Thursday, 30 June 2011


The Pyracantha in our back garden has - like so many plants at this time of year - a great many Greenfly attached to it's new shoots.  These diminutive insects are constantly being tended to by the Black Ants.
The ants 'Farm' the aphids, tending to them and chasing off any other animal which might threaten them - including me as I tried to photograph them.
The ants are not doing this for purely unselfish reasons.  The aphids, as a result of their sucking sap from plants, produce a sweet, liquid from their rear-ends, known as Honey-dew.  The ants find this liquid very tasty and feed on it.  Thus, the relationship is a symbiotic one.  Fun and fascinating to watch though.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

New ticks

Two new ticks for my plants 'life-list' this morning.  Firstly a plant which I have seen before, but only positively identified this morning.  It was a Hedge Bedstraw (Gallium mullugo Now called Gallium album).  Tiny-flowered and sprawling about in the grasses, it made up for it's lack of flower size, by sheer numbers.
Secondly, another small, white flower, but this time not produced in such numbers.  Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum).  Sprawling again amongst the lower plants at the side of the footpath, this one needed to have a closer look and took some identifying.
For such a delightful little plant, it has a chequered past.  It used to go by the name of Purging Flax - which gives some idea of it's use!  Purging flax was often used in the past as a gentle laxative, and also for the treatment of muscular rheumatism, liver complaints, jaundice and catarrhal problems.  It is no longer used in modern herbalism however, a homeopathic remedy is made from the plant. It is used in the treatment of bronchitis, piles and amenorrhoea.  What a handy little flower!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011


The name 'Burnet' is shared between the Burnet Moths (mentioned last Friday) and a group of plants called, Great Burnet and Salad Burnet.  This morning, we found a stand of Great Burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis).
The leaves are supposed to taste of cucumber and are as such, commonly used throughout the world as a salad ingredient.  It is also cultivated for it's medicinal properties which include the inhibiting of bleeding, and treatment of menstrual problems as well as being used as an external wound application.  The red, globular flower heads stand out above the plant and look good too.
About the same height, but far less colourful, is the second of this morning's plants.  This is a grass known as Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis).  I fell in to the trap of thinking it was the very similar Timothy Grass when we saw it growing along the path, but closer inspection has revealed the mix-up.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Great & Tall

Two common flowering plants for you today and ones which are rather easy to find around these parts.  Firstly, the Tall Melilot (Melilotis altissimus).  Another member of the Pea family, they sometimes go by the name of Sweet Clover and are found all over Europe, Asia and parts of North Africa.  It is used in some parts of the world as a green manure to help soil nitrogen levels.
Culpepper says of Melilot... "Melilot, boiled in wine, and applied, mollifies all hard tumours and inflammations that happen in the eyes, or other parts of the body, and sometimes the yolk of a roasted egg, or fine flour, or poppy seed, or endive, is added unto it. It helps the spreading ulcers in the head". Very useful and very pretty.
Secondly, the Greater Knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa).  A very useful plant for the feeding of many different caterpillar species, it is also very pretty and wouldn't look out of place in a garden border.
Culpepper waxes lyrical about this too, saying... "Knapweed helps to stay fluxes, both of blood at the mouth or nose, or other outward parts, and those veins that are inwardly broken, or inward wounds, as also the fluxes of the belly; it stays distillation of thin and sharp humours from the head upon the stomach and lungs; it is good for those that are bruised by any fall, blows or otherwise, and is profitable for those that are bursten, and have ruptures".  So, that's all OK!

