Tuesday, 30 June 2009

ABC Wednesday - X

X is for Xanthoria

A few weeks ago I was asked, if I knew what the red/orange covering was that had taken over one of the old wild plums, that live between the hedge and the vegetable patch. "Super colour" I said
moving closer. "Not a clue".

Interest peaked I turned to the old www and trawled tree problems, no luck. Then running out of options I came, can't remember how, to lichens. More trawling until I came to one that looked the right colour, lived in a maritime environment (tick) and on trees (tick). I then looked at the name Xanthoria Pareintina. I then went zip-a-dee-do-da and did a little mental jig. One of those difficult letters of the alphabet had just fallen like a ripe plum into my hand.
Lichen are fascinating things. They are not one organism but at least two consisting of a fungi and algae combined. Simon Schwendener was the first to discover the dual nature in 1869. This was a revolutionary idea that was not believed by a lot of scientists at the time.

Is it symbiosis or parasitism? The algae can produce food from sunlight, fungi provide protection and absorb nutrients from the surface. I needed to know more. One of the websites mentioned a book by William Purvis as a good starting point so I headed for Abebooks
and now I own a copy. Lovely pictures and an written in an accessible style. He favours the symbiosis theory as together they can colonise habitats that would be impossible as single entities. Certainly the more attractive option.

(Put me in mind of the Star Trek Deep Space Nine Dax/Trill symbiosis, which made you wonder if you would have one of those trill slimy things latched onto your spine, although you did get to be very clever and have memories of past hosts. OK I'll go with that. What do you mean it isn't real).

The older the woodland the more lichen there are. Colour is the main way to identify lichen and Xantharia contains an orange pigment, parietin, and is yellow/orange. Chemical tests are used to identify and classify. Apparently a drop of caustic potash on Xanthoria changes it to a deep purple red, Here is the adjoining plum tree which also has the grey Physcia lichen
Lichen are all around us and all over the world in every environment, on every type of surface, each a fascinating miniature ecosystem. I'm off to learn more, because as Alexander Pope wrote

A little learning is a dangerous thing,
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring,
These shallow draughts intoxicate the brain
And drinking largely sobers us again

X marks the spot of ABC Wednesday, go there and you will find treasure.

Monday, 29 June 2009


A walk on the Millom tidal embankment is enjoyable on a gloriously hot summer's day. Only a zephyr of a wind rustled the grass. A contrast to the last time we walked this way when a cooling wind howled across the estuary.
As we turned to return through the lanes there was a large clump of what I think are Himalayan Balsam, or Poor Man's Orchid, under the trees. These were the only two in flower, the rest looked as though they were waiting for July.

Friday, 26 June 2009


A sunny breezy day as we set off from the Ribblehead Viaduct to walk up to the top of Whernside to enjoy the views. The last time we were here, some years ago, staying at Horton-in Ribblesdale for the week, it rained every day but one. The day to Whernside was one of those rainy days so no views from the top. No different today either as the wind increased and the mist rolled in. On the plus side no need for weatherproofs and no mud as the ground is quite dry after a spell of good weather.
Stopped for a drink of water on the top, sheltering, on the west side of the wall, out of the wind but mist all around us. See the opening to the right of the trig point? I believe this was part of a the millennium project . The dry stone wall had fallen into disrepair, so it was completed rebuilt and two easy access openings put in so you can shelter on whichever side the wind is not blowing.
Coming down out to deep mist to slight mist, all the hills had little caps of cloud on them and this view was the best it was going to get.
Back to Ribblehead as the train trundles over the top, and the mist still hangs on the top of Whernside. Will it be third time lucky next time?

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

ABC Wednesday - W

W is for Wall

Celebrated by the poet Norman Nicholson in his poem called simply 'Wall' (complete version here)

The wall walks the fell-
Grey millipede on slow
Stone hooves;
Its slack back hollowed
At gulleys and grooves,
Or shouldering over
Old boulders
Too big to be rolled away.
Fallen fragments
Of the high crags
Crawl in the walk of a the wall.
Dry stone walls criss-cross uplands, pastures and climb moors and fells. Many of Britain's field walls were built between 1500-1900. The greatest construction would have been between 1760 and 1845 during the 'Enclosures Act' when the larger landowner were avaricious for the more land in the fertile areas of lowland Britain. The long walls stretching over the hills of the uplands are probably the most recent. They are a testament to the craftsmen who climbed carrying stones and tools, both they and the walls standing up to all the elements.

