Thursday, June 26, 2008

studies in hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

profusion of June

The agony of being a botanist, I just want to stop the clock, right now, because there's far too much to keep up with, and never pass on to the desert of December. For non-botanists June is when you give up looking at plants altogether, because there are just too many - the flowers that are known to everyone are nearly all spring flowers. But I don't really want to stop the clock either, because what is a real living plant if it isn't a process through time, always changing, and if there were no winters there would be no summers, and life is something we can't ever hold in our hands and catalogue, and this is good, but it's agony.

Anyway here are some samples of June caught in the aspic of my studio, which is in fact the kitchen sideboard with IKEA underlighting.

Were the town of Frome to be abandoned by human beings it would very soon be an ashwood. In the lowlands by the river there would also be lots of this, which is corky-fuited water-dropwort (Oenanthe pimpinelloides), a plant that springs up in surprising quantities whenever it's given a chance, which is not often, except on certain estates where the chore of civilizing the gardens has been abandoned. The other interesting weed around here is some sort of wild plum that I've never understood. Local gardeners who patiently try to eradicate it say that it never flowers, but this is folklore; I have seen it flowering dully when allowed to become a tall sapling in wasteland. It must be very fertile because it's in every garden, and I think of this submerged population as a flourishing orchard in the days after oil.

Flowers and (below) fruits - the satellite flowers are evidently just for show.

Other kinds of water-dropwort grow actually in the flow of the river, and though this sort has migrated into valley meadows the leaves still sing a fluvial song.

Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), large handsome tree native to the Eastern USA, widely grown here in towns and parks - the flowers are usually too high up to see, and when I managed to reach up and pick one I felt like I was witnessing something I was never supposed to see.

(the kichen sideboard gets a bit cluttered in June, and the grass that has crept into the back of this picture is rat's-tail fescue...)

Laura found a new pet between the panes of a sash window in an old house. Unfortunately Dragonfly wasn't up to the rigours of being petted, flourished in the face of strangers, and carried around in a side pocket, and soon broke into three pieces - the abdomen, the eyes, and the rest. A dragonfly's wings are a very primitive design, the analogy with a bi-plane is inevitable. Compare it with a house-fly's wing, the very latest in smart technology - many less "veins" (they are actually structural, not conductive) but far better positioned so the whole contruction is stronger, and the hind-wings phased out completely, or rather, converted into ingenious little balancing sensors called halteres whose precise function aerodynamic engineers still haven't quite figured out. But still, this wing-design works very well for the after all quite demanding needs of dragonflies, but I suppose hunting over water is a niche market in the grand scheme of things, anyway, "classic design", "stood the test of time", etc.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

wet rocks on mountains

This was an eye-catching little plant that I snapped on our week-end expedition, near the foot of Cambridge Crag on Bow Fell, Cumbria. But just how pretty it was I didn't fully appreciate until I put this close-up up on screen.

I spent a couple of hours yesterday evening trying to identify it and I almost gave up, in fact toyed with the shameful thought of posting it as "unidentified" and pleading with someone to tell me what it was; secretly hoping, of course, that no-one would be able to, and that I was the discoverer of some incredible alpine rarity... though common sense suggested this was a bit unlikely, the summit of Bow Fell being after all one of the most walked-over bits of mountain landscape in England.

Eventually doggedness won out, as on the walk itself, and I worked out that it was Starry Saxifrage, Saxifraga stellaris. What threw me was that Francis Rose, in his generally impeccable Wild Flower Key, chose not to describe the plant except in a single line in very small print in the keys - a surprising decision considering that Starry Saxifrage is such a pretty plant and isn't even very uncommon, at least among wet rocks on mountains.

Bow Fell is the one furthest off. Next to it are the five summits of Crinkle Crags, which we subsequently toiled over before returning, some eleven hours after we set out, to the pleasingly level fields of Great Langdale, by this time half-deliriously revolving the words in Thomas the Rymer about the "steep narrow way" and the "lillie leven".


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