Thursday, 28 April 2016

A-Z 2016 - Wildflowers 'X'

My theme this year is wild flowers. Most of us will be aware of the flowers that grow in our gardens but what surprises me is how few of the wild flowers that I know.

I pass them every day but rarely look at them. Well this year will be different - even if many of them fall under the letter 'X' for unknown.

'X' - Xique-Xique, X = Unknown

Not to be beaten I searched the net for a flower beginning with X. It would certainly be a sore point if you tangled with this Brazilian specimen,


Xique-Xique cactus
Can you make out that pink spot on one of the arms in the centre of the photo?

A close-up that I found elsewhere shows the flower and the cactus spikes you have to content with.


Xique-Xique flower
In the last year I have taken hundreds of photos of wildflowers, a vast number of which I've failed to identify. That's why I classified them 'X' - Unknown.

X1
Its stem is less than 3 inches long and its leaves give no clue to its name - a day later and it had gone.

X2
Here the leaves and the two buds at the right may give some help. If those buds resemble a bird's beak then this may be a Wood Crane's Bill.

Some flowers are just a pleasure to see even if they have finished up in my 'X' files.

X3 & X4
Please feel free to help me out if you are able to name any of these few examples.

Attributions:

  • Xique-Xique Cactus - 6 Oct 2013, Acilondiolivera, CC-BY-SA 3.0
  • Xique-Xique flower - 6 March 2014, Jose Pinlolo da Nobrega Alencar, CC BY-SA 3.0

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

A-Z Challenge 2016 - Wildflowers 'W'

My theme this year is wild flowers. Most of us will be aware of the flowers that grow in our gardens but what surprises me is how few of the wild flowers that I know.

I pass them every day but rarely look at them. Well this year will be different - even if many of them may fall under the letter 'X' for unknown.

'W' - Woodbine, White Deadnettle

For me the word woodbine has always been synonymous with the wartime cigarettes. I never expected it to give me a flower for the letter 'W'.


Woodbine in the early spring
It's a climbing plant that may be seen in hedgerows and in woods. The stems turn woody and silvery-grey as they mature.

The flowers soon become more pronounced with a promise of things to come.


Woodbine flower shaping up
Eventually flowers up to 5 inches long hang in clusters; creamy, white flowers turn cream and may be flushed with purple. At dusk their strong flowers attract moths; during the day they are pollinated by bees.

Woodbine
Of course you may know it by another name - also associated with bees - it's Honeysuckle to me.

It should be no surprise therefore to find that, if you pluck one of the flowers, you can suck nectar from the narrow end.

The honeysuckle (woodbine) has glossy scarlet berries in the autumn.


Honeysuckle outside our bedroom window

Another flower from which it is possible to suck nectar is one that I tasted regularly as a child.


White deadnettle
You would need to be careful here as it is growing among the stinging variety. Better to find one that is growing on its own.


White deadnettle
Its white flowers make it easy to find and identify at roadsides, in hedges, in woodlands and on waste ground.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

A-Z Challenge 2016 - 'V'

My theme this year is wild flowers. Most of us will be aware of the flowers that grow in our gardens but what surprises me is how few of the wild flowers that I know.

I pass them every day but rarely look at them. Well this year will be different - even if many of them may fall under the letter 'X' for unknown.

'V' Valerian, violets

I first becamed aware of Valerian when visiting Cornwall where it grows by roadsides and sprouts from walls.


Red Valerian (centranthus ruber)
It's also know by the name Red Jupiter's Beard.

The leaves have a bitter taste but if young leaves are boiled the taste disappears; they are used in 'gourmet' salads apparently

Butterflies and day-flying moths find its nectar irresistible. The downy seeds are easily spread by the wind.

Common Valerian (valeriana officialis) is the second of the three wild species that occur in Britain.


Common Valerian
This can grow to 5 feet tall in rough grassland, hedges and beside streams. Its flowers have a vanilla like smell, but it's the dried roots smelling like new leather that are attractive to cats.

