Thursday, November 26, 2015


In tropical rainforests strangler fig seeds germinate in the tree canopy and send roots downwards until they reach the soil. Then, as their roots grow they strangle the tree that originally supported their seedling stage. You can watch a video of the whole process by clicking here.

Here in our temperate woodlands we don't have anything quite that dramatic, but we do have honeysuckle that sometimes strangles trees from the ground upwards.

When honeysuckle seeds are voided by birds that eat the berries they often germinate close to trees that the birds were perching on. If they can't twine around the tree honeysuckle stems will twist around each other, becoming mutually supportive as these three have, forming a rope-like trunk but ....

... if they can find a sapling tree to coil around, so much the better. This one coiled around a young rowan and its grip is so tight that it has already distorted the swelling trunk of its host, which is still growing rapidly, so .....

.... if you fast forward a few years, this is the result. This swelling rowan trunk, distorted into a spiral by the tight grip of the honeysuckle, has grown out over the climber's stem, so that it's now embedded inside the trunk of the rowan along part of its length. The rowan has engulf the honeysuckle, but both are still growing well.

One day this might make a good walking stick!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Unusual Bloomers

Thursday's Guardian Country Diary is about this November-flowering dog rose that we found blooming amongst the rose hips, on a bush growing at Hawthorn Dene on the Durham coast.

The recent record-breaking spell of warm late-autumn weather has extended the flowering period of many plants and even induced some to flower for a second time. Recently we've found holly in bloom and also elder flowers opening alongside berries on the same branch, as well as the usual late-blooming suspects like yarrow, hogweed and clovers. 

This rose was one of two fully-open flowers on a bush covered with ripe rose hips on leafless stems. None of the other roses around it had any flowers. Presumably this individual plant was genetically predisposed to reacting to warmer-than-normal November temperatures. I've seen burnet rose flowering at Christmas in a couple of mild winters but have never seen this kind of behaviour in dog roses.

It seems unlikely that these late flowers will produce seeds because there were no bee pollinators around and the plant had almost no leaves to provide sugars to fill seeds, unlike ...

... the late-flowering yellow-wort that was blooming at the same site. These flowers were being visited by small fly pollinators that are quite numerous at this time of year and especially attracted to yellow flowers. This species is a fast-growing annual and I suspect that the late-bloomers that we saw might have been second-generation plants themselves, benefitting from the unusually long growing season this year.

Like many annuals, yellow-wort is one of those plants that can grow large and carry scores of flowers in good soil conditions but can also survive in tiny pockets of soil, producing very small plants with just a few flowers and setting seed rapidly when conditions are challenging. Thanks to those fly visitors, the tiny plants flowering in limestone fissures that we found might well produce some viable seeds before winter finally bites.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Fungi in Auckland Park, Bishop Auckland

Found some lovely toadstools in Auckland Park at Bishop Auckland last week. I'm pretty sure this is the trooping funnel Clitocybe geotropa - this was the largest in a ring of eleven under a beech tree. Beautiful arrangement of gills under that funnel-shaped cap.

I think this must be hairy curtain crust Stereum hirsutum .......

.... and this is probably the same species, perhaps paler because the rain had washed out some of the pigment.