Thursday, August 23, 2012

swedish wild flower diary - july 2012

This is the unexpected new arrival that greeted me when I arrived at the stuga in E. Jämtland on 12th July, growing on the "lawn" just beyond the bro. It is Lychnis viscaria L. (syn. Viscaria vulgaris Bernh., Tjärblomster, Sticky Catchfly), which I'd seen before down by the river Indal, but not up here. Details below of the inflorescence and of the sticky patch on the stem, along with some unfortunate insects.

Of course, there were also some old favourites to greet:

Coeloglossum viride (L.) (Grönkulla, Frog Orchid), bigger and better than ever, with Fiat 500 in the background. Close-up below.

Above and below, Platanthera bifolia (L.) (Nattviol, Lesser Butterfly-orchid).

Lysimachia thyrsiflora (Topplösa, Tufted Loosestrife), growing below cliffs at the edge of Fångsjön, E. of Strömsund, where we'd gone to see the rock paintings. There was a sign in central Strömsund pointing the way to this atttraction, but it was quite a long road that then turned into a long forest track, the sort of unmetalled track for which our bright yellow Fiat 500 proved singularly ill-adapted. When we eventually parked up I was so excited to see Trifolium spadiceum (Brunklöver) that I forgot to take a picture of it. From there we walked for half a mile through woodland to the top of the cliffs, alternately thrilled and scared by the thought of meeting a bear, and I slid down a steep path to the foot of the cliffs to take a look at the blurry 3,000-year-old red paintings. (Strömsund Kommun, a vast unpopulated region, has more European Brown Bears than anywhere else in Europe, but they're shy of humans.)

Reindeer, Fångsjön.

Back in Strömsund, I photographed this pretty vetch at the foot of a garden fence. At first I refused to believe that it was just plain old Vicia cracca L. (Kråkvicker, Tufted Vetch). Nevertheless, that seems to be what it is (standard limb as long or longer than claw, calyx not assymetrical), though the appearance of the flowers is untypically eye-catching. Pale wings are generally more typical of V. villosa. (Of course even typical Tufted Vetch doesn't really deserve to be written off as "plain old".)

A fairly stunning water-meadow of Polemonium caeruleum L. (Blågull, Jacob's-ladder), seen from the main road at Muråsen, just south of Strömsund.

Also, in the same meadow, Galeopsis speciosa Mill. (Hampdån, Large-flowered Hemp-nettle).

Leucanthemum vulgare Lam. (Prästkrage, Oxeye Daisy) in evening sun, in lay-by south of Skyttmon.

Filipendula ulmaria L. (Älggräs, Meadowsweet), taken outside of Ragunda Gamla K:a on my last day in Jämtland, 18th July, just after enjoying an evening concert in the tiny church. It's a somewhat counter-intuitive observation that certain common species, such as Meadowsweet and Rosebay Willowherb, come into bloom earlier here than in southern England, some 500 miles further south. Explanations for why this happens fall into two basic groups. 1. Reasons why, in spite of the higher latitude, flowering might nevertheless be triggered earlier; perhaps a more reliable summer, a continental climate, longer hours of daylight. 2. The observation that, as the species here fill subtly different ecological niches from their English cousins,  this could selectively favour early flowerers. Later ones might be hampered by a decline in insect pollinators and the need to ripen fruit before the early onset of autumn. Generally the flowering season in East Jämtland strikes me as more compressed; it is brief and brilliant, there are less pests to contend with but every flower needs to get on with it. The flowers of May June July and August (in English terms) jostle together in this single month of July.

At the concert the performers were Sanna Nordlander (voice) and Klas Norberg (voice, piano, guitar). There was no programme, but I scribbled down the songs that I could remember:

"A Whole New World" (from Disney's The Lion King) - at least, that was the melody. The Swedish lyrics didn't seem to be a translation.

"Let this be our prayer" (in English and Italian, as sung by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli)

A song about Ragunda Lake and how much the inhabitants loved it (before it was accidentally drained by Vild-Hussen on 6th-7th June 1796).

"Ellinor dansa" and "Rosa på bal", two Evert Taube songs.

A song from Phantom of the Opera.

A song about a peasant who tried to shoot a horse but the horse survives.

"Walking in Memphis", the Marc Cohn song (1991) later covered by Cher (1995).

"You raise me up", written by Rolf Løvland and Brendan Graham, originally a 2002 hit (for Secret Garden with vocals by Brian Kennedy) in Norway and Ireland, subsequently an international standard covered by Josh Groban and tons of other people.

"Fattig Bonddräng", popular song from 1971 with music by Georg Riedel and words by Astrid Lindgren.

"Suspicious Minds", the Elvis Presley classic.

Hammarforsens Kraftverk, Hammarstrand (from Ragunda Gamla Kyrka).

