Tag Archives: December

Christmas Past and Global Warming

Sorry I didn’t come to the party. When a person is newly divorced Christmas isn’t the same and I just wanted to duck out and look after myself….. and Fizz….. and the birds.

We didn’t have a bad Christmas though.

For most of the past week the weather here has been like this…

WeatherBut that picture doesn’t capture the cold or the howling wind. The wind is carrying the cold and it is bitter and nasty.

I have found myself laughing out loud when I realise that Fizz is still expecting to go out. Once you get out it is not as bad as it looks.

For Christmas day everything changed and amazingly we woke up to a clear blue sky and still air. Without the wind it was warm and beautiful, like a spring day.

Global warming.

Christmas DayThere are flowers about that don’t have a clue what month it is.

Bramble blossom

Herb RobertBut by and large the hedgerow gives away the season.

Hazel in December

Hazel nutsAs do our long shadows at lunchtime.

Long shadowsSpeaking of lunch, I did get a Christmas dinner. If it looks a bit sad and lonely, well, that’s how I wanted to photograph it. Not very vegetarian either but then I did say that, ” when I come to your house I’ll eat what’s put in front of me.”

Christmas dinnerThat was brought to me by a neighbour and it was a kindness that I couldn’t refuse (as was the bottle of whiskey that accompanied it) ūüôā

It is not my fault.

I had a very pleasant, quiet and relaxing Christmas. I spent a lot of time with Fizz, got my dinner for free and had a drink and watched some movies.

So that is Christmas past, good!

I so love the next bit.

Like an excited kid I found myself going through all of last  years photographs looking to see the first day that I saw each flower.

I was new to the area last year and I didn’t know where to find each flower. My first photograph of a Snowdrop in the wild was taken on January 28th But I bet that I can knock at least ¬†a week off that this year because I know where they grow.

I started making lists..

Snowdrop. Jan 28
Red Dead-nettle. Feb 02
Daisy. Feb 16
Primrose. Feb 22
Early Crocus. Feb 24
Lesser Celandine. Feb 24
Marsh Marigold. Feb 27
Field Speedwell. March 06
Hairy Bitter-cress. March 07
Common Chickweed. March 08
Colt’s foot. March 09

After that it starts going crazy and it is new flowers every day and in the second week of March the Butterflies are back.

This is the thing that I love. The Swallows will be back in April, All sorts of birds will hatch in May. Badger cubs will poke their heads out of the sett for the very first time. Adders will be mating and oblivious to me and my camera.

FizzOf course he is crackers!

But I get to help him look for these things and it takes us hours.

Global Warming:

When I was a kid, winter was cold, I mean really cold. I can remember my dog Suzy getting out on bonfire night when I was about eleven and I was out in the pitch black trudging through snow up to my knees, calling for her and searching for hours. November was always a cold month. It is just not like that now but… Do our memories play tricks on us?

Were summers really everlasting? Were winters really cold?

Yesterday I found myself writing about the Snowdrop and I turned up some interesting stuff from The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Galanthus nivalis, The Common Snowdrop

Galanthus nivalis, The Common SnowdropThere are twenty species of¬†Galanthus Snowdrops native to Europe, the last one only being identified in 2012. They all look very similar and are difficult to separate. There are also many garden cultivars but by far the most widespread is the¬†Common Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis). Native to Europe it is “naturalised” in the UK, that means that it was introduced here, probably in the sixteenth century and is now generally considered to be native by most people.

Galanthus nivalis, The Common SnowdropThe French call this little flower perce-neige which literally translates as pierce-snow. The tips of the leaves are hardened to allow them to break through snow and ice.

Galanthus nivalis, The Common SnowdropKew Gardens have been monitoring the arrival of the first Snowdrops since the 1950’s and at that time Snowdrops opened late in February, by the 1990’s they were opening in January. In 2014 Kew announced their first Snowdrops on December 5th. Winters really are warming up.

Galanthus nivalis, The Common SnowdropThe Snowdrop has six petals, three outer and three inner. Technically these should be called tepals. Tepal is just a term used when you can not easily distinguish between the petals and the sepals (when they look the same). The inner petals have a small green mark that looks like a little bridge.

Galanthus nivalis, The Common SnowdropEach bulb generally produces two, long, thin (Snow piercing) leaves, It has a leafless flower stalk that carries a single flower and above the flower are two bracts, joined together by a papery membrane. The insides of the petals often have green markings. There are six stamens and a single style.

Galanthus nivalis, The Common SnowdropThe Snowdrop flowers very early in the year, when there are few pollinating insects around, as a result the plant usually spreads by bulb division rather than seed production, however they will last into March and do provide a very valuable source of nectar and pollen for early Bumblebees, Honeybees and other insects.

