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...
Climate change is now a fact of life and one aspect of this is the occurrence of more extreme weather events. These can take the form of high winds / hurricanes, extended periods of heavy rainfall or conversely periods of drought. Clearly extreme weather can affect all ecosystems; woodlands and forests are no exceptions. Consequently in recent years, a number of organisations have been looking at different tree species in order to understand more about drought resistance (or the ability to withstand prolonged flooding - when the roots are deprived of oxygen).
INRA (French National Institute for Agricultural Research) has been looking at a small tree of the cypress Family (Cupressaceae) - Callitris tuberculata. This grows as a small evergreen tree or shrub in Western Australia. It can survive extreme drought and has been described as “the most drought resistant tree in the world”. Read more...
Ants, like bees, belong to the Hymenoptera (insects with membranous wings and narrow ‘waists’). Like the bees, ants are ‘social insects’ and within their colonies / nests, there is a division of labour (workers, soldiers, queens). In the U.K, there are a number of ant species but Britain’s ant population is probably smaller than the ant populations in warmer European countries. There are four main species of true wood ant - Formica rufa, F. aquilonia, F. lugubris and F. pratensis.
- rufa is the southern wood (or horse) ant – it is a sun-loving species, liking open glades and the edges of woodlands – particular in coniferous woodland. The ants are quite large – workers being about 10 mm ( 1cm) in length and the queens about 12 mm.
- pratensis is the European red ant. This is similar to F. rufa but darker in colour, and likes warmth. Its nests are smaller (often made of grass and small twigs), it is thought to be ‘extinct’ on mainland Britain.
The soil seed bank refers to the various seeds that are ‘stored’ in the soil of most ecosystems. Soil seed banks have always attracted interest because of the 'reservoir' of weed seeds in the soil and the economic implications of these. However, more recently ecologists and conservationists have looked at the role of seed banks in woodland and forest regeneration; and it may be that they can play a role in the rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems.
Soil seeds may be placed in one of two broad categories
- Transient species – where a seed only remains viable within the soil for a short period, perhaps only to the next opportunity for germination. For most purposes, seeds that remain viable for a year fall into this category i.e. for one germination season.
- Persistent species – seeds that can remain viable within the soil for a longer period of time. Those that survive for between 1 and 5 years are termed short term persistent, whilst those that can remain viable for more than a year are termed long term persistent.
Pond building in woodland is more than just digging a big hole. It is very much about creating a habitat, which is varied but which actually keeps the water in. Over the last month or so, we have been digging a large wildlife pond in Kent not only for wildlife but also for enjoyment. We wanted an expanse of water that would be big enough for some canoeing and paddling around in small boats.
To do the job, we employed a pair of digger drivers with their machines but we were very much involved in the design and practicalities. I knew several people who had dug ponds and lakes but in this case I particularly wanted something with an island; hoping that this could be a protected area for bird nesting - as well as an interesting feature. Read more...
The bedstraws are slender, sprawling herbs that have square stems (in cross-section) and they belong to the genus GALIUM. This genus belongs to the family RUBIACEAE, which includes the Gardenias, Coffea (for coffee) and Cinchona (bark yields quinine = Jesuits' bark).
Galium odoratum (sweet woodruff) is a woodland bedstraw, which tends to form 'a carpet' and is a perennial. Galium aparine ( aka goosegrass, kisses, cleavers, sticky bobs, sticky willy, sweethearts and robin run the hedge) is more common and is a 'scrambler"; it is also an annual. Read more...
That seeds are dispersed by animals is well known; most elementary texts on biology are littered with a variety of examples. Fruits (and their seeds) attract animals with the edible parts; from fleshy fruits - plums, mangoes, berries, cherries etc for frugivores, to various nuts. As the animal searches for and collects the fruits (monkeys in the forests, squirrels in the woodlands), some may be lost or discarded on the journey ‘home’. Other fruits / seeds cling to an animals by attaching to their fur / clothing using various hooks or barbs – a classic example being cleavers or goosegrass.
Some seeds are dispersed incidentally; they may be lurking in muddy soil and adhere to the hoof or foot of an animal, bird or human, or be carried some distance by car or tractor tyres.
However, many species of plants have an ‘unseen’ army of helpers – ANTS. Ants disperse seeds in two distinct ways. Read more...