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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...

An autumnal bee  - the Ivy Bee,  Colletes hederae.

An autumnal bee – the Ivy Bee, Colletes hederae.

by Lewis ~ 15 November, 2016 ~ comments welcome

At this time of year, it is unusual to see bees flying around, but one that you might see is the ivy bee; the ivy bee is a ‘new bee’.  It was first described as a distinct species in 1993.  It was present in the Channel Isles,  back in the 1970's (where it is abundant) but was not recognised as a separate species.  In the U.K., it was first reported from Dorset (at Worth Matravers) in 2001. 

It has since been found in a number of places along the South Coast – from Kent to Cornwall, and in Wiltshire, Somerset, Surrey and Essex.  It is spreading northwards, and reached the north Norfolk coast (in 2014) and Shropshire;  it has been suggested that the presence of the ivy bee here is another aspect of  climate change.    A map of the areas where this bee is likely to be seen can be found here. Read more...

Mistletoe berries

Mistletoe

by Chris ~ 12 December, 2014 ~ one comment

Three evergreen plants come to mind at this time of year - Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe.   Holly and Ivy are 'immortalised' in "The Holly and the Ivy" , a traditional  Christmas carol. Both holly and ivy have been part of church decoration  since the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (as recorded in churchwardens’ accounts).   Mistletoe, (also known as “the golden bough” or Viscum album), is well known for its connection to Christmas, in particular for the custom of “kissing underneath the mistletoe”.   Mistletoe associations go way back and there are many customs and myths surrounding the plant. For example, Druids greatly revered it, believing that it held the soul of the host tree. It would be cut from sacred oak trees with a golden sickle.   It was used in folk / herbal medicine to treat a variety of ailments.  Now, like many plants, mistletoe is being investigated for its phytochemicals and possible medical uses. Read more...

queen bbee

Help save our bumblebees

by Dave Goulson ~ 17 November, 2014 ~ 3 comments

You may well have heard that bees are in trouble. Domestic honeybee hives seem to die more often than they used to, and some of our wild bees have disappeared altogether; for example, three of the UK’s twenty seven bumblebee species have gone extinct. The big, long-term driver of declines has been farming intensification; where once we had plentiful hay-meadows and chalk downland, rich with flowers, we now have flower-free monocultures of wheat or silage grass.

Pesticide use is also contributing to the problem, particularly new generations of systemic, persistent insecticides called neonicotinoids that get into nectar and pollen of both flowering crops and wildflowers. Read more...

Native dominants or botanical 'thugs’ in woodland.

Native dominants or botanical ‘thugs’ in woodland.

by Lewis ~ 28 March, 2014 ~ one comment

Much has been written  recent in recent years about the ‘dangers’ posed to our native flora & ecosystems by ‘alien’ invasive species.  Introduced species such Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera), Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), and Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum) have been cited as ‘drivers’ of ecosystem change – alongside habitat loss, pollution and over-exploitation.

However, voices have been raised to express concern over certain native species that can grow rapidly producing large amount of biomass (or indeed necromass – think bracken dying down in late autumn) and how they may be impacting on our flora, particularly plants of the woodland herb or field layer.  Read more...

Leaf variation - Holly (and Ivy).

Leaf variation – Holly (and Ivy).

by Lewis ~ 17 March, 2011 ~ 5 comments

Holly leaves are prickly.   But the leaves of the lower twigs and branches are said to have more prickles than the those higher up the tree.   Ivy (Hedera) has lobed leaves but entire leaves can be found on the projecting branches (which bear flowers and fruits) – again often high up and in the light.

The range in variation in any species can be considerable – thinking about holly, their leaves may vary in :

  • The number of spines on a leaf
  • The number of spines on each side of the leaf
  • The length of the leaf (do longer leaves have more spines?) Read more...
Holly, predicting the weather ?

Holly, predicting the weather ?

by Chris ~ 21 December, 2010 ~ 4 comments

Back in November, a number of papers reported that our holly trees were full with their bright red berries, and that according to folklore this was a sign that a hard winter was to come.

There is no clear logic to this, as it is the Spring weather that determines whether there are insects around for the flowers to be pollinated, plus sun and warmth in early autumn to help the berries to ripen.  The berries are particularly plump and abundant this year.  The last ‘good berry’ year was last year (2009) and the winter that followed was the coldest for some 30 years.  Already, we are experiencing cold and severe weather conditions so perhaps the berries are ‘right' again. Read more...

Our changing flora

Our changing flora

by Chris ~ 9 June, 2010 ~ 7 comments

Our changing flora

All of our present plants have arrived in the U.K. since the end of the last Ice Age, about ten to twelve thousand years ago.  Plants and animals moved north as the sheets of ice gradually retreated; they were able to do this as ‘we’ were still joined directly to parts of Europe -by a great plain with meandering rivers, so that present-day East Anglia was linked to parts of The Netherlands and North Germany. Read more...

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