The dried roots have also been used in linen drawers. Valerian has herbal uses - particularly as a nerve tonic, or to cure anxiety and to relieve the symptoms of St Vitus' dance and epilepsy.

Marsh Valerian has separate plants for male and female flowers and spreads by creeping stems. Its flowers are small and pale pink; its seeds disperse on feathery parachutes.



Common Dog Violet
Common Dog Violets are unscented and perhaps that is why their name implies that they are inferior in some way to the sweet violet.

The Sweet Violet is one of the first wild flowers to bloom after winter. Its delicious scent definitely lifts the spirits. Its flowers are a deep purple colour, or sometimes white like these I found in a local wood.

Sweet Violets (viola odorata)
Its leaves have a characteristic heart shape. In ancient Greece it was the flower of Aphrodite, the goddess of love as well as being the symbol of Athens.

Is petals were once strewn on cottage floors as an air-freshener. Other uses include in toiletries and confectionery.

Attributions:

  • Red Valerian - 21 May 2009, ex geograph.org.uk, by Rod Allday - CC BY-SA 2.0 generic
  • Common Valerian, Near River Leven, Scotland - 21 July 2007, ex geograph,org,uk, By Lainch Rig - CC BY-SA 2.0 generic
  • Common Dog Violet - 27 April 2007, ex geograph.org.uk, by Anne Burgess - CC BY-SA 2.0 generic

Monday, 25 April 2016

A-Z Challenge 2016 - Wildflowers - 'U'

My theme this year is wild flowers. Most of us will be aware of the flowers that grow in our gardens but what surprises me is how few of the wild flowers that I know.

I pass them every day but rarely look at them. Well this year will be different - even if many of them may fall under the letter 'X' for unknown.

'U' - Urtica, Uticularia

As you will see I have had to resort to Latin names again and 'urtica' for the second time in A-Z Challenges.

However for urtica dioica the emphasis this time is on how useful this plant/flower has been. I know it as the common - 

Nettle

Covered with stinging hairs this perennial has tough yellow roots and often forms large patches. Its flowers are small and hang down in loose spikes. Male and female flowers are on different plants.

It has been a source of  food, medicine and dyes since the Bronze Age. It contains iron, calcium, potassium and other trace elements, vitamins A and C and histamine. Its uses have been for treating internal and external bleeding and skin complaints such as eczema. It can lower blood sugar and is used for treating rheumatism.

Nettle leaves can be dried and used to make tea. Nettle beer can be made from the young tops; it may also be boiled and eaten as a vegetable which tastes like spinach - it's richer in iron and vitamins than spinach.

The mature plant once provided fibres to be spun into cloth for sheets and tablecloths.

Cattle are immune to the stinging hairs. Cut and dried nettle is fed to poultry, goats and cattle. Caterpillars of many butterflies (comma, small tortoiseshell, red admiral, peacock and painted lady) feed on nettle leaves


Uticularia vulgaris is an insect eating water plant which nourishes itself through its leaves. It's a plant I've never seen. its yellow flowers rise above the surface of lakes and ponds.

Bladderwort (uticularia vulgaris)
Air filled bladders grow on its finely divided, straggly leaves, The bladders catch small aquatic animals and digest the decomposed remains. The plant spreads by detached pieces of the submerged floating away and sinking to the bottom.

Attributions:
  • Nettle (uticaria dioica) - 7 July 2005, ex geograph.org.uk, by Mike Pennington, CC BY-SA 2.0 generic
  • Bladderwort (uticularia vulgaris), Wells Gray Provincial Park, BC - 14 June 2009, by Jason Holliger - CC BY-SA 2.0 generic

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Spineless invertebrates - Sunday Stamps II

There is nothing like a bit of tautology to confuse me after the blank week last week on 'mammals in the sea'. I thought that I would have a second blank week until I realised that insects are invertebrates and this would permit me to post - 


Great Britain - Anax imperator, 12 March 1985
It was only a short flight for a Emperor Dragonfly to pal up with a butterfly from the United States.

