Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Olive or Gromwell

To resolve a dispute over a plant's identity for the benefit of the common wealth, I selflessly approached the roundhead of the Sugarloaf again.
I had failed to record the plant's qualities objectively, just taking a couple of poor photographs. So this time, I took more poor photographs. First, I made sure it was not an olive* then approached the plant more scientifically.
At 18" (½m) tall, it has about ten separate stems rising from the ground, and a number of dry brown sticks that were presumably last year's growth, indicating that it is an annual, not a perennial.
Each stem throws off numerous short side shoots which have sets of leaves with nutlets at their base. Stems and leaves are lightish green, rough and hairy; the leaves oval to pointed with a clear vein, and the flowers (when present) occur at the tips of each stem.
This time, however, it had not even one of its puritanical white flowers, but the ironsided nutlets were clearly greenie-brown, not white as in common gromwell. So I conclude that it is indeed Corn or Field Gromwell, which not only has two God's English names but two papist Latin ones - Buglossoides arvensis and Lithospermum arvense.
Common gromwell 'officinale' apparently has contraceptive qualities, so could be called the Lord's protector.
Corn/field gromwell has, of course, seriously reduced in numbers as it is a crop pest, and so suffers from herbicides, insecticides and regicides.
The path down was the short direct one, near-vertical, which is of course to my liking. The heat of the English summer's day was searing, with temperatures approaching 20 degrees.........
....it's great to live near the coast when it's hot inland!

And ever the yaffle.

* terribly tenuous pun, sorry for the cavalier attitude.

Friday, 26 June 2009

High on poppies

Award for headline of day must go to "Stoned Wallabies make Crop Circles", about Australian wallabies eating opium poppies and creating crop circles as they hop around "as high as a kite". With an introduction like that, the poppy fields of Alkham valley had to be photographed on the way to work. And also.......for the third year running....
........a little little owl! Yay!

My struggle to find any Late spider orchids continues, with a search of Holywell and the Sugar Loaf Hill above Folkestone. Its the first time I've climbed this hill, despite working in its shadow for nearly 20 years, and it's a restful, atmospheric place despite the nearby roads.
A spring emerges as the chalk meets non-porous gault clay, giving a welcome taste of fresh water to the pilgims and other travellers on the old track to Dover. Such a relief in the otherwise dry pastures was understandably 'holy', hence its name.
The hill has a good amount of close-cropped grass, and is home to masses of yellowwort and centuary, as well as a host of the commoner orchids, and a couple of colonies of bee orchids.
There were plenty of rabbits managing this habitat, including at least four light-coloured ones. By coincidence, the sage of St Margarets also climbed this hill on the same day, and also commented on the strange rabbits.
On top of the hill (like the houndstongue on Summerhouse Hill) there is a strange solitary shrub. It has rough leaves and stems, bizarre nut-brown nodules at the leaf-base, and small white flowers. Can anyone identify it from these poor photos?

Meanwhile, on the grassy shingle of Kingsdown beach, about 200 marbled whites make next year's generation.
Female always on top, it seems.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Grazing on a Sunny Afternoon

The various organisations that manage the downland use a number of different grazing beasts to provide habitats suitable for the plants, insects and reptiles to flourish. Highland cattle seem to have become popular (and they are a very attractive addition to the Kent countryside).
I've spent hours combing the hillsides above Folkestone, looking for the few elusive late spider-orchid colonies that have apparently increased because of the grassland management, but without success. Needles and haystacks come to mind. This has, however, led me to places that I'd not known, such as Creteway Down, where thousands of fragrant orchids grow.
Perhaps the cattle and horses eat the late spiders, and leave the smelly fragrant orchids? Elsewhere, similarly large numbers of pyramidal orchids are starting to show.

Also on Creteway Down was a single stem of betony, unremarkable in itself, apart from its similarity to Groucho Marx. According to Culpepper (quoted by Macleod) it was 'a very precious herbe...it helpest those that piss or spit blood' and was 'an aid to childbirth'. Go on, give it a try.
These Dexter cattle are roaming across the South Foreland near St Margaret's, looking tough but standing only a metre or so tall.

Musk or nodding thistle

Large skipper

Small tortoiseshell, having a better year?

Squinancywort, good for quinsies or sore throats

Woolly thistle - how (why?) has this evolved like this?