Friday, 24 June 2011


This morning, I was bemoaning the fact that there seem to be very few butterflies around this year.  Walking around the parkland over the last couple of years, there have been quite a few both in number and species.  But this year, we have seen a few Orange-tips and a few Ringlets, but that's about all.  Having said that, this morning, we did find a Large Skipper (Ochlodes faunus).
The caterpillar of this butterfly, feeds on various grasses, especially the Cock's Foot, while the adults sip nectar from Bird's-foot Trefoil, Bramble, Dandelion, Knapweeds and many other common grassland flowers.
As with many Skipper butterflies, the adults sit with their fore-wings held at an angle to the hind-wings, giving them a strange look.Close by, a mating pair of 5-Spot Burnet Moths (Zygaena trifolii).
They were up to their 'business' on the stem of a grass, below an empty larval case which was still attached to the stem above them.  Common in the UK, these moths also like to feed on the Bird's-foot Trefoil flowers.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Flaming June

It must be Summer.  The wind is blowing, there is a little drizzle in the air and it's not too warm again this morning.  So, to cheer things up a bit, some random pictures from our walks over the past few weeks.
Firstly a tall, flowering plant from Mapperley woods.  The Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea).  Well-loved by the few bees which seem to be left these days, they add a nice splash of colour to the dark, undergrowth of the wood.
All parts of this plant are poisonous as they contain digitoxin, a highly toxic substance used to deadly effect in Agatha Christie's 'Appointment With Death'.
A little ray of sunshine next with a close-up view of a Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens) complete with shiny petal surface and a myriad of stamens at the centre.  Again, this is a poisonous plant, but cutting and drying for use in hay, eliminates the toxins making it edible as animal fodder.
Thirdly, a beady eye was being kept on us as we walked around the lakes of Straw's Bridge.  It belonged to a Canada Goose (Branta canadensis).  One of many which spend their days following people around in the hope that a bread bag will be taken out and the contents dispersed among their number.  Only when it is, does the fighting begin!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011


We didn't hold out much hope of a good walk this morning because the skies were threatening and a few light showers fell on us.  But having been caught in a couple of these, the sky cleared a bit and we pressed on to walk around Shipley Hill.  The wild-flower meadow which we crossed as we climbed the hill, was full to bursting with flowers.  Most of these seemed to be members of the pea family...
... White Clover, Red Clover, Birds-foot Trefoil, Tufted Vetch to name but four.  Also adding their colour were Common Sorrel, Buttercups and many species of grass.  Here is a larger picture of the meadow.  Click it for the full-size version.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011


Malcolm and I have been keeping an eye on a Coots nest built by the side of one of the smaller lakes which make up the Straw's Bridge area.  Each time we have visited over the past couple of weeks, the female bird has been sitting tight while the male has been picking around in the weed and the Water Horsetails which grow in the lake.  This morning's walk revealed that the family has successfully hatched just one egg and the resulting chick was following it's parents about on the water, demanding food.
The difference between the male and female parents is sometime tricky to see, but in the picture above, it is a bit more obvious as the Male (on the right) has a slightly larger white shield on it's head than the female.
The light on the water reflecting straight at me as I took the pictures, has resulted in some nice effects as the Coot chick bobbed about with it's rather weird, almost bald headed look.  Sweet little thing!
Coots can sometime be rather rough - not to say violent - with their offspring and are known to kill their own young in what seems to us to be a fit of' pique', but for now, this little one was being well looked after and it's parents were never far away, keeping a beady, red eye on their precious bundle.

Saturday, 18 June 2011


We are growing several things to eat in our garden this year.  Among the tomatoes, basil, carrots and peppers, we grew a couple of pots of Coriander plants (Coriandrum sativum).  The leaves have proven to be rather pungent and we have found that a little goes a very long way.  The flowers however, have been a revelation.
As part of the carrot family, including the Hogweed which I mentioned a few days ago, the leaves start off as flat and rather Parsley-like, but as the plant grows, it produces thin, feathery leaves more akin to carrots.  But it is certainly the flowers which are the stars of the show.
Like the Hogweed flowers, the petals of Coriander are larger on the outer edges of the inflorescence than those on the inside.  Tinged with a delicate pink they are worth growing for the flowers alone.

