Friday, July 31, 2015

Greater Celandine

This was growing where it should have been: at the foot of a wall. On first sight you might think it's a funny member of the buttercup family because of the colour and size of the flower. But closer inspection soon dispels this notion: there is an odd protruding long narrow ovary and no sepals; break the stem and a yellow/orange latex is exuded.  This flower has lost its anthers so looks slightly more peculiar it would have done, when it would have even more closely resembled a buttercup. It actually has more in common with horned poppy and that's because it is a cousin and member of the Papaveraceae
Its common name reinforces the false connection to the buttercups as Lesser Celandine is in that family. The Latin binomial for Greater Celandine is Chelidonium majus which derives from the Ancient Greek for swallow (the bird). The connection with swallows has variably been attributed to its habit of coming into flower when they arrive and ceasing when they leave, but a more imaginative explanation was that adult swallows used the orangey/yellow latex to cure blindness of their young before migration. (Sometimes it's hard not to think of our forebears as utterly mad!)
It is a potent medicinal herb and has a long list of uses. The latex has long been used to cure warts, leading to a plethora of vernacular names such as wartweed, wartwort and wartflower. The herb and root are analgesic and sedative. It is thought to have been introduced and its habitat preferences in this country suggest a close link to human habitation and propagation.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

London Plane

One couldn't go to London and not blog about the London Plane tree, Platanus x acerifolia. It is the quintessential urban tree, tolerating high levels of pollution and root compaction. It grows to prodigious heights and casts a dappled shade. Its bark when younger than the veteran in this picture flakes into a mosaic of light greens and greys.
It's thought to be a hybrid between P. occidentalis, the American Sycamore, and P. orientalis, the Oriental Plane, but no one seems entirely sure!

Purple Loosestrife

In London seeing the children off on camps and staying with our friends in St Margaret's near Twickenham, hence no post yesterday and hence a Thames side Purple Loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria, spotted by the south bank landing stage of the delightful Hammerton's Ferry on our way back from the equally delightful but overpriced Petersham Nursery where we had lunch in the cafe. 
I think that sentence sums it up.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Brown Tail

Back to the moths: this is a brown tail, Euproctis chrysorrhoea. It is in the tussock moth family and there's a very similar species with a yellow tail. 
The caterpillar's hairs are incredibly irritant to skin, so much so that wind-blown hairs can cause problems to people some distance away! Remember that next time you find yourself scratching unexpectedly. (Although they are largely confined to the south of Great Britain.)

Monday, July 27, 2015

Garden Snail

The more proficient natural scientists will have immediately noticed that this is not a moth. It is a mollusc. (There are more moths, of course, but it's good to mix it up a little.)
Having encountered a large number of these over the last few days (it's been raining a lot), and trodden (inadvertently) on several, it seemed churlish not to allow them some limelight. 
This is a common dextral form of the garden snail, Cornu aspersum (it used to be Helix aspersum) but there are a few sinistral forms out there (I will take more interest in future). They are hermaphrodite and have a lung, which compared to their more phylogenetically retarded cousins is just showing off.
Apparently they can move along the sharp edge of a razor blade with ease, the thought of which makes me slightly sick. They also eat a wide variety of things we try to grow.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Buff Ermine

I had planned to post this an hour ago and go to bed early but once again distractions prevented it. This time overseeing a software update (I use Ubuntu as my operating system, which is fantastic) which took rather longer than expected.
But enough non-natural tittle-tattle. This is a gorgeous beauty from the other night's moth trapping: a Buff Ermine, Spilosoma luteum. It's not as spotty as some but could only really be confused with the White Ermine or possibly the Muslin Moth. It is very common, but never dull.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Rosy Footman

This was an eye-catching little moth in Thursday night's trap haul: Rosy footman or Miltochrista miniata. Its caterpillar feeds on lichens growing on trees and shrubs.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Dot Moth

Checked the moth trap this morning and discovered more species of moth than species of butterflies I've seen in my entire life! Didn't manage to get photos of all of them but will certainly be posting many over the next few days (if I can identify them).
I'm pretty sure this is a Dot Moth, Melanchra persicariae. The photo doesn't really do it justice. 
I was thinking about attitudes towards moths as opposed to butterflies. Perhaps it's because we encounter moths more at night, in the dark, often when we find them fluttering around us at close quarters, that we are less inclined to love them?

