Month: May 2010

tea and cake

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Held a charity coffee morning at the museum in aid of Cystic Fibrosis.  We raised £36!

Thanks to those who came, baked and donated.

Natural Variation

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Spring is a great time to be interested in botany. It’s a pleasure to walk in the woods in April and May when the first flush of wild flowers is at its best. One of my favourites is the Wood Anemone, which is common in dappled shade in deciduous woodland. The botanical name Anemone nemerosa has Greek and Latin roots. Anemos was the Greek God of the wind in which the flowers bob charmingly, while nemorosa describes the plant’s habitat and comes from the Latin nemorosus meaning wooded.

Anemone nemerosa flowering in woodland near the highland village of Strontian (May 2010)

Although they are generally regarded with affection in the British Isles, the Wood Anemone is not universally popular. It is associated with death in certain Chinese cultures and with misfortune in some European countries. It was an emblem of ill health in ancient Egypt. This may be because although the plant is poisonous, herbalists used it to treat complaints such as gout and rheumatism.

Energy stored in underground rhizomes allows the Wood Anemone to produce its leaves and flowers in the first weeks of spring before the shade from trees becomes too dense. The single star-shaped flower has between five and eight white tepals (a sort of mixture of petals and sepals). The leaves are deeply cut and resemble other members of the buttercup family.

Wood Anemone's in typical habitat in the mossy bowl of a tree. The tepals fold over the stamens at night and in inclement weather. Legend has it they provide shelter for woodland spirits.

Walking in the woods last week I was particularly struck by the natural variability of the plants. There were significant differences in the number and shape of the tepals and a few aberrant plants with deep purple flowers. With all this natural variability it is easy to see why the Wood Anemone has become a popular garden plant. But it looks best with Primroses, Cuckoo Flower, Wood Sorrel and Lesser Celandine in its native woodland habitat.

An unusual purple form of the Wood Anemone, one of many variations seen along half a mile of track in the Sunart oakwoods.
Wood Anemone collected by Lydia Becker on 23rd April 1864 at Whalley woods, Lancaster.

Specimen of the Day:13/5/2010 – Quercus robur

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It seems a long time since we have posted a Specimen of the Day, to rectify that here is an old, oak tree specimen.   It was collected on 17th May 1894 by Charles Bailey.  The tree that the specimen was taken from was at No Man’s Acre near Much Marcle in S. E. Herefordshire.  Oak trees are famous for their longevity and may live for up to 800 years or more, so maybe it is also an old specimen from an old oak tree.  I wonder if the tree is still surviving there today?

Oak trees in Britain could be facing a difficult and uncertain future as it has been reported in the press recently that they are threatened by a deadly disease that has been called Acute Oak Decline.  AOD has been likened to Dutch Elm disease which killed millions of trees in the UK in the 1970’s and 80’s.  AOD is a bacterial infection that can kill a tree in just a few years.  Infected trees ‘bleed’ a dark fluid from cracks in the bark which then runs down the trunk.  The Forestry Commission has a good website with more information and pictures to help you identify and report cases of AOD here.

Unusual Trees to Look Out for (4)

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Pterocarya fraxinifolia, Caucasian Wingnut Tree, 156/003


Meaning: winged-nut/leaves-like-an-ash-tree.

The Caucasian Wingnut tree in Beech Road Park, Chorlton, Manchester, is a particularly fine example of this specimen tree, which was sometimes planted in our Victorian and Edwardian parks.  It is occasionally characteristic of the trunk of this species to divide into two main branches not far off the ground.  It belongs to the walnut family (Juglandaceae) and is native to the eastern Caucasus, northern Iran and eastern Turkey.  In its native habitat it can reach nearly 100 feet in height, but in northern climates it reaches about 80 feet, with a branch spread of 70 feet.  Because of its nearly cubic proportions and because it is relatively fast-growing, it is prized as a shade tree. In a good year, the tree in late summer or early autumn is a delightful and strikingly decorative sight, festooned with its long, pale-green strings of seeds.

BBC Plant finder: “This superb, very large tree is rarely seen in the UK due to its enormous size: there are few gardens big enough to accommodate one. However, there are two excellent specimens in Cambridge and Sheffield Botanic Gardens that show how striking this plant can be. The tree has green leaves that can grow to over 60cm (2ft) long and that turn butter-yellow in autumn. In the summer, it produces eyecatching chains of green catkins that can grow up to 60cm (2ft) long. In its native Iran, it is often found growing by rivers, so its favoured position is in a moist, almost boggy soil where it can also get plenty of light.”

Sheets from the Grindon Herbarium

-Daniel King