one of the meadows, these Marbled Whites were everywhere.   I also saw Meadow Browns and Ringlets, but didn't get any photos; and I saw a few Fritillaries.  Lullingstone is known to have Dark Green Fritillaries, but I could not get close enough to tell the species, and they never seemed to come to rest, even though I blundered around the grassland for 15 minutes following them.  I finally took this blurry shot below, which is enough to show that my object was a Fritillary, but not which species.  This is just a slice of the photo.

Grassland with flying Fritillary.  Lullingstone Country Park, 4 July 2016
Grassland with flying Fritillary.  Lullingstone Country Park, 4 July 2016

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Leybourne Lakes, Mid-June

Grassland at Leybourne Lakes, 16 June 2016.
Grassland at Leybourne Lakes, 16 June 2016.
I have posted pics from Leybourne Lakes a few times.  It's a varied and very pleasing environment.  Although it's often busy near the car park, it is much less so once you get around to the other side of the lakes - which are not all that large, really; I can walk around them in an hour.

The top photo shows a low flat area next to the lakes.  It is mostly typical grassland, that is, some grass and a great many wildflowers.  The tall plants in this shot are Wild Teasels.

Creeping Cinquefoil, Potentilla reptans.   Leybourne Lakes, 16 June 2016.
Creeping Cinquefoil, Potentilla reptans.   Leybourne Lakes, 16 June 2016.
Just past that scene is this carpet of yellow Creeping Cinquefoil.  There are also splashes of purple Selfheal and bright red Scarlet Pimpernel.

It's not all lovely, though.  I found a dead rabbit that had been scavenged by birds.  I won't show the photo!

Yellow-wort, Blackstonia perfoliata.  Leybourne Lakes, 16 June 2016.
Yellow-wort, Blackstonia perfoliata.  Leybourne Lakes, 16 June 2016.
I usually find this bright yellow flower on the chalk.  It's unusual in the way the stems appear to grow right through the middle of the leaves.

Horseradish, Armoracia rusticana, in flower.   Leybourne Lakes, 16 June 2016.
Horseradish, Armoracia rusticana, in flower.   Leybourne Lakes, 16 June 2016.
This is uncommon.  I have seen Horseradish on this site before, but not in flower.  It doesn't usually flower in this climate and instead has just a display of broad, dark green leaves. If you chew them, they bite back.

Water Figwort, Scrophularia auriculata.  Leybourne Lakes, 16 June 2016.
Water Figwort, Scrophularia auriculata.  Leybourne Lakes, 16 June 2016.
Water Figwort likes damp soil and often grows actually in the water's edge, like this.  Ditches suit it, too.

Car park with European Rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus.  Leybourne Lakes, 16 June 2016.
Car park with European Rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus.  Leybourne Lakes, 16 June 2016.
I arrived while the car park was mostly empty and there were several rabbits mooching around.  I couldn't get close, though.  They moved away if I tried.

Field Madder, Sherardia arvensis.  Leybourne Lakes, 16 June 2016.
Field Madder, Sherardia arvensis.  Leybourne Lakes, 16 June 2016.
There are wildflowers even in the grass of the car park - this Field Madder was one.  The flowers look white from a distance, but are actually a light mauve.

I have read that the word "mauve" was invented for the first ever aniline dye, which was produced in the mid-19th century.  But that is not correct.  It was indeed the name applied to that dye, but the word comes from the French for Mallow, and originally meant a much more saturated purple than this light shade.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

One Morning

Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea.  Husseywell Park, Hayes, 25 June 2016.
Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea.  Husseywell Park, Hayes, 25 June 2016.
I go out most days to look for plants or invertebrates to photograph.  This post documents a couple of hours of one recent morning. 

The weather forecast was a bit iffy so I just walked up to a local farm field, which I am monitoring to log all the plant species in its monad (1-km square) for the London Flora Project.  On the way I walked through Husseywell Park, a small park with a small pond.  The name is a contraction of  "Housewife's Well." 

The pond is small, but big enough to interest a heron.  My lovely 100mm macro lens lets me take long-distance shots as well as closeups, and the sensor in my camera (EOS 5DS) allows me to crop down to just a small part of the picture and still make it look good.

