Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Ragwort and Cinnabar

It's not too late to see Ragwort flowers at Filnore Woods.

We had intended to pull them all up today, to prevent them spreading to neighbouring farm land.   We did pull up some.

 However we didn't want to destroy the Cinnabar Moth caterpillars so where we found caterpillars we left the plants.  In a few more weeks the caterpillars should have pupated, so we will pull the plants later, before they go to seed.

The caterpillars overwinter in cocoons on the ground and emerge as slate grey moths with red bars and spots the following May.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Lady's Bedstraw

Medieval legend says that the Virgin Mary had to lie on a bed of this plant, because the donkeys had eaten all the straw.

It grows on hedge banks and in amongst the grass at Filnore Woods.  Each little flower has four yellow petals, but they are so small that they look like a yellow mist.

Like its relative woodruff, it contains coumarin which smells of new mown hay.  Coumarin can be made into dicoumarol, the drug used as an anti-coagulant up until the 1950s, when warfarin became the standard anti-coagulant.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Stripy paper-makers

This structure was manufactured by hard-working citizens.

Each little stripe is one mouthful of woodpulp manufactured by a worker wasp.  They scrape the wood off fences, gateposts, any piece of dead wood, mix it with waspy saliva, and glue it on to the last strip of wasp-paper.

This is the wreck of one of last year's nests but it is still a miracle of insect dexterity.

Inside this shell the wasps create several shelves of hexagonal cells - a bit like the wax cells made by bees but made of paper instead.  You can see the hexagonal shapes below, though I'm afraid they're rather old and broken.

A wasp nest can be as big as a beach ball and build up to 20,00 wasps during the year, but you hardly notice them until late summer, when the queen stops laying eggs and the workers have no more work to do, building cells and catching caterpillars, flies and other bugs to feed the young wasp larvae.

This is when they have their holiday, homing in on treats like your glass of beer, your fruit bowl or your cream tea.  But as soon as the cold weather comes they all die, except for the new queens, who hibernate until the following spring.  

Then the nest building begins afresh.  The queen builds the first little nest and raises her first brood, who then take over the paper making and building work, while she concentrates on laying eggs.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

White marble

Did I mention how hard it is to get close enough to a butterfly to photograph it.

Mostly you just stand by a foodplant and wait.

Sometimes you're lucky.

This is a marbled white.

And this is a meadow brown.

Not bad eh?

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Aaron's Rod

Agrimony or Aaron's Rod is in flower now all over Filnore Woods.

The spikes of small, five-petalled, starry flowers seem to climb higher and higher as the spike lengthens.

I'm never quite sure how to pronounce its name.  Do you put the stress on the first syllable so it's AG-rimony, or on the second syllable so it would be a-GRIM-ony.  

So I use its other name of  'Aaron's Rod'.  (You can see what Aaron, Moses' brother, got up to with his rod in Exodus chapter 7, verses 10-13.)  

I also like the older names of 'Fairy's Rod' or 'Fairy's Wand'.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Wood/Field Mouse

Another rescue rodent.  The fur on its back is a little tousled from an encounter with the cat.  This is a wood mouse also known as a long-tailed field mouse.  It looks quite different from a vole with a more pointed nose, bright protuberant eyes for night work, bigger ears and a very long tail.

As you might guess from the name, they live in grassland as well as woods.  This character made a quick get-away.  No time to lose.  Seeds to be gathered and stored away in its burrow.  Life is short for mice, anyway.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Wood Avens or Herb Bennet

A very common and easily overlooked woodland plant is Herb Bennet or Wood Avens (Geum urbanum).

 It is quick to colonise the woodland floor after coppicing, and will also colonise your garden if you let it!  At first it looks insignificant but when you get close . . .

. . . the small yellow flowers are quite pretty.  They are a good nectar source for insects from May through to August.

The centre develops into seed capsules with those velcro-like hooks to stick to your socks, shoe-laces and your dog's fur.

This is the clever way that the plant distributes its seeds over a wide area.

'Herb Bennet' is a corruption of 'Herb Benedict'.  Apparently St Benedict, who founded the Benedictine order of monks, used it.  It was supposed to keep away devils, demons, and all manner of evil including flies and clothes moths.  

Modern herbalists still use it especially the allegedly clove-scented roots.  Try some in your wardrobe.