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Evert Taube, Calle Schewens Vals / Calle Schewen's Waltz

Calle Schewens Vals / Calle Schewen's Waltz


I Roslagens famn på den blommande ö
där vågorna klucka mot strand
och vassarna vagga och nyslaget hö
det doftar emot mig ibland,
där sitter jag uti bersån på en bänk
och tittar på tärnor och mås
som störta mot fjärden i glitter och stänk
på jakt efter födan gunås.

         G              (F#)G C              G
On a flowering island in Roslagen’s bay,
           G                 C6             G
where wavelets are lapping the shore,
            G                        (F#)G  C             G or E7*
and the reeds are a-tremble, and newly cut hay,
       Am7            D6                  G
its fragrance surrounds me once more,
Em           A7            D                  
I sit in my arbour outside on a seat
Em                   A7            D     - D7
and gaze at the gulls in the bay,
            G                       (F#)G  C          G or E7*
and the terns as they dart in the glittering sea;
         Am7              D6            G             - G7
let’s all have some dinner, they say.

[*You have a choice here. I think I prefer the folkier G for most of the song, reserving the graceful E7 only for its penultimate line.]

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Thursday, August 09, 2012

Barley Bread, Bark Bread

In English, until recently, one of the main uses of the word corn was to talk about cereals without specifying them very distinctly. You still see this usage in "Corn Exchange", "cornfield", "cornflower", etc.

Understandably enough, corn sometimes came to mean the grain-crop that it usually designated. In other words, the commonest crop in the area: wheat in south-east Britain, or oats in the north west.

Because of our dwindling agricultural awareness, these older meanings of corn are now definitely secondary, compared to the primary meaning i.e. maize, as evinced by such everyday consumer terms as sweetcorn, popcorn, corn-on-the-cob, etc. And since maize itself is now a pretty common crop in the UK,  words like "cornfield" are becoming too ambiguous to use.

One thing I only became aware of this summer is that in Sweden the word korn often means barley! It obviously confused the hell out of Paul Britten Austin when he translated Vilhelm Moberg's A History of the Swedish People.  To understand the chapter about bread, you need to substitute "barley" for "corn", most of the time. 

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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

studies in Deschampsia cespitosa (Tufted Hair-grass)

Tufted Hair-grass (Deschampsia cespitosa or caespitosa), one of the UK's commonest tall grasses. Also sometimes known as Tussock-grass, or Hassocks. Photos taken yesterday (Aug 7th 2012) in Swindon - these plants, obviously, are at the fruiting rather than flowering stage. 

Below: Detail of Above, showing the distinctive, more or less equidistant panicle-nodes with typically three or four branches.

In this rainiest of years, the mass of "upright" culms gets knocked down into matted (and damp-retaining)  bundles.

The large, dense tufts distinguish D. cespitosa from all other common grassland species except Tall Fescue (Festuca arundinacea), a plant that is nothing like so abundant though clearly on the increase. The tussocks of D. cespitosa are a darker green, with distinctively narrow, sharp-pointed leaves.

The upper surfaces and margins are very rough. Holding the blade between finger and thumb you can slide your hand upwards, but encounter a lot of resistance if you try and slide it downwards.

My hastily thrown-together theory is that the roughness acts to keep the blades well separated from each other, thus allowing maximum exposure to light, obviously an important factor in such a densely tufted plant.

A more mainstream (and experimentally demonstrated) explanation is that the roughness in this and other grasses is caused by high silica content, and the silica acts to deter insect herbivores. Livestock, too, generally find the grass unpalatable, though horses and rabbits will eat it if there's nothing else around.

Deschampsia, as you might guess, is named after a Frenchman, Louis Auguste Deschamps (1765-1842).  The grass does him honour but does not have any particular appropriateness to him; he was a botanist/ship's surgeon interested in the tropical plants he saw on his travels. He may have been the first European to see Rafflesia, but this is uncertain. His notebooks were impounded by the British when his ship was captured during the Napoleonic War, and I get the impression (from hasty Googling) that some material was permanently lost.

 I wonder how other people pronounce it. I go for an "English" pronunciation (dezz-champs-ia), but you might prefer a "French" one (day-shom-sia) or even a "Latin" one (dess-camps-ia). Let me know!

"Hair-grass", I'm guessing, refers to the slender branches of the panicle, which are even finer in other species of Deschampsia, such as Wavy Hair-grass (D. flexuosa). No connection with the aquarium plants known as Hairgrass, which are small Spike-rushes (Eleocharis species).

Deschampsia cespitosa has the honour of being assigned a special community in  the British Vegetation Classification system: MG9. "MG" stands for mesotrophic grassland, which more or less means neutral grassland. MG9 is characterically dampish, poorly-drained meadow and it always contains D. cespitosa, along with Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus). Exactly what you can see here.


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