They would be a good addition to any wildlife friendly garden.

Galanthus nivalis, The Common Snowdrop Galanthus nivalis, The Common Snowdrop   Galanthus nivalis, The Common Snowdrop   Galanthus nivalis, The Common Snowdrop Taxonomy:

Kingdom: Plantae

Order: Asparagales

Family: Amaryllidaceae

Genus: Galanthus

Species: Galanthus nivalis

Galanthus nivalis, The Common Snowdrop

Galanthus nivalis, The Common SnowdropWildflowers in winter.

I hope that you all had a really easy and wonderful Christmas. We will talk about the New Year later ūüôā

I will catch up with you all as soon as I can now, promise.

The only Wildflower he can grow on his face!

The dog is getting a bit cheeky.

Christmas is a very busy time of year for me. It is the only time of year when having long white hair and a beard can actually lead to gainful employment. ¬†I have been so busy polishing my Reindeer’s hooves (and keeping them off the Fly Agaric) that I haven’t had time to write a proper post.

What would you like for Christmas, little fellow?

A puppy? Oh I think that we could manage that….

FizzWhat do you mean, “You want a cute one?” Get out’a here!

FizzOh shut up! You wouldn’t give me away.

ūüôā

So anyway this is the best that I could manage today. It is a rehash of something that I posted elsewhere.

Clematis vitalba, The Wild Clematis

Wild Clematis on Hawthorn (Clematis vitalba)(Wild Clematis on Hawthorn)

Clematis vitalba also known as Old Man’s Beard or Traveller’s Joy.

Wild Clematis seed heads (Clematis vitalba)I see Old Man’s Beard in the winter.

Wild Clematis flowers (Clematis vitalba)Traveller’s Joy in the summer.

Other less common names¬†relate to it’s use as a tobacco substitute, for example, Smoke Wood or Boy’s Bacca. The woody stems contain large vessels which allow air to pass through them and it was once the habit to break off pieces of the stem and smoke it like a cigar.

Clematis vitalba is a member of the Buttercup family and the only member of that family to have woody stems.

Wild Clematis stems (Clematis vitalba)Native to the UK and most common in the south , it is a climbing vine or Liana. It’s roots are in the soil and it climbs toward the light by curling the stems of it’s leaflets around trees and shrubs.

Old Man’s Beard is a familiar sight in the¬†winter scrambling through and topping the hedgerows.

Wild Clematis seed heads (Clematis vitalba) Wild Clematis seed heads (Clematis vitalba)   Wild Clematis seed heads (Clematis vitalba)   Wild Clematis seed heads (Clematis vitalba) Wild Clematis seed heads (Clematis vitalba)

Wild Clematis seed heads (Clematis vitalba)The leaves are made up of three to five leaflets on a central stem and these leaflets are spaced apart with two opposite pairs and one at the end. It is usually five, three leaflets are only common on young plants.

The ability of these leaflets to curl around anything they find in their way is central to the success of the plant. An unsupported vine can only grow toward the light for about one metre before it drops and grows along the ground.

Wild Clematis leaves (Clematis vitalba)

Wild Clematis leaves (Clematis vitalba)In the UK the flowers open in the second half of July.

Wild Clematis vine (Clematis vitalba)The flowers don’t have petals. They have four sepals which open to reveal numerous stamens and styles. The flower is hermaphrodite.

Wild Clematis flowers and buds (Clematis vitalba) Wild Clematis flowers and buds (Clematis vitalba)   Wild Clematis flowers and buds (Clematis vitalba)   Wild Clematis flowers and buds (Clematis vitalba) Wild Clematis flowers and buds (Clematis vitalba)The late summer flowers often coincide with the ripening fruits of the plant that they are climbing, as in these next pictures of the vine growing through Elder.

Wild Clematis in Elder (Clematis vitalba) Wild Clematis in Elder (Clematis vitalba)   Wild Clematis in Elder (Clematis vitalba)   Wild Clematis in Elder (Clematis vitalba) Wild Clematis in Elder (Clematis vitalba)As the Elder berries are ripening so is the Clematis. The sepals and stamens are discarded and the green seeds form at the base of the styles.

Wild Clematis seed heads forming (Clematis vitalba)The styles start to elongate and become feathery. They will remain attached to the seed and serve to distribute the seed on the wind.

Wild Clematis seed heads forming (Clematis vitalba)The host plant in these next pictures is Hawthorn. I just mention this in case anyone thinks that Wild Clematis has berries of any kind. Of course it doesn’t, the seeds that we are looking at are its fruit.

