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Plant pigments - the xanthophylls

Plant pigments – the xanthophylls

by Chris ~ 15 November, 2017 ~ comments welcome

The chlorophylls (and there are several different types) are the main light absorbing pigments in land plants.  They are located in the chloroplasts of the palisade and spongy mesophyll layers of the leaves.  The chlorophylls mainly absorb red and blue wavelengths  of light.   Apart from the chlorophylls, plants have other pigments - often termed the accessory pigments - notably the carotenes and the xanthophylls. Read more...

A seasonal plant - Mistletoe.

A seasonal plant – Mistletoe.

by Lewis ~ 22 December, 2016 ~ one comment

Many evergreen plants are associated with Winter, and Christmas in particular - notably various fir trees as 'Christmas Trees', holly and ivy for decorations and wreaths, and mistletoe as the decoration under which lovers might kiss.  For an interesting video on “The Botany of Christmas” visit Mark Nesbitt’s lecture to the Linnean Society.

Associations with Mistletoe go way back and there are a number of customs and myths surrounding the plant.  Pliny wrote that it was collected by Druids - particularly from oak (believing that it held the soul of the host tree and it was to be cut from the trees with a golden sickle).   Mistletoe has been used in folk / herbal medicine to treat various ailments - from cancer to epilepsy but clinical trials as to its effectiveness are needed.  However, like many plants, mistletoe is actively being investigated for its phytochemicals and possible medical uses. Read more...

"Warming conifers"

“Warming conifers”

by Chris ~ 22 May, 2016 ~ comments welcome

Mature woodlands and forests populated with deciduous trees remove significant quantities of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) from the atmosphere, locking it up in complex organic carbon compounds - such as starch, cellulose and lignin.  Such compounds add to the biomass of the trees.  However, come the Autumn deciduous trees shed their leaves, and in Autumn and Winter winds break off branches and twigs.  These dead leaves and twigs etc contribute to the ‘litter’ on the woodland floor and the humus in the soil.   This material represents a vast source of ‘locked up carbon’. Read more...

Woodland types : Coniferous plantations

Woodland types : Coniferous plantations

by Chris ~ 15 July, 2015 ~ 3 comments

Coniferous plantations are found throughout the U.K.   There are some 300,000+ hectares in England, 900,000+ hectares in Scotland, and circa 106,000 hectares in Wales.   Large scale conifer planting ‘took off’ soon after the First World War.   At about this time, the woodland cover had fallen to 5% (in Britain) so the Forestry Commission was established. This had the aim of ensuring that there would be a strategic reserve of timber.

Vast areas of ‘low grade’ land were pressed into service.   Areas around Thetford and Kielder were used, as were some sandy coastal sites (e.g. Holkham in Norfolk) and many large tracts in Scotland (including the use of some natural peatlands). Read more...

VOC's and Pine trees.

VOC’s and Pine trees.

by Chris ~ 21 March, 2014 ~ 3 comments

Boreal forest is found in Canada, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia.   Essentially, it is coniferous forest with tree species such as pines, spruces, larches and aspens.  In the U. K., this unique ecosystem is represented by the Caledonian Forest (a remnant of the vast sylvan wilderness that once existed here).  One of the larger tracts of this native pine forest is the  Black Wood of Rannoch.

One feature of the boreal forest or taiga is that it has areas of even-aged stands of trees.  This uniformity arises through cycles of natural disturbance – from forest fires to outbreaks of insect pests such as pine beetle or spruce budworm, which periodically kill off large sections of forest – but these areas, in turn, regenerate. Read more...

Gin and Juniper

Gin and Juniper

by Chris ~ 29 January, 2014 ~ 2 comments

Juniper ‘berries’ are fragrant and provide the oils / chemicals that give gin a distinctive flavour.  The ‘berries’ used in gin production are rarely from the U.K. Many come from Italy or Macedonia, where the hot summers allow the full development of these oils (contained within the seeds).  A ‘berry’ takes some two years to come to maturity and ripen fully.  The ‘berries’ are often harvested by beating the Juniper shrub with a stick so that the ripe ‘berries’ fall to the ground for collection.

The ‘berries’ are not, in fact, berries but cones.  Juniper is a conifer (the other two native coniferous trees are Scots Pine and Yew).  Whereas the cone of Scots Pine hardens and become a woody structure as it ages, the cone of Juniper has fleshy, ‘soft’ scales that merge together to give a berry like structure, which encloses the seeds.  The ‘berries’ or cones are green when young but turn a purple black colour as they mature. Read more...

The redwoods.

The redwoods.

by Chris ~ 17 January, 2014 ~ 4 comments

Every now and then, whilst strolling through a woodland one comes across a truly massive coniferous tree - with a thick fibrous bark.  Such trees are usually redwoods - often planted many years ago as an 'exotic'.   Victorian land owners were quite 'fond' of planting unusual species.   There are three species of coniferous trees known as the redwoods

  • the coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens ),
  • the giant redwood (sometimes known as Wellingtonia) (Sequoiadendron giganteum), and
  • the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) .

The first two are natives of the western Sierra Nevada of California Read more...

Caledonian forests .....

Caledonian forests …..

by Chris ~ 9 August, 2013 ~ 3 comments

At the end of the last Ice Age, the recolonisation of the British Isles began.  Plant and animal species moved across the 'land bridge' that connected us with continental Europe.   Trees and other plants began to colonise and forest formed in many places.  As it took some time for the climate to warm, the first forests were probably coniferous – resembling the Caledonian Forests that can still be seen in Scotland today.   These early forests and woods would be characterised by pine, birch, aspen, rowan, juniper and perhaps oak.   At one stage, it is thought that such forest / woodlands covered some 15,000 km2 – a vast area.   Now, only a few remnants of this once enormous ecosystem survive in Scotland.

The Caledonian forest / woodlands represent a unique ecosystem in the British Isles – they are remnants of the vast wilderness that once existed here; and across on the Continent – as  boreal coniferous forest. These forests and woodlands are populated particularly by the Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris).  One of the larger tracts of this native pine forest is Read more...

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