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Garden visitors

by Chris ~ 18 July, 2018 ~ comments welcome








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Fires and climate change

Fires and climate change

by Chris ~ 17 July, 2018 ~ comments welcome

The recent hot spell has seen a number of fires, not only in the UK but across the world (Arizona , Victoria Australia, Indonesia).  Spells of extreme heat (and drought) have been known throughout history but it would seem that with climate change / global warming extreme events have become more common.   Data show that the years of the 21st century are among the warmest on record - global air temperatures have risen by 1oC since the industrial revolution.

Extreme temperatures have been recorded in many places across the globe.   Ouargla in Algeria soared to 124.3o F (51.3oC), Denver recorded at temperature of 105o F, Montreal recorded 97.9o F, Glasgow hit 89.4o F, Shannon in Ireland reached 89.6o F, Tbilisi (Georgia) soared to 104.9o F and parts of Pakistan are reported to have reached 50oC.   No record by itself can be ascribed to global warming but these and many other records across the globe are consistent with the extremes that can now be expected (more often) in a world that is warming - as atmospheric greenhouse gas levels increase due to human activity (we have entered the anthropocene).

Hot and dry conditions mean that plant material can dry out quickly, so that a thicker layer of pant material / litter is formed - which provides significant fuel for fires.   Studies of some areas suggest that the increased Winter and Spring rainfall (again associated with climate change) encourages plant growth, creating more material for fires (when dry conditions obtain later in the year). Read more...

Flowers, nectar and 'mad honey'

Flowers, nectar and ‘mad honey’

by Chris ~ 13 July, 2018 ~ 3 comments

Nectar is a sugar-rich liquid produced by special glands on a plant.  These glands are normally associated with the flowers - but not always.  Floral nectaries are often found at the base of the petals so that a visiting insect picks up or deposits pollen whilst collecting the nectar.  The visitor thus 'helps’ the plant to reproduce / set seed.   Common pollinators are bumblebees, bees, wasps, moths, butterflies and hummingbirds;  less common pollinators are flies, ants, possums and bats.

However, nectaries can be found elsewhere on a plant - on leaves, leaf stalks (petioles), stems and fruits; these are extra-floral nectaries. Read more...

Wood spurge and The Euphorbias.

Wood spurge and The Euphorbias.

by Lewis ~ 11 July, 2018 ~ comments welcome

Wood spurge can be seen at this time of year, its yellow-green floral structures (cyathia*) appear in late spring to early summer.   The wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides) is a perennial that can grow to a height of about 80 cm.  It flourishes in relatively dry locations, such as the dry shady areas under trees and may colonise an area quite quickly - by means of its underground rhizomes  (indeed, it can become quite invasive).

The wood spurge is a member of the Euphorbiaceae (aka the Spurge Family) - which contains some 2000+ species distributed across the world.


Comfrey,  Symphytum officinale

Comfrey,  Symphytum officinale

by Lewis ~ 10 July, 2018 ~ comments welcome

Comfrey is a perennial plant that belongs to the family known as the Boraginaceae.  Plants in this family are characterised by being particularly hairy.  It is grows in damp places - like ditches, river banks, the sides of streams.  Comfrey can grow to a height of 1.5 metres - with a strong central (and hairy) stem .  The basal leaves (near the ground) are stalked and large  (see image below) - being some 15 to 25 cm in length; they are also soft and hairy.  Leaves higher up the stem are narrower and lack obvious leaf stalks (petioles) - see featured image (adjacent). Read more...

Silicon in plants

Silicon in plants

by Chris ~ 9 July, 2018 ~ one comment

Oxygen, silicon and aluminium are the three most common elements in the Earth’s crust; the aluminosilicates (and related compounds) make up up much of the inorganic skeleton of the soil.  So, though silicon is abundant in nature, silicon is rarely talked about in terms of plant nutrition.  People speak of nitrates, phosphates, potassium, and NPK fertilisers,; however, the Chinese make use of some thirty million tons of silicon fertiliser a year.

Certain plants are known to make use of silicon (especially the grass family - the Poaceae, formerly the Graminae).  Plants take up silicon (in the form of monosilicic acid) and transport it within their tissues, often depositing in the form of silica aka silicon oxide (SiO2).  In grasses, silica can make up 2 - 5% of the dry leaf mass. Read more...

The Magic of Foraging - a river-bank exploration in St Albans

The Magic of Foraging – a river-bank exploration in St Albans

by Angus ~ 5 July, 2018 ~ comments welcome

"At the moment I'm trying to work out why we use salt and pepper as standard at table.  I mean, why not salt and ... fennel or hogweed seeds or nutmeg or cloves or cinnamon?"  This sort of research is typical of Richard Osmond "Chief Forager" who runs the best wild food pub in the country with George Fredenham, another experienced forager.  They both have an infectious curiosity about everything, especially if it's around their taste buds and finding out what's growing out there.  Recently, I went on a foraging walk with them along the river Ver which runs through St Albans and as it was mid June the river bank was exploding with edible stuff - and a few things which you certainly shouldn't get anywhere near your mouth. Read more...

Owls and Boxes - Part 1.

Owls and Boxes – Part 1.

by Chris Saunders ~ 2 July, 2018 ~ comments welcome

What is it about the owl that is so endearing and compelling – its eyes, its face, its silent mastery of flight, or the web of myths and stories that surrounds its nocturnal life? For sure, nothing can beat staying over in a wood and hearing tawny owls, and even better knowing they count your wood as part of their territory.

When we were getting to know our wood 18 months ago we heard tawny owls, usually some distance away, and the thought struck that a nest box might bring them nearer, and give us the chance of a view. There was the choice of making one from several designs from the internet, or buying a ready made one. We decided on buying from the Barn Owl Trust. Read more...

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