Wild Clematis seed heads forming (Clematis vitalba)The  seeds change from green to brown as they  ripen.

Wild Clematis seed heads forming (Clematis vitalba)¬†Wild Clematis seed heads forming (Clematis vitalba)¬† ¬†Wild Clematis seed heads forming (Clematis vitalba)¬† ¬†Wild Clematis seed heads forming (Clematis vitalba)¬†In September the summer flowers start to turn into the Old Man’s Beard that will hang on the vines all winter, often lasting well into April or even May.

The seeds provide a valuable source of food for birds throughout the winter.

This vine is very important to our wildlife. Apart from the seeds provided for the birds the flowers are a rich source of nectar for visiting insects and the leaves provide the larval food for several native moths. In fact there are several species that are completely dependent on Clematis vitalba as their sole larval food plant, these include the Small Emerald Moth, The Small Waved Umber and Haworth’s Pug.

Wild Clematis on Hawthorn (Clematis vitalba)Native to the UK and much of Southern and Western Europe these vines play a vital role in our ecology. They fit well into our crowded hedgerows and they do not outgrow themselves. Elsewhere in the world they are much less welcome.

It is particularly unwelcome in New Zealand where it is considered an “unwanted organism” and a “national pest.” A milder climate and a lack of natural control agents means that Wild Clematis grows much more vigorously over there. The flowers only open in full sun and the habit of the vine is to grow to the top of the tree before flowering. The leaves smother whatever it is growing through and deprive the host plants of sunlight.

Even here it can cause problems. The vines can grow as thick as your wrist and more.

Wild Clematis stems (Clematis vitalba)They can hang from a tree in great numbers and mass. Their sheer weight and wind resistance can be enough to break branches or even topple a tree.

Wild Clematis stems (Clematis vitalba)However they do also provide the only real opportunity in the UK to play Tarzan and swing through the jungle and for that they should be valued. (you can swing on them but just like Tarzan, you may hurt your bum if they break)

Wild Clematis stems (Clematis vitalba)I have heard it said that the stems make a good natural tinder for starting a fire but in my experience I think that it absorbs moisture very easily and in winter it is always wet and useless. It needs to be dry, perhaps in summer. (The feathery seeds dry quickly and are like cotton wool for taking a spark but they don’t last long)

Wild Clematis stems (Clematis vitalba)

Taxonomy:

Kingdom: Plantae

Order: Ranunculales

Family: Ranunculaceae

Genus: Clematis

Species: Clematis vitalba

Wild Clematis (Clematis vitalba)Wildflowers in winter.

That last picture was taken yesterday and is exactly how things are here in the UK in December ūüôā

Sunday, the Second Half.

Brrr…… Woke up to freezing rain and a cold wind. It was so different from Saturday. The rain carried on for most of the morning and at times it was falling as snow but it was too wet to lay.

This was not a day for straying out of doors but Fizz didn’t agree.

With zero chance of getting any nature shots I eventually gave in to the whining and decided to try my hand at a bit of “glamour” photography.

Well, you know that Fizz has got her own Facebook page now, I thought we could go out and get some cute and sweet photographs that she could use….

FizzThings didn’t go exactly to plan… (The weather was against me)

FizzThere were the odd patches of blue sky but the wind didn’t let up..

Fizz

FizzThen we hit a bit of rough.

FizzHer ball got stuck in the mud.

FizzI suppose that at this point I could have used my opposable thumbs to help her out a bit but the journalist inside of me kicked in and I thought that I should record this moment.

FizzAnyway she seemed to be doing quite well at retrieving the ball from the mud with her face.

FizzShe didn’t really need any help.

FizzAnd that was the end of my career in “Glamour photography.”

FizzIt was good while it lasted.

Plantago lanceolata, The Ribwort Plantain.

Ribwort Plantain flower head (Plantago lanceolata)A common plant of meadows and grass land, Ribwort Plantain is also a common lawn weed.

Short creamy, brown flower heads are carried on long ribbed stems and they can grow quite tall when competing with grasses. The flower stems are leafless, the leaves all stem from the base of the plant.

Ribwort Plantain plant (Plantago lanceolata)When the flower head first appears the closed bracts present a very dark, almost black face to the world.

Ribwort Plantain flower head (Plantago lanceolata) Ribwort Plantain flower head (Plantago lanceolata)   Ribwort Plantain flower head (Plantago lanceolata)   Ribwort Plantain flower head (Plantago lanceolata)

Ribwort Plantain flower head (Plantago lanceolata)The familiar ring of creamy, white stamens appears as the flowers start to open. They open from the bottom of the flower head first and the ring moves slowly upwards.