Thursday, 16 June 2011


Walking through the wonderful meadows around Pewit Carr this morning, we were impressed with the abundance of flower species to be found there.  From Red Fescue grasses to Yellow Rattle and from Buttercups to Orchids it's a real delight to see.
Among them all were a few Dandelion clocks ready to distribute their seeds on the breeze.
Looking rather like a minute firework display, the star-shaped 'parachutes' are formed by a hair-like structure called a Pappus which catches the breeze and takes to the skies ensuring the seeds are spread far and wide - mostly it seems, into our gardens and lawns!  Still, beautiful all the same.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011


Today's walk took us round Mapperley reservoir and, though the weather wasn't as bright as yesterday, it was still a nice morning.  as we walked through the woodland around the reservoir, a small beetle caught my eye, creeping around a Hogweed flower-head.
It turned out to be a Wasp Beetle (Clytus arietus).  Quite a good wasp mimic with it's yellow stripes across the  wing cases, it also acts like a wasp, moving in jerky movements, rapidly stopping and starting as a wasp would do.
The Wasp Beetle feeds on rotting wood while in it's larval stages but the adults feed on nectar and pollen from flowers despite the fearsome-looking jaws it was sporting which looked like they belonged to a more predatory species.  Another new 'tick' for my life list.  Malcolm wasn't as impressed as I was by the discovery of another 'creepy-crawly'!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


A solo walk for me this morning as Malcolm had an appointment with the optician.  So, as the weather was really nice, I set off round Shipley Hill, down to Mapperley Reservoir, through 'Bluebell Wood' and back home past the farm.  After all the rain over the weekend, all the plants seem to be putting on a growth spurt.  Not least of which are the grasses.  These are all growing rapidly and bursting into flower.
Not good news if you suffer from hey fever, but they nevertheless put on a good - if rather colourless - display.
Some are beginning to grow tall and they look stately as they nod in the breeze.
Closer to home and closer to the ground were the Birds-foot Trefoils which are also in full bloom right now.  always a great favourite with the bees, they're among my favourites too, particularly when you get down to their level for a bugs-eye view of them.

Monday, 13 June 2011

White Flowers

The hedgerows are full of flowers at the moment and by far the most numerous are white.  Among them are those of the Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium).  The outer petals of the outer flowers are much larger than the rest creating a 'feathery' effect to the umbel.
One of the most poisonous plants found in Britain, it has a photosensitive sap which can burn the skin when open to sunlight.  The whole genus contain mutagenic, carcinogenic and phototoxic properties.
The Elder (Sambucus nigra) flowers are in full bloom too with the promise of many black fruits later in the year.
I mentioned the Ox-eye Daisies a few days ago, but their bright, cheery flowers are always worth a second mention.  The fields are full of them at moment and the golden disc of true flowers in the centre are glorious.

Saturday, 11 June 2011


I thought it might be nice to take a few 'general' pictures of our walk this morning.  Just a short walk of little more than 3 miles as there are always so many other people on the weekend pathways.
We started, as we so often do, heading south from our estate into Shipley Park.
Wanting to get off the main paths, we went 'off piste' and across the flower-filled field.
Nearing the Nutbrook Canal, we crossed one of the many small bridges which cross and re-cross the brook and canal and which once carried coal, steel and various minerals on the hundreds of railway lines which criss-crossed this part of the walk.
Through the trees and out again into the sunshine to turn north-west along the route of more old railway lines which once supported the West Hallam Colliery.
This part of the walk is beautiful, but there are still some patches of ground which are sterile and barren, the result no doubt of poisoning from many years of industry.
Eventually, we turned off this path and headed north, taking us through the small collection of houses near Head House Farm.
Ignoring the attempt at intimidation by a Black Labrador and a Jack Russell, we walked on, past the farm.
Just beyond the farm building, the vista opens out again to take in the view of Shipley Hill past the old Oak trees which line the lane, known as Slack Road.  The bright yellow of millions of Buttercups can be seen in the middle distance in this picture.
Turning east again at the end of this lane, we started back for home...
... taking us through a small copse of Ash and Maple trees.
Out once more into open fields, we were 'buzzed' by two radio-controlled planes along this stretch of meadow and hedgerow.
Walking around the field instead of cutting across it lengthened the walk a little as it was such a nice day and at the far end, we crossed another small bridge which spans another small section of the old Nutbrook and then faced a short, but very steep climb up the bank.
The path then turns south for a while as we walked along the top of the bank.
Reaching the end of the track, we once again turned east, back down off the bank and into the estate once more, heading home for coffee.