Yellow Corydalis, Pseudofumaria lutea.  Hayes churchyard wall, 25 June 2016.
Yellow Corydalis, Pseudofumaria lutea.  Hayes churchyard wall, 25 June 2016.
I photograph common plants if I see a particularly photogenic specimen. The wall of Hayes churchyard is clearly very welcoming for plant life.  As well as this Yellow Corydalis, there are four other species just within this photo.

Pellitory-of-the-Wall, Parietaria judaica.  Hayes churchyard wall, 25 June 2016.
Pellitory-of-the-Wall, Parietaria judaica.  Hayes churchyard wall, 25 June 2016.
This is one of them.  Pellitory-of-the-Wall is in the same family as stinging nettles, but is harmless to touch.  Though, according to Wikipedia it is very allergenic.

Pellitory-of-the-Wall, Parietaria judaica.  Hayes churchyard wall, 25 June 2016.
Pellitory-of-the-Wall, Parietaria judaica.  Hayes churchyard wall, 25 June 2016.
It has tiny white flowers clustered in the leaf axils.

Toad Rush, Juncus bufonius.  Hayes Street Farm, 25 June 2016.
Toad Rush, Juncus bufonius.  Hayes Street Farm, 25 June 2016.
Finally at the farm, which is only 15 minutes walk from my house, I photographed mostly species I had not spotted here before. This Toad Rush is not rare, but usually likes damp places.

Toad Rush, Juncus bufonius.  Hayes Street Farm, 25 June 2016.
Toad Rush, Juncus bufonius.  Hayes Street Farm, 25 June 2016.
The flowers are more interesting in close-up.

Smooth Sowthistle, Sonchus oleraceus.  White-petalled form.  Hayes Street Farm, 25 June 2016.
Smooth Sowthistle, Sonchus oleraceus.  White-petalled form.  Hayes Street Farm, 25 June 2016.
I've seen these before, but this is a nicely placed specimen of a white-petalled form of the Smooth Sowthistle, so I thought it was worth a photo.  The prickles are quite soft, unlike those of its close relative the Prickly Sowthistle, or, indeed, the true thistles.

Rush Veneer, Nomophila noctuella.  Hayes Street Farm, 25 June 2016.
Rush Veneer, Nomophila noctuella.  Hayes Street Farm, 25 June 2016.
I was distracted by this moth, which I chased until it settled in a photographable pose.  Rush Veneers are usually darker than this one.  They are known to come in to the country over the channel.  Of course, that will have to stop if we leave the EU.

Nursery Web Spider, Pisaura mirabilis.  Hayes Street Farm, 25 June 2016.
Nursery Web Spider, Pisaura mirabilis.  Hayes Street Farm, 25 June 2016.
Spiders that hunt their prey usually carry their egg sacs with them, like this Nursery Web Spider.  They are hard to photograph because they only hold still for a few moments before dashing off into cover, so I get a lot of random unfocused shots of grass stems.  Luckily, this one is not too bad. 

I also had a couple of photos of unidentified plants, which I won't show this time.


Thursday, 30 June 2016

Old Lodge

Old Lodge Nature Reserve, 11 June 2016.
Old Lodge Nature Reserve, 11 June 2016.
A short walk in the Old Lodge Nature Reserve, part of the Ashdown Forest.  This site is mostly of interest to birders, but it is a nice piece of heathland for anyone.  The view above is fairly typical.  It's a mixture of heather, grass and rushes, with a few small ponds on the way down the path you can see, with colourful dragonflies, and some stands of pines.

The item hung up on a post is a beater, for use in case of fire.   There are a number of these beaters placed around the site, very visible and very easy to grab.

Short grass with flowers.
Short grass with flowers.
At the top of the slope, where the ground is reasonably dry, the short grass actuall contains lots of small sedges and some flowering plants.  These little white flowers are Heath Bedstraw, and the yellow ones are Tormentil. 

