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Barn Owls, rats and rat poison

Barn Owls, rats and rat poison

by Richard ~ 21 January, 2018 ~ comments welcome

This Christmas I was given a felt rat. "Why ?" Well, my sister-in-law thought I’d like the sentiment behind the gift.   We love barn owls but most of us don’t like rats!

Rats (Rattus norvegicus) like most other organisms have their place in the food chain, they feed on virtually anything, clean up waste food, take our food, feed on birds eggs - almost anything they can find. Read more...

Pine cones and innovation

Pine cones and innovation

by Lewis ~ 19 January, 2018 ~ comments welcome

A pine cone is a reproductive structure, known as a strobilus.  There are male and female pine cones.  The male pine cones (or microstrobili) are less obvious than the female pine cones; they have a central axis from which project modified leaves - or microsporophylls; these produce pollen.  Pine pollen is dispersed on the wind.

A female pine cone has a short stem, which attaches the cone to a branch, this continues through the central part of the cone (the rachis*).  Scales arise in a helical manner along the length of the rachis to form the cone, accounting for much of its structuree and its characteristic, external appearance. Each cone scale carries on its surface two ovules, which on fertilisation develop into seeds - these are pine nuts. The scales are also known ovuliferous scales or seed scales.  Pine cones take about two years to reach maturity. Read more...

Tannins, tea and trees

Tannins, tea and trees

by Chris ~ 12 January, 2018 ~ comments welcome

We come across tannins in various foods and drinks.   They contribute to the taste of a cup of tea, a mug of coffee or a glass of wine.  Tannins contribute an astringent taste - a sensation of “dryness” in the mouth. Tannins are molecules made by plants - they are complex polyphenols built from several phenolic molecules.   A phenol is  made from a hexagon-shaped carbon ring with one or more hydroxyl groups (-OH) attached to it (see diagram).

They are generally water-soluble molecules and they can combine with proteins, cellulose, pectins etc.  Tannins are generally stored in the vacuole of plant cells (as are various oils, resins, crystals of calcium oxalate etc).  Collectively, these materials are sometimes referred to as ergastic substances. Read more...

The Monthly Mushroom : Happy New Ear!  (Auricularia auricula-judae)

The Monthly Mushroom : Happy New Ear! (Auricularia auricula-judae)

by Jasper ~ 5 January, 2018 ~ comments welcome

One can only imagine what our ancient forebears must have thought when they first came across the fleshy, shell-like flaps of Auricularia auricula-judae protruding grotesquely from forest branches. We do know, however, that by the time of Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum, or a Naturall Historie in Ten Centuries (1627), this gelatinous fungal specimen had already acquired its own name and mythology. He described it as “an excrescence, called jew’s-ear, that groweth upon the roots, and the lower parts of the bodies of trees, especially of Elder and Ashes. It hath a strange propertie: for in warm weather it swelleth and openeth extremely. It is not green, but of a duskie brown colour.Read more...

A problem with mistletoe ?

A problem with mistletoe ?

by Lewis ~ 2 January, 2018 ~ one comment

When you look around this week, you might see suspended from the ceiling or a light fitment - a rather sad and shrivelled piece of mistletoe.  Mistletoe is well known for its connection to Christmas, in particular for the custom of “kissing underneath the mistletoe”.  The mistletoe has separate male and female plants; it is DIOECIOUS.  It follows that the male plants will not produce berries and they have no commercial value - as they do not yield berry-laden sprigs for Christmas decorations.  This use of mistletoe may be rooted in festive legends of 'fertility and life giving powers'. Read more...

Helping Hands for Hedgehogs

Helping Hands for Hedgehogs

by Chris ~ 1 January, 2018 ~ one comment

Hedgehog numbers have declined in recent years, perhaps by as much as 50% in areas such as East Anglia.  Though they are not doing well anywhere (with the possible exception of Uist  in the Hebrides), there is a suggestion that urban hedgehogs are doing somewhat better than their country cousins Read more...

Actress Dame Judi Dench arrives at The Orange British

Judi Dench has a “passion for trees” and her BBC programme explains why

by Angus ~ 31 December, 2017 ~ comments welcome

Best known as an actor, and a "national treasure", Judi Dench has had a passion for trees since she was a young girl and she owns a small 6-acre woodland which she's had for about 30 years.  This ultimate woodland programme can be seen on BBC catch-up TV - just search "Judi Dench my passion for trees".  It's a single one hour programme and takes us through a whole year, mostly in Surrey and often looking at older oak trees.  As Judi says, at one point, "my life now is just trees ... trees and, er, champagne."

Shakespeare has always been a big part of Judi Dench's life and she has acted in some thirty Shakespeare plays starting in the late 1950s and culminating, according to some, in her playing "M" of MI6 in James Bond.  Read more...

Skansen

Skansen

by Dick ~ 28 December, 2017 ~ comments welcome

An easy 25-minute walk along the water-front from the centre of Stockholm brings you to the island of Djurgarden, home to many of the region’s finest museums. There really is something for everyone here; from the restored splendour of the 17th century warship Vasa – salvaged from the bottom of Stockholm harbour where it lay for 333 years after sinking only minutes into its maiden voyage [a Nordic Marie Rose?], through the traditional / formal exhibits at the grand Nordic Museum to the glitz and glitter of the Abba museum.

But it is the outdoor museum Skansen which draws me back each time I visit this beautiful city. Read more...

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