Wall Dwellers

Wall dwellersI thought I would show you some of the things that I have found living in the walls nearby.

Ferns of various sorts:

Succulents of various sorts:

Herb Robert:

Wisteria (growing through a hole in the wall):

Wisteria

Oxalis:

Oxalis

Erigeron:

ErigeronA baby oak sapling:

Oak sapling

Firebugs:

FirebugsAnd I haven’t been fast enough to photograph them yet (so it’s not my photo), but he had to be included – the common wall lizard:

Common Wall Lizard

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Geranium Conundrum

This task I have set myself of identifying wild flowers really does challenge what I thought I knew, as well as making me realise how much I don’t know! What I do (or did) know comes largely from what I learnt from my Mum as a fairly young child, and through a primary school wild-flower-pressing competition, which I won for finding and identifying the most species (with Mum’s considerable help, no doubt).

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)

For example, everyone knows Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum). Well, everyone who did a primary school wildflower identification project does! Along with Ragged Robin and Red Campion it is one of the countryside stalwarts, sometimes even seen as a weed it is so widespread. So when I saw them here I knew exactly what they were. But then I started to notice that some of the plants I was looking at had much smaller and slightly paler flowers than the usual ones. Were these just young plants, or growing in a more shaded place? It seems they are actually Lesser Herb Robert, or Little Robin (Geranium purpureum) – a new one to me.

Little Robin (Geranium purpureum)

Apparently the only significant difference, apart from the size of the flowers, is the colour of the anthers (the bits of the ends of the stamens where you find pollen). These are yellow on Little Robin, and orange on Herb Robert, although unless you find fresh young flowers it is often quite difficult to tell.

These are not the only geraniums that have given me some headaches in recent weeks. The more varieties I spot and identify, the more similar-but-different varieties I find. For example, Dove’s Foot Cranesbill (Geranium molle) is distinctive by the shape of its leaves – roundish overall, with 5-7 lobes, each lobe being usually 3-toothed. However, if these leaves are slightly shiny (and only 5-lobed), and the flower a bit of a different shape, it could be Shining Cranesbill (Geranium lucidum).

Dove’s Foot Cranesbill (Geranium molle)

Shining Cranesbill (Geranium lucidum)

Then, with very similar flowers to Dove’s Foot Cranesbill, but with very different leaves, is the Cut-Leaved Cranesbill (Geranium dissectum). Easy, I thought – the leaves are a giveaway. But then I found Bloody Cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum) – with very similar dissected leaves, but this time the flowers are much larger and a lovely deep magenta colour.

Cut-Leaved Cranesbill (Geranium dissectum)

Bloody Cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum)

So, from a start point of Herb Robert, I have now discovered five more wildflower geraniums – and I’m sure there many are others out there. Which makes me think: cultivated geraniums are probably a good bet for growing in a garden around here!

Learning to Love Buttercups

Creeping buttercup

Creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens)

My past relationship with buttercups has not always been the best. I loved them in my earlier years, holding the flowers under my chin to see if I liked butter (!), and the lovely bright shine to their yellow petals, but my last garden in Sussex was overrun with them. They grew in the lawn, and crept from there into the flowerbeds. If you didn’t weed the flowerbeds early in the year they would be thigh-high with buttercups by late spring. A beautiful sight, really, but not one I wanted to see amongst my carefully cultivated and cared for plants. They were everywhere, and with any tiny bit of root producing a new plant, they were impossible to get rid of. However, all that is behind me now.

I have discovered, to my delight, that Creeping buttercups (Ranunculus repens) are only one type of buttercup, and that there are plenty of other varieties that, presumably, don’t creep as much. Not to say that they don’t spread, as evidenced by the wonderful vistas of buttercup-strewn meadows that I keep coming across. Mingling with red clover and daisies, they create a magnificent sight, especially when graced by a small herd of lounging Charolais cattle.

Buttercup meadowCharolais cattleTwo main varieties of buttercup grow around here, with an easy way of distinguishing between the two, once you know. The very common Meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris) has smooth stems, unlike the ridged stems of Creeping buttercups, and the five sepals – first green and later yellowing – cup the petals.

Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris)

The Bulbous buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus), on the other hand, has ridged stems, and the sepals are distinctively turned down, or reflexed. It gets its name (and its alternative common name, St Anthony’s turnip) from the bulbous corm just below ground from which the leaves grow, causing the plant to form tufts.

Bulbous Buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus)

So, now that I am finding out more about them, and seeing them in all their magnificent glory in their natural habitat, I am certainly learning to love buttercups again.

Foiled by Trefoils

Often described as a ‘lawn weed’, Black Medick (Medicago lupulina) is part of the clover family, with a trefoil of slightly pointed oval leaflets, and clusters of tiny yellow flowers at this time of year. I have noticed it growing amongst mown grass here, and thought I should photograph it to add to my ‘Wildflowers’ log. When I came in to examine my photographs, I was slightly perplexed to discover that what I had photographed appeared to be two very similar, but clearly different, plants.

Black Medick, as I mentioned, has ovate leaves with a small point on the end, which are plain green, very slightly hairy, and with the centre leaf of the leaflet growing on a slightly longer stalk than the other two. The flowers are tiny yellow clover-like flowers, in clusters of probably 20 or more, making a little bobble of about 0.5-1 cm diameter.

Black Medick

Black Medick (Medicago lupulina)

The other plant that I had photographed had almost identical flowers, except that there were only 2-5 flowers in any one cluster. The other notable difference was the leaves, which ended in more of a dip than a point, and had a distinctive brown/black V marking in the centre of them. The leaves had the same formation, with the centre leaflet on a longer petiole (stalk) – around 3mm long – but they were not hairy.