Lichen, Cladonia portentosa, among low heather.  Old Lodge Nature Reserve, 11 June 2016.
Lichen, Cladonia portentosa, among low heather.  Old Lodge Nature Reserve, 11 June 2016.
But part way down the slope I found some of this lichen, Cladonia portentosa, covering the ground.  This must be a particularly dry section.  This lichen doesn't grow like this where there is much competition for space. 

I saw lots of small brown moths flitting about, and photographed two that I thought were different species.

Common Heath, Ematurga atomaria.  Female.  Old Lodge Nature Reserve, 11 June 2016.
Common Heath, Ematurga atomaria.  Female.  Old Lodge Nature Reserve, 11 June 2016.
I thought this was a Latticed Heath, but a second look shows that it is not really latticed.  It's a Common Heath, a very variable species.

Common Heath, Ematurga atomaria.  Male.  Old Lodge Nature Reserve, 11 June 2016.
Common Heath, Ematurga atomaria.  Male.  Old Lodge Nature Reserve, 11 June 2016.
This is the same species.  The difference in appearance isn't just due to these being different genders, though the female is usually lighter than the male.  It's a more general variability.

You can tell the male by its lush feathery antennae, used to detect female pheromones.

Further down the slope I started to see fewer brown moths and instead came across some whitish ones.  I followed a few of these, but whenever they made a landing they dived for cover, so the best shot I was able to get was partly obstructed.

Grass Wave, Perconia strigillaria.  Old Lodge Nature Reserve, 11 June 2016.
Grass Wave, Perconia strigillaria.  Old Lodge Nature Reserve, 11 June 2016.
Some people look for birds.  I looked for moths ...

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Hoya Serpens

Flower of Hoya serpens.
Flower of Hoya serpens.
Not a wild flower at all, at least not in the UK, but I think Hoya flowers are wonderful.  This one, Hoya serpens, is an unassuming trailing plant with small, rather fleshy round green leaves.

Flower cluster of Hoya serpens, in bud.
Flower cluster of Hoya serpens, in bud.
This cluster of buds is 3 cm across.  The individual flowers are less than a centimetre.

Flower cluster of Hoya serpens, in bud.
Flower cluster of Hoya serpens, in bud.
The buds don't give any clue about what is coming.

Flower cluster of Hoya serpens.
Flower cluster of Hoya serpens.
But it's this!  They have a very floral scent which is apparent in the early morning.  Some species are much more strongly and crudely scented.  I have a Hoya curtisii which has a similar habit of growth but prettier leaves, and when that flowered my first thought was that I must have spilled a whole container of washing-up liquid.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Some Spurges.

Flower of Caper Spurge, Euphorbia lathyris.
Flower of Caper Spurge, Euphorbia lathyris.
Spurges, plants in the Euphorbia family, have inconspicuous green flowers.  Even when Euphorbias look showy (as with Poinsettias), it's not the small flowers themselves that have the colour, but the bracts around them.

This is something of a technicality, as the same purpose is served whether it's petals or bracts that are coloured.  But this post aims to show that even when there are no colourful bracts, the flowers and their appurtenances are still lovely.  Of course you have to see them magnified to appreciate that!

Clockwise from top left: Caper Spurge, Sun Spurge, Wood Spurge and Petty Spurge.
Clockwise from top left: Caper Spurge, Sun Spurge, Wood Spurge and Petty Spurge.
Here are four local wild spurges, all common and easy to find, and at the top and below are their flowers.

Flowers of Sun Spurge, Euphorbia helioscopia.
Flowers of Sun Spurge, Euphorbia helioscopia.
They all have glands in shapes unique to the species.  Like the bracts, they are not strictly part of the flower.

Flowers of Wood Spurge, Euphorbia amygdaloides.
Flowers of Wood Spurge, Euphorbia amygdaloides.
They have a number of tiny male flowers surrounding one larger female one. The female flower is usually easy to spot. It has a stalk, a rounded ovary and a group of stigmas.

Flowers of Petty Spurge, Euphorbia peplus.
Flowers of Petty Spurge, Euphorbia peplus.
You can hardly see the actual flowers at all on a Petty Spurge, but those horned glands are distinctive.