Thursday, July 23, 2015


This is a nice plant: Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare. It used to be considered "necessary for a garden" but now is relatively uncommon. I've noticed that since the re-development of Lewes Road going into Brighton the central verge is packed with this bold perennial.
It is a member of the Daisy family and is of the kind which lacks the peripheral ray florets found in Bellis perennis and makes up all of the florets in Dandelions. 
It contains a potent chemical which can cause liver damage in large amounts. However it is an effective insecticide/insect repellent, having been used through the ages in the treatment of intestinal worms.
There was a vogue for burying the dead with tansy to prevent insects attacking the corpse. The first president of Harvard was buried in a coffin stuffed with tansy which was sufficiently well-preserved to allow him to be identified when the remains were moved during re-development of the graveyard.
There is a (threatened) beetle, the Tansy beetle (Chrysolina graminis), which depends almost exclusively on the plant. It looks like a very large Cryptocephalus aureolus (see May 25th).
Today the moth book arrived. Tonight David's moth trap is set in the orchard. Tomorrow we will have moths!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


This is a common moth and easy to recognise. It has a red/pink 'vein' running across all four wings, with a red/pink fringe around the edges. Hence Blood-vein moth, Timandra griseata
The moth trap for this one was the house: just switch some lights on and open the windows! The place is full of moths.
Moths have great names. It seems that butterflies once had equally ornate Victorian appellations but somehow popularity has lead to a sort of dumbing down of the more outlandish ones. Take the Streaked Golden Hog, for example (30th June). 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lunar Yellow Underwing

This turned up in the studio (a giant moth-trap!) It's a Lunar Yellow Underwing, Noctua orbona, as evidenced by its size and the black distal wing markings reaching the margins of the forewing.
It is reasonably uncommon, occuring on heathland and rough grassland.
I plan to set the proper trap again on Thursday night when the weather looks good and I'll be around to check it in the morning. I'm also hoping my new moth book will have arrived by then!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Hedge Bindweed

Another bindweed today. I have a moth but haven't i.d.'d it yet.
This is the other, perhaps more familiar, bindweed: Hedge bindweed. Unlike Field bindweed this is not Convolvulus, it is Calystegia sepium
It's seeds can remain viable for up to thirty years, so enjoy the flowers but rip it out before the seed sets if you don't want to be overrun.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Small Emerald

This is post number 200! And this is a moth caught in the previously mentioned (19th June) trap belonging to our recently wedded friends, David and Helen. They visited this weekend and David has very kindly lent it to me for a month or so. I have leapt into action and ordered the book below (which I anticipate will be excellent).
After a certain amount of deliberation and further cross-referencing on the interweb, this is identified as Small Emerald, Hemistola chrysoprasaria. It occurs in the south of England & Wales around chalk woodlands and hedgerows where its foodplant, Clematis vitalba, grows.
Hold onto your pants and prepare for a flurry of moths! 
bwp Book Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland - Paperback (2nd edition)
Paul Waring & Martin Townsend, illustrated by Richard Lewington    

Wild Carrot

Very late again tonight so quick post. This is wild carrot on which I caught the red soldier beetles cavorting: Daucus carota ssp carota. 
The most striking feature is the central red floret. What is that all about.
The agricultural carrot is D. carota ssp sativus. 

Friday, July 17, 2015


Another late post after a very busy day and yesterday!
This is Bracken! Pteridium aquilinum. It is a fern but unusual in that the sori (spore containing bodies) lie around the periphery of the leaflets and centrally as with other ferns.
The spores are considered carcinogenic and some water is filtered to remove them.
In the past it was a useful plant, providing bedding, being used for tanning and as a fertiliser. Now it is mostly considered an invasive weed with control programmes in many environmentally sensitive sites.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Field Bindweed

It's a shame bindweeds are such a nuisance in the garden because they're actually rather pretty. This is the baby one which actually carries the name Convolvulus by which the family is known. The rest are in the genus Calystegia
Convolvulus arvensis, Field bindweed, is the often found crawling around on the ground rather than desperately scrambling up the nearest vertical surface like the others. The flowers close at the end of the day, revealing their candy-like insides only to the sun itself on the morrow.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Southern Hawker

A very enjoyable 24 hours with my friend Ian who now lives in France who also has an interest in #lifewildaroundus. Coupled with a recently acquired snazzy new Sony alpha6000 mirrorless digital camera and an array of lenses (including a proper macro) it has been something of a bioblitz!
Down in the 'orchard' looking for butterflies we couldn't help noticing this prehistoric monster whizzing around trying to choose as suitable perch. 
Although Ian has some cracking close-ups I must just mention that the full-length portrait is all my own (and my Nexus 5's) work!
This is one of the minority of species which is actually doing well in this country. It is expanding its range slowly northwards.
This Southern Hawker, Aeshna cyanea, is a chap who in all likelihood emerged in the last week or so. Our little pond might be enough for him to consider a kingdom for the next few weeks.
Close-up of Southern Hawker - Ian Lloyd (2015)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mare's Fart