Crow garlic - just a sniff of this was feared to turn a cow's milk sour.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Kent Red Data book online

A good day, close to home, including our annual midsummer bonfire on the beach with fish'n'chips. The local populations of pyramidal and fragrant orchids have emerged from nothing apparently overnight, with about 30 of each on the approach to the golf club, and another 20 or so pyramidal on the undercliff.
Also newly emerged are three stems of oxtongue broomrape, which had been threatened by a small cliff-fall, but although numbers are down on previous years the colony has happily survived. The picture shows its host, hawkweed oxtongue with its leaves with the purle line down the centre of the 'tongue'.
I have recently found an online publication of the Kent Red Data book which makes fascinating reading although some is rather out-of-date. Much of the information on plants comes from Eric Philp's Atlas, of course. On this particular species, it reports thus:

Orobanche artemisiae-campestris Nat Status RDBEN Kent RDB Status 2
oxtongue broomrape Legal Status WCA8 BAP Status C
Orobanche loricata
Distribution This plant is confined to unstable chalk-cliffs in southern England, including the Isle of Wight, Sussex and Kent. In Kent there are three separate colonies on cliff ledges in the Dover area.
It occcurs in cliff top, species-rich, chalk grassland with kidney vetch, restharrow, salad burnet, hairy hawkbit and hawkweed oxtongue. It parasitizes composites including hawkweed oxtongue, but there may be other host species from different genera. It is taxonically close to common broomrape.

Also along the undercliff were the first marbled whites of the year.

An infestation of black bugs gave the hawkbit/hawkweeds a strange appearance.
Wild carrot
I was very pleased to see a small blue on the range by a clump of kidney vetch - more next year please!There were also plenty of common blues feeding on the swathe of horseshoe vetch.

And finally a clump of toadflax has come into flower.....here comes summer!

Friday, 19 June 2009

Bee Orchid

Bee Orchid, originally uploaded by stevetantop.

This is a test of the Flickr autolink.
And a reminder that seasonal blogging can get repetitive.

This was the first bee orchid that I ever saw, on the Pegwell hoverport tarmac.


This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

An open letter

An open letter to the Chief Vice-President, Blogspot Inc.

Dear Sir (or, in the unlikely event....madam),

It has been brought to my attention that an arbitrary limit has been put on the number of images by your organisation. This action discriminates against those bloggers among us who have little to say, but have many images which we believe (rightly or wrongly) are worth sharing with the wider world.

Does this mean that blogging will grind to a halt, and will history show a golden age of art and knowledge in the last years of the first decade of the twenty-first century?

Where will it all end?

  • Will Youtube seek to limit the number of clips of the same TV programme?
  • Will Spotify curtail the number of versions of My Way?
  • Will Ebay only allow one supplier to show a product?
  • Will Flickr prevent too many pictures of pets doing amusing things?
I was anticipating posting annual images of various flowers, depending on the season. Must I delete old photographs of bee orchids from last year and the year before that, so I may post more of the same from this year? If it is June, it must be orchids, thistles and brown butterflies.

I ask you to reconsider your intemperate decision.


Disgruntled of Kingsdown

Warning - you are approaching the limit on the numbers of photographs that you may post.
Please delete the crap ones to continue using this facility.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Into God's Own Country

Continuing the journey into Wales, Hay Bluff presides over the town of Hay-on-Wye and the borders - the Welsh Marches. Across the valley to the west is a similar scarp face known as Twmpa in Welsh, and Lord Hereford's Knob in English. Clumps of cottongrass brightened the bogs.
I had hoped to claim Twmpa for England, but the Houyhnhnms had got there first. Glorious views across the border lands.
The Gospel Pass swoops down into the Vale of Ewyas, where nestles the ruin of Llanthony priory, a substantial building "that [Thomas] Cromwell knocked abaht a bit" as my father would have said.
The crypt has been turned into a bar and restaurant, while the one surviving tower houses four rooms, which make an idyllic B&B. We stayed there a few times a few decades ago, waking to the sound of jackdaws and sheep.
This time the B&B of choice was in a farmhouse, Penyclawdd, with the perfect combination of a warm welcome from Mr and Mrs Davies (and Welsh border collies), a huge breakfast and lovely views from the bedroom window.
The B&B was chosen partly for its proximity to two wildlife reserves, Strawberry Cottage and Cwm Coed y Cerrig, both interesting in their own ways.
Western gorse just starting to flower - while our eastern variety is taking a break.
A typical Welsh footpath.

Beware the Black Rabbit!