Ribwort Plantain flower head (Plantago lanceolata)

Ribwort Plantain flower head (Plantago lanceolata)

Ribwort Plantain flower head (Plantago lanceolata)The small flowers are composed of four cream coloured petals with a brown central rib (technically the four petals should be called a corolla because they are not actually individual petals but fused together) The overall effect is of a light brown flower head surrounded by a ring of white stamens.

Ribwort Plantain flower (Plantago lanceolata)

Ribwort Plantain flower (Plantago lanceolata)The stem is deeply ridged as are the lance-shaped leaves and depending on who you read, one of these ribbed features gives the plant the name Ribwort.

Ribwort Plantain flower stalk (Plantago lanceolata)

Ribwort Plantain leaf (Plantago lanceolata)

Ribwort Plantain plant (Plantago lanceolata)Taxonomy:

Kingdom: Plantae

Order: Lamiales

Family: Plantaginaceae

Genus: Plantago

Species: Plantago lanceolata

Ribwort Plantain plant (Plantago lanceolata)

Ribwort Plantain flower head (Plantago lanceolata)

Wildflowers in winter.

 

A Game of Two Halves

Well it was a weekend of two days. Nothing very unusual in that but what a contrast.

Saturday was beautiful, it would have been beautiful in April, it was almost unbelievable in December. There was no wind at all, a clear blue sky and a very warm sun. It was shirtsleeves weather.

Saturday.That feels very strange in December because although it is warm and the sun is shining it is still winter. Everything is dead and it feels like it should be spring with flowers and insects everywhere.

No it is winter. The hedgerows are bare and nothing is growing or buzzing around in the sun.

It was really nice but at the same time odd to be out there enjoying it when it is empty.

December

DecemberNever mind we did enjoy it and played good ball ūüôā

FizzSunday was very different but I shall write about that in the next post.

Here is a little flower that we didn’t see yesterday.

Prunella vulgaris, The Self Heal.

Self Heal flower head (Prunella vulgaris)A brightly coloured and common little plant, Self Heal grows almost anywhere that it isn’t overshadowed by taller plants. It is common in woodland rides and meadows and is also quite fond of lawns. There is a good chance that you will find it in your garden.

It is native to the UK and Europe. In North America it is sometimes described as a separate species Prunella lanceolata but it looks just the same as Prunella vulgaris.

The petals of each flower are fused into a tube at the base and then separate into two distinct lobed petals comprising a hood and a lower lip. The flowers grow in rings at the top of the square stem forming a flower head or inflorescence.

Self Heal flower head (Prunella vulgaris)The violet flowers form inside little red or green envelopes that grow in rings around the flower head. These little red envelopes are the sepals of the flower. The rings of flowers are separated by small green leaflets fringed with red. It all adds up to a colourful little wildflower.

Self Heal flower head (Prunella vulgaris)

Self Heal flower head (Prunella vulgaris)

Self Heal flower head (Prunella vulgaris)The leaves grow in opposite pairs around the square stem. They are usually described as lanceolate (Lance-shaped), they are about an inch long, covered with fine hairs and often edged with red. The whole plant is seldom more than about twelve inches tall.

Self Heal leaf (Prunella vulgaris) Self Heal leaf (Prunella vulgaris)   Self Heal plant (Prunella vulgaris)   Self Heal plant (Prunella vulgaris)After they have bloomed the flowers fall out of their sepal envelopes leaving apparently empty shells where the seeds will now develop.

Self Heal flower head (Prunella vulgaris)

Self Heal flower head (Prunella vulgaris)Self heal usually spreads by underground stems and is very vigorous in this respect but it is also pollinated by bees and many other insects, it is a valuable wildlife flower.

Six Spot Burnet on Self Heal

Small Skipper on Self HealSelf Heal is a member of the Mint family and the leaves are edible but not especially nice. They have a slightly bitter taste and it doesn’t really feature much in the kitchen, it is one for the medicine cupboard.

As the name suggests it was once prized by herbalists. It is supposed to be able to cure almost anything including open wounds and was commonly used for any complaint relating to the mouth. I think that this was because the little envelopes that the sepals form look a bit like the mouth. It seems to be the way in herbal medicine that if a part of a flower looks a bit like a part of the body then that is the part that it will cure.

Self Heal flower head (Prunella vulgaris)

Self Heal flower head (Prunella vulgaris)

Taxonomy:

Kingdom: Plantae

Order: Lamiales

Family: Lamiaceae

Genus: Prunella

Species: Prunella vulgaris

Self Heal flower head (Prunella vulgaris)

Self Heal flower head (Prunella vulgaris)Wildflowers in winter.