I probably should have done this after the Cinnabar Moth post or after the Marsh Ragwort post: what was I thinking? I just don't know what got into me!
So, somewhat later than perhaps expected, here is Common Ragwort, Senecio jacobaea
Besides being the food plant of the Cinnabar moth it is used by over seventy invertebrates, with thirty being exclusively dependent on it. Of the thirty, ten are rare or threatened. 
Unfortunately the plant contains nasty alkaloids which cause liver cirrhosis in livestock. Although the living plant is bitter and rarely browsed, when dried it becomes palatable. This makes hay a particular hazard should it contain any. It is listed as an 'injurious weed' under the 1959 Weeds Act and some by-laws make it illegal to allow it to grow on your land.
This reputation as meant a variety of common names reflecting its negative attributes: Mare's Fart is a particular favourite. Others include Stinking Willie and Staggerwort.
Perhaps surprisingly, given the lack of practical uses, it is the national plant of the Isle of Man where it is known as Cushag.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Common Mallow

Common Mallow is out all over the place at the moment. Malva sylvestris  has a pretty flower but somehow its growth habit detracts from the overall aesthetic effect. It's untidy and straggling, with a tendency to grow in insalubrious spots where it thrusts itself out at you like a cheap tart. 
A bit harsh perhaps, given that it does brighten up the waysides, but one mustn't fawn over every flower with a bit of colour: one must have standards!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Red Soldier (Bloodsucker) beetle

There is a definite sense of Life at full throttle out there. July is the month with the most species of plants in flower. I'm not sure if it's the month with the most insects engaging in sexual activity, but if the Red Soldier beetle were the benchmark it would certainly be the case. Also misnamed the Bloodsucker beetle, Rhagonycha fulva is widespread and easy to find on open-flowered species such as common hogweed and wild carrot, where not infrequently they will be having sex.

Cinnabar moth (caterpillar)

I was hoping to find a Mullein moth caterpillar, which I'd seen a week or so ago on the Great Mullein, but it seems to have disappeared. 
Next to the Great Mullein by the pond is some ragwort and on it was this caterpillar, probably the only caterpillar I remember from my youth: that of the Cinnabar moth, Tyria jacobaeae. Possibly the organism with the most vowels in its specific title?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Great Mullein

This seemed an obvious sequel to Thursday's plant, only I should have done it yesterday. Unfortunately with one thing and another, in particularly the Sahara Bridge Club reunion finishing after midnight, meant I missed the boat. 
Great mullein, Verbascum thapsus, is a towering pillar of a plant, developing a spike of flowers which explode individually starting at the bottom. It has large oval-elliptical leaves which feel woolly. 
It is a biennual so you know when they're coming when you see their rosettes forming, usually in disturbed areas or cracks in paving. 
The name thapsus derives from the Ancient Greek writer Theophrastus's reference to a herb from the town of Thapsus, identified now as Thapsos on Sicily. 

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Moth Mullein

This beauty has appeared at the same spot for the last few years. Have close zoom in on the flower photo to see the sticky glandular hairs, the decurrent fixed lower anthers and filaments coated with fine purple hairs. Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria is introduced from Europe and occasionally naturalised. V. virgatum is very similar, but usually has more than one flower per axil, has shorter flower stalks (petioles) and is more stickily hairy. 

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Marsh Woundwort

Just a quickie tonight as it's Wednesday and busy work day plus on-call. 
This was one of the many new (to me) plants on my Saturday sojourn with the SBRS: Marsh Woundwort or Stachys palustris. It was growing in the ditches draining the marshes, strikingly tall compared to the more reticent and common Hedge Woundwort. 

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Musk Thistle

A thistle is not always just a thistle; it might be a musk thistle! Carduus nutans is a real stonker. There's something extravagantly thistley about it. When you peer closely you can see it's covered in candy-floss. When you peer even more closely you'll see it's drawn its own entomological crowd. In this case a pretty picture-wing fly. Rather sadly this cannot be identified to species level without collection and dismemberment, and I only took photos. However it's either the common Urophilus jaceana or the unusual and rather special U. solstitialis. We shall never know!