Thursday 28 January 2016

Naked Ladies at Velvet Bottom

The 'naked ladies' being the late flowering Meadow Saffron. Called naked ladies because they are leafless in flower and on long white stems. Leaves appear the following spring and die back in the summer. We saw them in mid October at Velvet Bottom reserve in the Mendips.

Meadow Saffron - Colchicum autumnale

We also bumped into this handsome chap tucking into the bracken.
Broom Moth Caterpillar - Ceramica pisi

Sunday 24 January 2016

Weird and Wonderful Stinkhorns

A bit of a break from the wildflower posts today with the first of my fungi related posts ( I've a fair few of them too). I've seen three new types of stinkhorn this autumn each as weird and wonderful as the next. I'd seen Clathrus ruber, Red Cage Fungus last December (you can read about it here) and have been keen to see the other kinds which are all equally bizarre.

Firstly a trip to Oxshott in Surrey to see Aseroe rubra, the Starfish Fungus. Thanks to Steve Gale at North Downs and Beyond for some very useful gen on this one, which I doubt we'd have found it without. There were many 'eggs' but we were a bit early and only found a few which had 'hatched'. The smell from them is nowhere near as strong as from the Common Stinkhorn so they cannot be located by smell alone, and you'd think the bright red colour would make them very easy to spot. They are often tucked away under low vegetation though and are quite easy to miss until you 'get your eye in'.

Starfish Fungus - Aseroe rubra

The next was really easy to find in the New Forest where literally hundreds can be seen growing on a grassy plain and amongst gorse bushes. This was Clathrus archeri, Devil's Fingers Fungus.

Eggs just beginning to 'hatch' or erupt...

Almost fully erupted..

The finished article, which I would say was more like a starfish than the Starfish Fungus. 
But it can look very finger-like too. 

The mature bodies don't last very well in sunny and windy conditions, soon drying up like this one.
Devil's Fingers - Clathrus archeri

The third stinkhorn, supposed to be common but was one that I hadn't managed to spot until we saw a large group of them in a wood this autumn is Mutinus caninus, The Dog Stinkhorn. They were in a shady conifer plantation and unfortunately my photos were a bit of a disaster and I only get one decent one thus...

Dog Stinkhorn - Mutinus caninus

Finally the stinkiest stinkhorn of them all... 

Common Stinkhorn -Phallus impudicus 

Several years ago I wrote a blog post about the Common Stinkhorn called 'Shameless!'
Complete with the wonderful story of Henrietta Darwin (Charles Darwin's erotophobic daughter) read it HERE.

Saturday 23 January 2016

Something Smells Fishy

It's the very rare but totally bland looking Stinking Goosefoot. What it lacks in appearance it certainly makes up for in the odour department! It smells really, really strongly of dried fish. Culpeper, writing in the 17th century, describes the smell from the bruised leaves thus: “It smells like rotten fish, or something worse.” We tried and failed to locate it at Cliff Marshes in Kent but eventually caught up with it at Languard in Suffolk. We were exceptionally lucky too because just as we arrived at the car park we spoke to a chap who was just getting into his car to leave. It just so happened he was a very knowledgeable local called Nigel and he kindly took us to see the only three plants that have grown on the site this year. They weren't in the special enclosure, as none had appeared there this year, and there's a huge area of suitable habitat so we'd never have found them without help. They weren't even within the reserve.

Languard Nature Reserve

Stinking Goosefoot habitat. 
It seems to favour rabbit scrapes with bare soil and lots of droppings, conditions that prevent many other plants from thriving hence there's little competition. Although there were lots of seemingly suitable areas only three plants were growing this year. One had been partially dug up by rabbits which is one of the hazards of growing on their toilets I suppose! At least the rabbits don't eat it. Perhaps that's why it smells so bad, so as to put them off, because it is perfectly edible despite the smell.

 It's an inconspicuous mealy looking plant.

The flowers are inconspicuous too....

They are tiny and yellow.

The whole plant is covered with these tiny white 'crystals' which contain the chemicals which cause the strong smell if they are rubbed. The smell is that memorable I can actually imagine I'm smelling it by just looking at these photos. 

Stinking Goosefoot - Chenopodium vulvaria
With Lacewing and scenic backdrop.

Friday 22 January 2016

A Day in Oxfordshire

Back in July we spent a day searching for wildflowers in Oxfordshire. Sorry for lack of words in these recent posts but I just don't have time to write much as I'm trying to get all my backlog of photos up before the new season really gets underway. So here's a few highlights from the Oxfordshire trip.

 This weird plant is Birthwort
Seen here growing near the ruins of Godstow Nunnery near Oxford.It's a rare plant in the UK now but was once a popular medicinal herb. It survives here as it was probably used by the nuns (one would hope on local women and not themselves as it was used in childbirth). It was thought to help in childbirth purely due to the shape of the flowers resembling the birth canal. Unfortunately it is deadly poisonous and probably killed most women who used it!

Birthwort Aristolochia clematitis

 The beautifully furry Downy Woundwort.
 Very rare and confined to just one small area of Oxfordshire

 Downy Woundwort - Stachys germanica

Frog Orchids were plentiful on Watlington Hill.

Frog Orchid - Coeloglossum viride

Red Kite 
These were also plentiful and I regretted not taking my birding camera as the flight views were point blank! On the way home traveling down the M40 we saw a large group of thirty circling in a thermal!!

At the Warberg reserve we got to see these Narrow-lipped Helleborines.We didn't think we'd find them as it is a huge reserve and it was very late in the afternoon when we arrived, meaning the warden's office was closed. Fortunately though he was working in his garden and kindly pointed us in the right direction. Photographs were infuriatingly difficult as it was almost dark in the beech woods.

Narrow-lipped Helleborine - Epipactis leptochila

Yellow Bird's-nest - Monotropa hypopitys
Unfortunately gone to seed but still great to see it for the first time. 

Small Teasel - Dipsacus pilosus
Quite a common plant apparently, but this was the first time I'd seen it. 

Thursday 21 January 2016

A Few Hampshire Wildflowers

Here are a few photos of wildflowers from several locations in Hampshire taken this summer. Firstly from Portsdown Hill, Portsmouth.

Basil Thyme Acinos arvensis

Lesser Centaury - Centaurium pulchellum

At Langstone Harbour...

Slemder Hare's-ear - Bupleurum tenuissimum
Seen here in seed. 

On an arable headland near Micheldever were....

Stinking Chamomile - Anthemis cotula

And with Hoverfly - Syrphus sp. (I think)


Borage Borago officinalis

Venus's looking-glass Legousia hybrida

And at a nature reserve nearby...

 Red Hemp-nettle - Galeopsis angustifolia

And finally at Hayling Island....

Sea Knotgrass - Polygonum maritimum

Knotgrass Caterpillar