Saturday, 22 June 2013

Lamb's tongue

Growing amongst the grass and other field flowers is the rather insignificant Ribwort Plantain or Lamb's Tongue.  It's in flower now at Filnore Woods.  
Because its leaves and flower stalks all originate at the base of the plant it is good at surviving lawn mowing or grazing by livestock.  So you often find it in domestic lawns.  Here is one in my lawn.  You can see the veins on the leaf standing out like ribs to give it its Ribwort name. 
For this reason it has also been used by archaeologists to date the beginning of agriculture in various parts of Europe.  When Ribwort pollen appears in the soil it seems to correlate with the onset of a farming culture with grazing cattle.
Like many of our apparently dull wild flowers, when you look closely they are little gems.

The flower heads or seed heads are also used by younger people in a centuries old game, where the stem is wrapped around the seedhead, which is then flicked off as a miniature missile.  My children used to recite the rather macabre mantra, "Molly 'ad a dolly and 'er 'ed popped off," as they flicked.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Sorrel and Dock

These red spikes are two related plants, sorrel on the left and dock on the right.

sorrel                                            dock

Really there are several sorrels and several docks but I just know that if they're small and red and the leaves have little hooky bits near the stalk, like a spear head, they are sorrels. 

Sheep's sorrel leaf

And if they are big, bold flowers, not always tinged with red, and with big leaves, they are docks.
Dock leaves

Thursday, 13 June 2013

May in June

Creamy white May blossom is filling the wood at present.  It's called May although we are well into June now.   

The windy weather and showers are beginning to destroy the flowers but not before they have been pollinated.
In late summer the bushes will grow bronzy red with the fruits which are known as haws. Hence the other name for the May Tree - Hawthorn.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Pignut - a smaller version of Cow Parsley

The Pignut grows happily and modestly in woods and in grassland. It is a bit like the Cow Parsley, which crowds along roadsides and in woods at this same time of year
but a much smaller, neater plant, and scattered about the place rather than jostling together.
The pignut has a tiny wiry leaf at each joint in the stem but the Cow Parsley has a more ferny leaf on the stem and big ferny leaves all around.
  Pignut wiry leaf                              Cow Parsley ferny leaf
It's called a pignut because there is a little tuber underground on the root, about the size and flavour of a hazel nut.  Pigs like these and humans can safely eat them too.
There are a lot of wild flowers in this, the carrot family, that look very similar.  These sprays of white flowers are called 'umbels', a bit like upside-down umbrellas, so the family members are sometimes called 'umbellifers'. When you learn to distinguish them you find that the meadows are more rich and varied than you thought. 

Pignut flower umbels are round and neat, whereas Cow Parsley is more haphazard and asymmetric because the petals are different lengths.

Pignut neat                                               Cow Parsley Blousy
Pignut plants grow singly or in scattered groups
But Cow Parsley is more gregarious.  The rest of the pictures are of Cow Parsley.
It's also known as Queen Anne's Lace

This is up in the little wood near the viewpoint 

Cow Parsley likes to grow alongside hedges too.

It may be untidy but it's luxuriousness and abundance is a joy.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Tweet of the day

Song thrush  (RSPB)
If you haven't already heard about it, let me introduce the BBC's "Tweet of the Day" programme.  Every week day, just before the 6.00am news (!)  there is a 90 second broadcast of a birdsong or bird call followed by an interesting few words about that particular British species. 
Cuckoo (RSPB)
It started on May 6th with David Attenborough introducing the cuckoo as the first of the 265 tweets that are coming our way.  In June the presenter is Miranda Krestovnikoff.  Today was the turn of the Razorbill.
If you go to the BBC website and search for "Tweet of the Day" you will find that the first 23 programmes are already available to download.  Here is the link:

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Scything Sunday

Twelve of us gathered today at Filnore Woods for a demonstration of scything.

Martin from the Berkeley Fishing Syndicate brought along four scythes and three colleagues to give us an introductory talk and demonstration about using scythes.
We all had a go at assembling the scythe, using it and disassembling it safely.  It was really inspiring.  The swish swish of the blade zipping through the grass on a glorious, sunny, birdsong-filled morning.  The rhythmic swing of your hips and shoulders is almost hypnotic.  All of us found it an enjoyable experience.
We have decided to buy three scythes to clear the grass paths.  Mowing the whole grassland at Filnore may have to wait a bit.
Paul has offered to be in charge of the tools and Steve has some space to store them.  The challenge now is what to do with all the cut grass.  We may just stack it on site to rot down.  But if anyone wants any hay, please get in touch.
Martin shows how to attach the blade to the snath (handle)

Cynthia is ready to rumble

Rob cuts a mean swathe