Some walls are in better shape than others, this one climbing the slope has seen better days and has been replaced by a barbed wire fence. The old gate post still stands.
An old caravan used to stand in this corner by a farm and it was used by walkers as a way marker. Over the years it became more and more derelict as it gently rusted away now all that is left is the wall.
Looking over the estuary on a hazy day, notice the hole in the bottom of the wall. This is a hog hole or sheep creep so they can move from field to field. This little group seem quite settled.
Lastly, I thought there was a little too much grey stone in these snaps so here is a nice red rose in front of a rebuilt dry stone after it collapsed. Seems to be doing quite well so far as it is still standing. Its an ongoing amateur project, not mine I hasten to add. My role is just to make encouraging noises.
Waltz over to see more Ws at ABC Wednesday

Monday, 22 June 2009

Escallonia Buzzing

The Escollonia is in full flower and the local honey bees have arrived, in their hundreds, and can't get enought of it. The buff-tailed humble bee has arrived. Here is another picture showing the pollen tucked away on its legs. The two hind legs are longer than the other pairs and the pollen is deposited on the stiff hairs, the yellow pollen is on two pairs of legs here.
Aren't bees wonderful. The larger bumble bees are my favourites, I always wonder what they feel like if you stroked them. I've never attempted this, even when an early year dozy one has appeared. I have been stung by wasps, and my curiosity does not include wanting to find out if bee stings are more, or less, painful.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

ABC Wednesday - V

V could be for Verbena, just planted, which requires little care and flowers prolifically, but has to put up with claggy clay soil here. If it had a choice it would probably prefer well drained sandy soil such as may be found round this Village in Kent, a county sometimes called the Garden of England

Villages nestle in Valleys but in more dangerous times it was probably better to know who was coming to see you, and a higher view would be safer. Here is the Iron Age Fort (that bit on the end of Table Mountain in Wales) which gives clear sight.
If you walk along the ridge to Pen Allt Mawr and even better view, nobody can sneak up that way either. Today it is a rather more peaceful scene with a patchwork of little fields.
Yes my V is for Valleys. June is a beautiful time for them when everything is fresh, and subtle and vivid colours lay against each other. The vivid yellow of the flowering rape stands out
but perhaps the subtle yellow of wild flowers in the meadows is prettier.
The coal mining areas of south Wales are usually referred to as The Valleys. A century ago the Dare Valley was one of those coal mining areas. These days have long gone, and in 1970s the land was reclaimed, by removing the coal tips, grassing over some of the spoil heaps, rerouting the River Dare, creating 2 lakes and tuning the area into the Dare Valley Country Park. Nature returned.
All that is left of the 4 colleries are the capped shafts
Yes what could be better than to stand in a valley, lean on a five barred gate and watch the world go by, or really just a few sheep.
The Cistercian monks in the middle ages probably thought that when they built the beautiful sandstone Furness Abbey here in the Valley of the Deadly Nightshade ( a wonderfully evocative name). They grew wealthy from the wool of sheep, and the labour of the local populace, until Henry the Eighth came along.

For a variety of more Vs go over to ABC Wednesday

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

ABC Wednesday - U

U is for Umbelliferae

Umbellifers, so called because the whole head looks like a flat topped umbrella. There are hundreds of different types in the wild and in our gardens. Angelica, Astrantias, Carrots, Fennel and Parsley, all are of this family.

The froth of Cow Parsley, sometimes known as Gypsy's Umbrella, in our country lanes shouts - watch out her comes summer. Other species prefer damper, watery areas.
The Hawthorn drips with blossom and Summer has announced her arrival. Its white flower confetti all over the land.
What wonderful names our Umbellifer have been given. Sweet Cicely, which when crushed, is aromatic, a sort of sweet delicate aniseed. Wild Celery from which the crisp, sweet stalks of our table celery were evolved by gardeners long ago, although in its wild state apparently it is, coarse, acrid and probably poisonous. Not something you would want to use as crudites. Whorled Caraway, Shepherd's Needle, Moon Carrot, Fool's Parsley, Slender Hare's Ear. Then there is Pignut whose root may be eaten raw, but best when boiled or roasted like a chestnut. Insects love Umbellifers for their sugary sweetness
but beware, for these plants have also their dark side. One of their number is Hemlock, a favourite poison of witches and the ancient Greeks. This was the potion the philosopher Socrates imbibed. RIP Socrates. Hemlock can be mistaken for a similar culinary plant if the red blotches on its stem are not noticed, and then its other name of dead man's fingers may become all too true.

But lets listen to Obi One Kenobi and turn to the light and celebrate these exuberant plants as they inhabit the margins, the lanes, damp grassy places, marshes, seaside, the still and flowing water of this years summer. I'll finish with a picture of one sharing the canal side with an iris, just because I love yellow as well.

Go to ABC Wednesday and you can see more U