Langham in Rutland
Notes from a field - Bob Sheridan
As I write, it is the first day of November and a big change from yesterday, a much more autumnal feel to things. Some trees are still fully clothed with green leaves whilst others are already bare. Those that turned earlier seem to have dropped their leaves very quickly. The ivy has flowered prolifically this year and should provide a good supply of berries for winter. Another plant to have produced a large amount of fruit this year is the bramble. Several people have been collecting the berries to make blackberry and apple pies. The bramble is interesting in several ways. Firstly, its fruit is not really a berry. Each part of the fruit is a drupelet, (a drupe is a fruit that has a fleshy, outer part that surrounds a stone or seed; a drupelet is a tiny drupe), as there are several drupelets together it is an aggregate fruit. Secondly, the identification of species is highly complex. Many brambles can produce fruit without fertilisation (apomixis) but hybridization by fertilisation is also possible. Add to this the fact that the number of chromosomes can be doubled or trebled means many micro-species have formed. It is easiest to refer to the bramble as an aggregate species written as Rubus fruticosus agg…
The hawthorn berries may not stay on hedges for long this year as I have already seen the blackbirds making a feast of them. An unusual looking fruit is that of the spindle tree. They are a colourful show in Munday’s Close at the moment. The spindle tree is so called because its hard and dense wood was, in the past, used to make ‘spindles’ for spinning wool. Both the leaves and fruit are toxic to mammals, the berries have a laxative effect, but birds are immune to this and able to eat them. Today spindle timber is used to make high-quality charcoal. The walnut tree has been a source of amusement. It seems every time I pass it a grey squirrel is running back across the road with a walnut in its mouth. A forest of walnuts will be coming up somewhere next spring. A couple of walnut seedlings appeared in my garden this year and I have potted them up to plant in the field when they are large enough. The trench dug for the electricity cable at the side of Mickley Lane rapidly re-colonised with mainly grass, nettles and mallow, but one particular patch caught my eye. There was a group of about twenty plants with prickly edged, dark green leaves which were marbled with white. Not recognising it I looked it up and it turned out to be milk thistle (Silybum marianum). I sent in a record to the Nature Spot website and found that it was very rare in Leicestershire and Rutland with only two or three historic records. It now has a page of its own on Nature Spot and if you look it up there, the distribution map shows just a single record dot at Langham. I think the seeds must have been buried quite deeply for some time and only germinated when they were brought to the surface by the disturbance. I have also added it to “Langham Flora” on the village website. I had not seen a barn owl for some time but one night in the middle of October about eleven o’clock, I let the dog out and there in the field at the back of the house was a barn owl. It was no more than ten feet away from me and flew to my right, turned and flew back looking sideways at me before silently floating off across the field. A wonderful sight when you see one up that close. I have seen it a couple times since down the field at dusk. A little before the sun sets, large flocks of gulls can be seen heading for Rutland Water and once I saw a pair of swans heading in the opposite direction. The pheasants are returning to the field after their summer away and don’t seem to have forgotten feeding time. Autumn of course means it is time for a clear up in the garden. Whilst doing so I came across two more species of ladybirds. Both are very tiny, only about 4mm long. The twenty-two spot ladybird has the delightful scientific name of Chilocorus vigintiduopunctata. It is bright yellow always with twenty-two spots. Unusually for ladybirds it feeds on mildew. The kidney spot ladybird is black with two red spots and a distinct flange around the wing casings. The harlequin ladybird that I mentioned in the August issue has been the subject of articles in several newspapers recently. It seems large numbers have been entering houses to hibernate for the winter. They certainly seem to be very numerous; one evening I counted thirty-nine stranded in a water trough. Most were shades of orange with minor variations of black spots but two were the black variety with four red spots. The garden is a good place to look for wildlife if there are plenty of food plants and you have a relaxed attitude to what could be called weeds. I tend to leave things like red campion and herb robert as they look quite attractive, although the herb robert did get rather out of hand this year. I like to grow things from seed that are a bit of a challenge. For a couple of years I have tried to grow a banana from seed. The first year the seeds went in damp vermiculite in the airing cupboard. After twelve months all had rotted although some strelitzias I had treated the same way germinated well. The next lot went in compost in a propagator. Twelve months later, nothing; needing the propagator I put them under the bench in the greenhouse and forgot about them. Later in the year, I was surprised to find one had germinated. Over winter it grew to about two feet so this year I planted out in the garden. It grew to about six feet in height and far too big to dig up and put back in the greenhouse. The only option was to cut it right down, cover it with straw and hope for the best.
December 2016