USA - Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, 1 June 2015
Those black stripes on the upper wings give it the 'Tiger' name.

I had to travel to the South Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea to find marine life on the Belize Coral Reef -

Belize - Red Cushion Star, 27 Feb 1984 (-1988)
Oreaster reticulatus can grow up to 50cm (20") in diameter. Most have five arms like the one on the stamp but some may have six or seven.

For more invertebrates follow the link at Sunday Stamps II - 71

Saturday, 23 April 2016

A-Z Challenge 2016 - Wildflowers 'T'

My theme this year is wild flowers. Most of us will be aware of the flowers that grow in our gardens but what surprises me is how few wild flowers that I know.


I pass them every day but rarely look at them. Well this year will be different - even if many of them may fall under the letter 'X' for unknown.

'T' - Tansy, Thistles

This is a shot taken alongside the River Tees at Yarm in North Yorkshire. You should recognise one of the flowers in it if you have visited 'I'



The pink flower is Indian Balsam but it's the yellow flower that was involved in a country practice, to eat in a Tansy pudding at Easter in remembrance of bitter herbs eaten by Jews at the Passover.

The Tansy can have up to 100 flower heads in its dense, flat-topped yellow clusters. An aromatic herb, its strong smell has medicinal and insecticidal properties. Its fern-like leaves once were used to staunch and to prevent miscarriages.

The ferny leaves may be used to spice up omelettes and cakes. At one time Tansy cakes were  a traditional Easter treat.

A more macabre use was its insect repellent properties to keep blowflies off meat and .... corpses!

In preparation for the Challenge over the last year I have taken hundreds of photos of flowers. Now I have have come to write the posts I have discovered that I should have paid more attention to their leaves as well if I was going to differentiate between species.

I never knew, for instance that there are 11 varieties of - 

Thistles
The AA Book of the British Countryside illustrates the various sorts.


Spear Thistle - the famous emblem of Scotland
This biennial which can grow to a height of 6ft grows in hedgerows, waste places and disturbed ground is regarded by many as a vigorous weed. There is no mistaking its prickly nature.

The welted, melancholy, musk and meadow thistle have no prickles. The stemless (or dwarf) thistle will make you painfully aware of its presence should you be unfortunate enough to sit down on one at a picnic.

The flowers of the cotton thistle (the tallest of them all) are covered in white hairs and the woolly's flowers with a white cotton like growth. I have not seen any of these nor the white flowers that make the carline thistle stand out.

Carline thistle
Attribution:
  • Carline thistle heads - 18 May 2008, ex geograph.org.uk, by May and Angus Hogg - CC BY-SA 2.0 generic.

Friday, 22 April 2016

A-Z Challenge 2016 - Wildflowers 'S'

My theme this year is wild flowers. Most of us will be aware of the flowers that grow in our gardens but what surprises me is how few wild flowers that I know.

I pass them every day but rarely look at them. Well this year will be different - even if many of them may fall under the letter 'X' for unknown.

'S' - Solomon's Seal, Sow Thistle

I have only seen this wild flower once and it took me some time to identify it.


Solomon's seal
The ribbed, lance-shaped leaves appear alternately up the curved stems. Tubular cream flowers, tipped with green, hang from each leaf node like pearls.


Solomon's seal
I now know that, in autumn, the flowers are followed by black fruit so this year I shall have to look for it then.

Its name refers to the shape of the scars on the leaf stock, said to resemble (apparently you need to use your imagination) the six-pointed star, like the Star of David, of the biblical King Solomon.

I discovered the plant alongside a disused farm road but apparently it is a woodland plant.


Much less impressive and what I've always regarded as a weed is the -


Sow thistle
The smooth sow thistle hardly differs from the prickly variety other than its foliage is darker, less glossy and has less prickly edges.

When its stems are broken it exudes a thick white sap, Pigs that eat it are said to have an increased milk flow after giving birth - hence its 'sow' name.

I've never tried it but when boiled and smothered it tastes like spinach. You may also eat it raw in salads - not that I would be brave enough.