Monday, 19 April 2010

Ancient

When you look at the gloriously flowering Magnolia trees at this time of year, take a moment to think that these plants are among the oldest known flowering plants on the planet. The Magnolia family of plants has been around for at least 95 million years and the flowers developed before the evolution of bees to pollinate them.
You will notice that the petals, although very pretty, are rather thick and 'leathery'. This is a defence mechanism to stop the beetles which originally pollinated them, from eating through to get to the nectar and pollen within. This fine specimen is to be found growing in a garden near Malcolm's mum's house and is a Magnolia soulangeana, a hybrid between Magnolia denudata and Magnolia liliiflora. So, that's clear!
A strange plant next, which was to be seen flowering in the beds around the old Hall site on Shipley Hill. The Stinking Hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) has a nasty name, which relates to the scent of the flowers. Also known as 'Dungwort' it is a member of the Buttercup family. You may be more familiar with another member of this family, the Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger).
All parts of this plant are poisonous, containing glycosides. Symptoms of intoxication include violent vomiting and delirium.
It's not just the flowers which provide the colour on Shipley Hill. These two pictures are of a Tibetan Cherry tree (Prunus serrula).
The bark of this tree peels off in thin strips and reveals a rich, reddish golden colour as the new bark is exposed, leading to it's alternative name of Paper-bark Cherry. The colour almost glows in the sunshine, who needs flowers?
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