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The sycamore : Acer pseudoplatanus.

The sycamore : Acer pseudoplatanus.

by blogs at woodlands, 30 December, 2021, 0 comments

Acer pseudoplatanus is known as the sycamore in the U.K, or the sycamore maple in the United States. It was first described in botanical terms by the Swedish naturalist Carl von Linné in 1753.  It is thought that the sycamore is an introduced species, as its native range is central Europe and Western Asia.  It probably arrived in this country in the Tudor period (circa 1500 CE).  That it has no old native names is perhaps indicative of its absence before Tudor times, (Some say it has been here longer and have suggested that it persisted in Scotland).  It was recorded in the wild in Kent in 1632.  The sycamore is probably best regarded as a neophyte.  A neophyte is a plant that is not native to a particular area / region and has been introduced in recent history. Whatever its background, the sycamore is now to be found spread across the country. Its spread is due in no small part to the capacity of a single tree to produce many hundreds, indeed thousands of seeds.  The seeds are ‘winged’.  The wing of each seed develops from an extension of the ovary wall.  Two seeds are joined together to form a structure termed a double samara - a 'helicopter-like' device.  The wings catch the wind and the fruit rotates as it falls from the tree. This slows the descent and enables seed dispersal over a greater distance.  The sycamore has been deliberately introduced in a number of countries as it is tolerant of air pollution, salt spray and wind and it readily invades disturbed ground (abandoned farmland, brownfield sites, roadsides etc).  It is now regarded as an invasive species in, for example, New Zealand.  The leaves of the sycamore are simple but large. Each leaf has five distinct lobes and five veins radiate from the base of the leaf into the lobes. The edge of the leaf is somewhat ‘ragged’ with rounded 'teeth'. The lower surface may bear some hairs. The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs around the twigs / stem. In Autumn,  heavy leaf fall can mean that the ground under a sycamore tree can be smothered with a significant layer of the leaves, consequently the diversity of the ground flora underneath the tree may suffer. In spring and summer, the leaves can support large populations of aphids. Evidence of aphids on the leaves may be seen in the form of honeydew; this is the sugary waste of their feeding.   It may fall onto lower leaves (and cars); it provides food for flies and other insects.  The aphids themselves are a food source for ladybirds.  Sometimes the leaves are covered with small, red 'blobs' / projections - these are galls caused by a mite (a small spider-like creature).  The female mite lays eggs in these structures. Sycamores can be coppiced, that is, cut down to a stump which will rapidly produce new growth - for poles etc.  The timber of the sycamore is close grained, white to cream in colour that turns ‘golden’ with age.  It can be used in making musical instruments (violins), furniture, wood flooring There are many other species in the genus Acer, for example, Acer platanoides - the Norway Maple, Acer campestre - the Field Maple, Acer palmatum - Japanese Maple, and Acer saccharum - the Sugar Maple.  All of these have a (diploid) chromosome number of 26. Interestingly, the sycamore has a chromosome number of 52 - the number of chromosomes per cell has doubled.  The sycamore is a polyploid. A couple of interesting historical points about sycamore ;  The Tolpuddle Martyrs' Tree is a very old sycamore. The tree was used as a meeting point (in 1833) for six local agricultural labourers to discuss low wages and their poor living / working conditions.  They are associated with the birth of the trade unionist movement.  The 'Tolpuddle Martyrs' (as they came to be known) were sentenced to seven years of penal labour in Australia and were transported to Botany Bay. Dule trees were used as gallows for public hangings and also used as gibbets for the display of the corpse after such hangings.  One such dule tree lies within the grounds of Leith Hall, near Huntly, Aberdeenshire. This tree is a sycamore. The strong timber of sycamore made it a favoured tree for this purpose. [caption id="attachment_36329" align="aligncenter" width="645"] emerging leaves[/caption]  
Woodlands web updates 7

Woodlands web updates 7

by blogs at woodlands, 2 October, 2021, 0 comments

The British Dragonfly Society has produced a report “State of Dragonflies, 2021”.  Dragonflies display the usual characteristics of insects, three pairs of jointed legs, three clear divisions to the body, compound eyes and a pair of antennae.  They also have two  pairs of (transparent) wings.  The hindwings are broader than the forewings so they belong to the group - Anisoptera (from the greek unequal wings).  They can fly fast and manoeuvre well.  Their ancestors were some of the first winged insects to evolve. The report notes that Many species have increased their distribution (since 1970), for example, the emperor dragonfly,  the ruddy darter. Though some like the black darter seem to be in decline; this may be associated with a lack of heathland management and the drying of blanket bog areas. Several species have arrived in Britain from Southern Europe for the first time, with others returning after long absences.  The vagrant emperor is a long distance migrant from Africa and the Middle East. It is thought that it might now be breeding more regularly in Southern Europe so that some now migrate northwards more often. Dragonflies are moving northwards across Britain and Ireland (associated with warming temperatures and climate change) Whilst the distribution of species has increased, the actual numbers of different species is not known so it is not possible to say if dragonfly numbers have increased overall. However, compared to many reports on the collapse of insect numbers, it would seem that that many dragonfly species are responding to climate warming and an increase in the number of ponds (for example, see the woodlands blog of the restoration of ghost ponds in Norfolk), lakes, gravel pits in recent years. The larval stages of dragonflies (nymphs) are spent in water. Apart from changing the distribution of various animals (and plants), climate change can have other effects.  Some homeotherms ‘warm blooded’ animals (birds and mammals) are undergoing changes in their body form or ‘shape shifting’.  Sara Ryder et al of Deakin University, Australia has studied several species of Australian parrot and has found that their beak size has increased since the nineteenth century:  this increase in beak size is thought to be associated with better heat exchange.  Other research has reported on changes to tail length in wood mice, also tail and leg size in masked shrews.  The changes are generally less than 10% but they do seem to be responses to changing climatic conditions. Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) is a tall, clump forming grass with attractive plumes that can find a home at the coast, in town or in your garden.  It was originally a species native to South America. However, it now has a much wider distribution, mainly due to its use as an ornamental plant though it was also used in South Africa to control erosion on dumps around mines. Each plume can produce tens of thousands of seeds.  Consequently, it is now regarded as an invasive species in many countries. It has expanded across industrial and urban areas, squeezing out native species in coastal regions of France, Spain and Portugal, Now the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) has introduced a system to recognise the threats posed by harmful species (such as Pampas Grass)  - The Environmental Impacts Classification of Alien Taxa.

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