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The Monthly Mushroom: Candlesnuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon)

The Monthly Mushroom: Candlesnuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon)

by Jasper ~ 20 February, 2018 ~ comments welcome

February isn’t, generally speaking, the most conducive time of year to go roaming the woods or immerse yourself in the great outdoors. With its cold rains, claggy mud, bare trees, muted colours and short daylight hours, it is a month marked by dormancy for many, although still one in which the early green shoots and nascent buds are at least appearing to signal some sort of an end to another grey and dreary English winter.

With the fleshier varieties of fungi, much of the dramatic flushes of just a few months ago have long died and rotted back into their substrates. However, there are a few more durable species that persist around the year, although generally ones that tend to be overlooked because they are so ubiquitous, inedible, and, at first glance at least, not particularly interesting. Read more...

Our very own dormice - and boosting the dormouse population  

Our very own dormice – and boosting the dormouse population  

by David Williams ~ 16 February, 2018 ~ one comment

It all started in the spring of 2013 when my wife, Julie, and I bought a wood in Somerset’s Blackdown Hills from woodlands.co.uk. We knew we wanted to manage the woodland for wildlife and one of our first aims was to put up some bird boxes which we did as soon as we moved in. Later that same year when looking for signs of bird-occupancy, such as pecking at the entrance, I was surprised to see a hazel dormouse in one of the bird boxes peering out at me, looking totally relaxed. Read more...

Pine cones - an activity

Pine cones – an activity

by Lewis ~ 9 February, 2018 ~ one comment

Half term is coming, and perhaps you will be visiting your own wood  or walking through woodland during the holiday period.   Below is a simple activity (that you could supervise) which might interest younger members of the family.

Did you know that sometimes pine cones stay on the trees for some years, before falling to the ground? During that time, seeds form under the scales of the pine cones.   The scales have two important functions

  • to protect the seeds from bad weather and
  • to protect the seeds from foraging, hungry animals.

Eventually, the seeds are released so that they can grow into new trees. To have the best chance of finding fertile soil and growing successfully, the pine cone scales stay tightly closed (see featured image) when the weather is cold and wet as these conditions are not suitable for germination and growth of a young seedling.   Read more...

wasp

Why wasps ?

by Lewis ~ 28 January, 2018 ~ one comment

Generally speaking, honey bees and bumblebees have a "good press", wasps do not.  Bees are associated with honey and the pollination of flowers and fruit trees.  Wasps are often associated with being stung and with disrupting our meals when dining "al fresco".

Why is it that wasps want to invade our space and our meals?   

Wasps, like bees, like sugary things (e.g. nectar).  During the Spring and Summer, wasps can obtain sugars from the larvae that they are rearing back in their nest. The worker wasps hunt for insects in our gardens amongst the flowers and vegetables, and take back their prey to the nest.  The prey is then fed to the larvae - which need a protein-rich diet in order to grow.   In return,  the larvae secrete (from their salivary glands) a sugar-rich fluid and the adults feed upon this. Read more...

Barn Owls, rats and rat poison

Barn Owls, rats and rat poison

by Richard ~ 21 January, 2018 ~ 2 comments

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 ~ 2 comments

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...

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