Spotted Medick (Medicago arabica)

So, it was back to the drawing-board, these days known as Google. It is amazing how little comes up for ‘clover-like leaves with dark V marking’ or similar searches. However, I finally found this clear little illustration that explains everything. What I had was Spotted Medick (Medicago arabica).

Black and Spotted Medick illustration

Top – Spotted Medick (Medicago arabica syn. Medicago maculata Willdenow). Bottom – Black Medick (Medicago lupulina).

Having spent so long looking at clover-like leaves growing in the lawn, I then thought I should photograph some of the beautiful large flowers of Red Clover that I keep seeing in the verges. Once again this highlighted how unobservant I had been, as I realised that clover leaves are not really the shape I think they are, ie. the classic shamrock shaped trefoil, like Spotted Medick leaves. They are in fact trefoils of oval leaves, longer, thinner and more pointed than Black Medick leaves. For a moment I thought I was mistaken in calling this clover, thinking maybe I had found yet another similar-but-different species, but no – I just need to learn to be more observant.

Red Clover leaves

Red Clover leaves

 

Poor Bastard! (Balm)

Since I decided a few weeks ago to start logging all the wildflowers that I come across, I have learnt a lot. I have spent hours on the internet comparing images and trying to identify plants, finding that some are far easier than others. Some have me stumped for days, until suddenly I have a breakthrough, and this was one such plant.

Cycling up a valley road I noticed some splashes of pink on the steep, almost vertical bank. Closer inspection showed it to be a slightly nettle-like plant, with a scattering of large-ish pink flowers up the stem.

Interestingly, amongst a fairly small group of plants, there was quite a wide range of colours, from pale to deep pink, as well as one plant that combined both of these shades in each flower.

Bastard Balm

The closest I could get to identifying it for some days was some type of lamium: the leaves were about right, but the flowers were not quite the right shape – not narrow enough, and far larger and more impressive than most lamium flowers. Another option that kept cropping up was a type of stachys – perhaps Hedge Woundwort. The flower shape was closer, but still not quite right, and the leaves didn’t have their own stalks. Finally, more by chance than anything, I came upon it, and the poor thing with the beautiful pink flowers is called Bastard Balm!

Despite the name, I just wanted to show you how lovely it is.

Bastard BalmBastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Colour of the Moment: Purple

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Wisteria blossomIt’s mid-April, and purple seems to have taken over as the colour of the moment.

Swags of wisteria adorn stone buildings in every village and hamlet, filling the air with their perfume. I especially like walking around the hamlet in the early evening when the smell seems to be magnified by the warmth radiating off the stone walls, and hangs trapped between the houses.

I have heard the scent of wisterias described as sweet, or musky, or honey-like. To me it is sweet, but also slightly nutmeggy, although I’m sure different varieties have different scents.

20170413_165000-1-120170415_181006 (2)Next are the purple irises, which seem to grow like wildflowers. Not only can they be found in gardens and growing along the bottom (or the tops) of garden walls, but clumps of them can be seen in the verges and even in more wild and remote parts of the countryside. Again, they have the most wonderful scent. It is delicate, but I’m sure a large clump in full bloom in the sun would have a good go at scenting the air around.

Back to more cultivated areas, growing in gardens but also sometimes in hedgerows, lilac trees are now in full bloom. While the white-flowered variety bring a lovely freshness, the shades of the deeper purple-flowered variety can be quite striking, especially when the flowers are newly-opened and before they start to fade. Do I need to mention that they smell wonderful? Maybe something to do with being purple…

Lilac tree

Finally, one of the most notable trees in gardens at the moment is the Judas tree, Cercis siliquastrum. The trees are clothed in the deep pinky-purple pea-shaped blossoms, outlining the shape of each branch and twig. As the flowers come before the leaves, it makes for quite an unusual sight. Unfortunately I haven’t yet got close enough to a Judas tree to see if they smell nice as well. Maybe when I plant one in my own garden I will find out! It was also harder to get good photos of them, seeing as they mostly grow in peoples gardens on the outskirts of towns around here…

 

New (or)chids on the block

It really does seem like new orchids pop up overnight. I know it’s probably me not being observant enough to spot the new stems pushing through (hard to do when cycling, you have to admit), but there also seem to be new species coming along week by week. First were the Early purple orchids, following a few weeks later by Lady orchids. Earlier this week I started to notice lots of tightly closed, small orchids which look pale pink from a distance, but are actually more of a speckled purple and white, up close. I wasn’t able to identify them immediately because the flowers weren’t fully open.

New (to me) orchid species. What is it….?

A day or two later and I have seen a dozen or more of them, almost fully open. And they are …. Monkey orchids! What a great name. Also known as Orchis simia. The spike of flowers is relatively short, and looks noticeably spiky and with little tongues sticking out. When you look closely at the flowers you see that they have very narrow lobes, deep pink/purple on the ends and a very different shape to most other orchid species. The shape of the flower is supposed to resemble a monkey.

Monkey orchid

Monkey orchid (Orchis simia)

The second new species I found this week, only 100 yards from my gite in the verge beside the road, was something I immediately thought must be a Bee orchid, so distinctive were the flowers. However, a bit of research suggests it is the Woodcock orchid (or Woodcock bee-orchid), Ophrys scolopax.

Woodcock bee-orchid

Woodcock bee-orchid (Ophrys scolopax)

Woodcock bee-orchid