Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Sunday walk along the river Wear

Probably the best weather that I can ever remember for an Easter Sunday. We took a walk along the south side of the river Wear, between Wolsingham and Black Banks plantation at Harperley.

Reassuring to find that the weird flower spikes of toothwort Lathraea squamaria were coming up again under the old coppiced hazels, where we've known them for nearly 40 years.

There's something vaguely reptilian about these parasitic flowering plants that siphon off all their nutrients from the roots of hazel.

You can read more about the strange physiology and folklore of toothwort by clicking here.

This is the plasmodial stage of the slime mould Reticularia lycoperdon [recently renamed Enteridium lycoperdon], probably only about a day away from turning into the sporulating stage. In the plasmodial stage it creeps over the alder tree trunk surface, digesting bacteria, then it forms a parchment-like skin (for pictures click here) enclosing countless dark brown spores. When the skin ruptures they are dispersed on the wind, then germinate into minute amoeba-like organisms that eventually aggregate back into this creeping plasmodial stage, which is most often seen in spring.

I found my first wild primrose of the season growing at the base of an ash tree, and ....

... hundreds of butterbur flower spikes had appeared along the riverbank in the last week.

Elm flowers. A mature elm tree in full bloom was a wonderful sight, with its crown a haze of purple, but it's one we are unlikely to see again, thanks to Dutch elm disease. Young elm trees that have regenerated from the roots of dead stumps are common enough though.

The beautiful juvenile female cones of larch, waiting to be pollinated.

Artefacts of autumn: a hazel nut neatly split in two by a grey squirrel and the stone of a fruit (wild arum?) nibbled by a field mouse.

A rather tatty peacock that had safely made it through the winter and was sunbathing on an old plastic bag.

A pair of goosander on the river. Their behaviour changes in spring. A few weeks ago they would have flown before I could get close but once they are paired up and have identified a hollow tree to nest in they are reluctant to leave their territory.

A fantastic carpet of wild garlic leaves beside the footpath, that will become a sea of white in a few days' time when the flowers open.

Those trees at the top of the bank host a rookery, so we were accompanied by their cawing along this stretch of the walk.


  1. This was a walk and a half. It has been the best Easter weekend I can recall.

    1. Fabulous weather - really seemed to have kick-started spring!

  2. Slime moulds seems closer to animal than fungus sometimes

    1. Weird, aren't they? Germinated some spores once and watched amoeboid stage crawling around under the microscope.

  3. Have been looking out for Toothwort after seeing it on your blog last year, no joy yet...
    Amanda xx

    1. Hope you find some Amanda - fascinating plant