Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dandelions (Taraxacum species)



Dandelions flower all year, but the main flush is towards the end of April: this is the time when you notice those golden-yellow riots on verges, roundabouts and over-rich pasture. (I remember reading somewhere that St. George's Day, April 23, is the traditional day for making dandelion wine.)

The flower-heads have two moments when they appear perfect, the first being when the flower opens dazzlingly to the sun, and the second (a couple of weeks later) being the clock, that wonderful hazy globe.

But one thing I'd never really thought about before was how do you get from one to the other? The "petals" - florets I suppose I mean - have completely disappeared. So what happens to them?



It turns out to be quite a complicated process. First the flower closes up, so it looks like a cartridge surrounded by the inner bracts. The petals start to shrink and twist and wither, becoming stuck together like the rippled pages of a damp book. Initially the florets are attached to the capitulum, but as the achenes below extrude their feathery pappi, the upward pressure detaches the matted florets from the capitulum and pushes them out of the top of the cartridge-case. There they dry out and eventually fall off as a single pellet, like ash off a tailor-made. A day or so later, the bracts bend outwards and then reflex, opening the clock.

No wonder we usually miss that inconspicuous pellet when it goes to ground among the tangle of leaves and small debris of the soil surface. This one, happily, was left hanging in suspension by a blade of grass that got caught in the works.



And, nothing in nature being really perfect, it sometimes happens that the mechanism doesn't quite fire...

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Prunus 'Shirofugen'





Photos taken on 20th April 2014, when the flowers are coming out. I wanted to capture that heavenly dusting of wine pink, which is one of the most uplifting sights I know.

"Shirofugen" means "White Buddah". Look at a young tree and you'll maybe catch the resemblance.

One of the most ancient Japanese cherry varieties, and surely the most amazing. Spreads laterally, so be prepared to sacrifice plenty of space.

The two pictures from 2010 near the end of the post (book-ending my poem) show a slightly later phase of flowering.
















they shouted in the pouring autumn rain
calidad. You bent down and opened the post to
the market towns grass in a wild square Det var spread ingen knarkare.
Luxurious the chil - dren's ca - rou - sel
one sheet to one side, and we were constantly adding nodes
maten på burk lan and everyone was getting angry, the same boring lawsuits afterwards into the
crowded sod circle, and a pebble, and we did tip; I was hooked.

Anemone. White side
I said I thought it would be about four o'clock, and I hesitated then.
I thought it would
to you, you know. el mayor azote de la humanidad

rippling time, his hands welcoming, yet exposing a mark of interrogation




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Sunday, May 09, 2010

Aesculus x carnea, Red Horse Chestnut



A hybrid between the European Horse Chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum and a small American tree, the Red Buck-Eye Aesculus pavia. The hybrid isn't very well-formed, the flowers vary a lot in colour and development and the leaves are always a bit warped and sticky with aphids. But they do make a nice Fleurs du Mal study, the pink-striped anthers breaking to chocolate. Some flowers (though none in these pictures) have long white snaky stigmas too. Shaded flowers often lack any red colouring.

Red Horse Chestnut (as Alan Mitchell vengefully noted) "suffers from a canker, so is fortunately not long-lived". But since he wrote those words, bleeding canker has infected most of the European Horse Chestnut trees in the UK.




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Monday, May 03, 2010

"oxlip"



This is false oxlip (Primula x polyantha (vulgaris x veris)), a frequent natural hybrid of primrose (Primula vulgaris) and cowslip (P. veris), and the only sort of oxlip you are ever going to see in the UK, unless you go to the curiously restricted area in Cambridgeshire/Suffolk where the true oxlip (P. elatior), which has a one-sided nodding umbel, completely replaces the primrose. [nb. Peter Llewellyn, whose ukwildflowers website is strongly recommmended, says that the above piece of information, derived from Stace, appears to be untrue; in Waresley Wood Cambs, primroses grow alongside the oxlips and frequently hybridize, producing Primula x digenea (vulgaris x elatior).]

Philologically, however, it seems that the English word "oxlip" was originally applied to the primrose/cowslip hybrid pictured above, not to the species. It is obviously just a folk-masculinization of cowslip, referring to its larger flowers. The second part of these attractive names comes from "slyppe", OE for slimy poo, in other words a fresh cowpat or cowslop.

So in this case "ox" means a male cow. What is odd and nearly unique about these animals is that they don't really have a common non-gender-specific kind-name in the singular - there's no equivalent to horse, pig or sheep. We just call them cows (if female) or bull (if male). "Ox" would pass, according to the dictionary, though this can also mean a castrated male, and anyway it certainly has no place in common idiomatic English. "Cattle" is plural and anyway is not strictly limited to them but to all pasture animals. In France the kind-name is boeuf. Among farmers this French usage sometimes re-emerges: "It was a surprise to me that none of the beef was finished on grass". The other animal that doesn't have a non-gender-specific kind-name is us. "Man" is rightly not acceptable now, and in its ancient use was gender-specific, in my opinion: women were simply exluded from the kind of academic or theological discourse in which "Man" was used, as a matter of little concern. The short intervening period in which "Man" was taken up as consciously meaning "men AND women" was always conflicted and unstable, always tending to drop back into frank medieval chauvinism, never quite managing to connote what the academic community wanted it to denote.

"Primrose", another pretty name, seems to have developed by a sort of false etymology from "primerole". According to this etymology it would then mean the prime or first "rose" of the year. The flower-shape, because of its notched petals, does after all strongly resemble the shape of a natural rose such as the sweetbriar, the type of all flowers and all beauty in the folk-imagination.

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