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Sunday, 1 March 2015

Spring is coming.By Gordon Jackson Ruby Tiger Moth, (Phragmatobia fuliginosa), Common Dock (Rumex obtusifolius), Dandelion (Taraxacum), Nettle (Urtica dioica), Wall screw-moss (Tortula muralis).

Hello, it's been a long while since I posted anything to the blog. A combination of terrible weather and health concerns has kept me indoors for far too long. I have a series of posts in the pipeline. Here is the first.I thought I'd start with a few examples of wild plants which are starting to appear, in readiness for spring. Also included, are one or two other things I came across of a recent walk in Stainland. I'm going to start with the very handsome Ruby Tiger Moth.

 Ruby Tiger Moth (Phragmatobia fuliginosa)

The caterpillars feed on plantains, dock and dandelion. It's habitat is grassland, open woodlands, gardens, farmland and waste ground. The caterpillars are grey, with a narrow orange dorsal stripe and are covered in brown or black hair. When ready to pupate, they spin a silk cocoon and shedding their hairs on the outside of it.  The chrysalis is a shiny mahogany colour.

Staying with the moth theme, next is a Bramble or blackberry leaf with the empty track of a Leaf Miner moth (Stigmella aurella).  The moth lays its egg inside the leaf. When the larvae hatches, it eats a tunnel just below the outer skin of the leaf. As the caterpillar continues to eat, it grows. 
Consequently, the tunnel gets bigger. When the caterpillar reaches full size it pupates, emerging as an adult moth.You can see the exit hole of the larvae in the photo below,. The moth can be seen as early as February. It has silvery sheen to its wings with a cream coloured streak across the middle.

Leaf Miner moth (Stigmella aurella) track

I came across the leaves of the Native British Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) in Robber dodge. This is the first time I've seen them down there as far as I can remember. They are fairly well established looking at them, so I must simply have overlooked them before. To me, it is a sure sign of spring on it's way. In the past, The bulbs were used to make glue and the Elizabethans used the starch in the bulbs to stiffen their ruffs. With the clearance lot of our woodland, the numbers of wild bluebells has reduced considerably. The main road into Holmfirth from Huddersfield and also the Elland bypass to Brighouse, have a good show of them each year. Along with my favourite flower the daffodil, they always lift my spirits.

British Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)
 
The Common Nettle or "stinging nettle" (Urtica dioica), is well into it's growing season in some places. There were few in evidence on this walk, and were only small.  Their venon is a mixture of histamine and other chemicals. It was brought to England by the Romans and has been used as a food, medicine and source of fibre. During the last war, nettles were used to make paper and rope. It's common in  northern Europe and much of Asia, less so in southern Europe and north Africa, as the plant needs a moist environment to flourish. Height: 1 to 2 m (3 to 7 ft).

Common Nettle  (Urtica dioica)

Having shown the nettle, I must follow it with the plant which brings relief to a nettle sting, and is invariably growing near nettles, (fortunately for us). It is of course the Common Dock (Rumex obtusifolius). The dock is a larval food plant for many species of moth including the Tiger Moth, also Large and Small Copper Butterfly larvae, Buff Ermine, Angle Shades and many other moth larvae.

 Common Dock (Rumex obtusifolius)

Near the start of the Carr Hall Lane walk are a set of water troughs for horses and cattle. Later in the year, they are a haven for frogspawn. At the moment they are overgrown with water weed. I have no idea what the two weeds shown below are, but have high hopes that Colin may be able to help.

Water weeds

There are plenty of Oak Galls, commonly known as Oak Apples about, but I only saw one while I was out this day. The gall is made by the Oak Gall Wasp (Biorhiza pallida). It can be found in Amy and June on the oak twigs, where the female wasp lays her eggs in leaf buds. Inside the gall, which is caused by the larvae,  there are several chambers, each housing a larva which eats its way out. Adults emerge in June and July.  Oak galls were used to make ink by mixing the gall with iron salts, (it's the tannin in the gall that does the trick). It was the common writing and drawing ink in Europe from about the 5th century to the 19th century, and remained in use well into the 20th century.

 Oak Apple Gall

Another very common wild plant is the Dandelion (Taraxacum). I found two plants, close together, growing out of gaps in the wall. Both had a flower bud in the centre of the leaves. As I've covered this plant in an earlier post, I won't repeat the information here. I know gardeners hate it, especially as it's so deep rooted, but I love to see a mass of the flowers glowing in a sunlit meadow. Many years ago I used to make my own dandelion coffee. The commercial stuff is weak and watery. I found that you need to roast the roots to a nice rich brown, like roast parsnips. Certainly, it's a little "grassy" to drink, but quite like chicory, I liked it. The young leave really are very good in a salad.

Dandelion (Taraxacum)

I was wrong with the IDing of the moss below, Colin has put me right, so I've changed the name. (Updated 2nd March 2015).

There are always plenty of mosses about, below is the Capilary Thread Moss (Bryum capilare). It was getting ready to seed at the moment. There are two photos of it below. The first shows the seed heads nice and plump, the second photo shows young sporophytes waiting to fill out. I think the plant in the second photo is a little dehydrated, looking at the moss itself.

Capilary Thread Moss (Bryum capilare)

Young sporophytes of Bryum capilare

On the top of a drystone wall, growing from a deep patch of moss were two small tree saplings. I'm showing the smaller of the two. The taller one was a bit too far away for me to reach, as the wall was taller than I. I have no idea what the tree is, there is a Beech growing over it, also an Oak tree. There are many Elder trees around also. I'll keep popping back to look at it over the year. I found myself wondering again about how nature will (literally) put her roots down in anywhere she is able. I also wonder how long it will be before it pulls down that stretch of wall.

Sapling growing on wall top

The Rabbits (Leporidae) have been out in the Beech wood. Below is the evidence, but oddly, although rabbits live in four hour cycles, I have yet to see one in this wood.  When my wife Anne saw this photo, she laughed and asked if I really was going to post it. I told her it was part of the living countryside and should be included. She was highly amused.

Rabbit Droppings in the Beech wood

I reached the area I named the Waxcap Zoo, Charlie Streets told me  he called it the Waxcap field, which I think is a better name. I had a very careful explore of it and only found one tiny fungus. It's a white one, cap size about 1cm, stalk 1.5 to 2 cm. It isn't a particularly good photo, in spite of my using my new macro lens, but I was sliding down a wet and muddy field, laying on my front as I took it. What strange things we do in the name of amusement! As it's a tine fungi, I doubt if it will ever get an ID on this blog. But at least I've recorded it (whatever it is).

Small mushroom, no ID for it

To close the post, a simple shot of grass on the wall top with a feather trapped in it. It was just so perfect, it looked like a flower to me. So here is my regular, closing, "Isn't nature lovely" photo.

Feather grass

So that's it for this post. As I said I have one or two other posts half prepared. I'll mount them on the blog as soon as I have chance. Stay warm and dry, it looks like we are in for a few bad days of weather.  Gordon.











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