Tag Archives: botany

Summer… back from oblivion

In May and June the weather went haywire, temperatures well below normal and vast quantities of rain pouring from the sky weekly. Well things are finally starting to look up. The weather seems to have stabilised, with temperatures last week actually reaching 27 Celsius and last night was a balmy 19 C, today all my various thermometers are hovering over 24C and it’s barely lunchtime. Anyhow, the flowers are blooming like crazy. Ireland is said to be one of the best places in the whole world to see fuchsias, which are not indigenous plants but garden escapees originally from southern Chile and Argentina. They have become an unmissable part of our new countryside, and many moths and butterflies like them too.

Beautiful fuchsias hanging by a Wicklow roadside right now.

But if that’s not enough for you, then there’s the oceans of nectar-filled colour to choose from. The Butterfly Bushes, Buddleia davidii are now weighed down with their various coloured blooms, each of which is a remarkable variation of a single type of scent. Needless to say the butterflies, hoverflies and everything else loves them.

A Red Admiral feeding on Butterfly Bush.

 

A Small Tortoiseshell tucks into the buffet.

 

And although this summer has been a genuine disappointment (butterfly numbers are WAY down below average) migrants are reaching our shores, and here is the single Painted Lady (below) I’ve seen so far this year, resting and basking on top of bramble in the 27 C of last week.

My one Painted Lady sighting this year. Elegance personified.

However, don’t let the butterflies take all the limelight – there are some truly fantastic beauties out there, and some of them are exotic-coloured beetles. I call this one the Dream Beetle for a long and complicated reason, but mostly because it has no common name. It’s one of the nectar-feeding long-horns, and last week was only my second time ever seeing one. The last was five years ago in the garden. This one (below) was out on the hogweed by the road. All praise the hogweed, it feeds armies of the most important insects in our countryside, and more besides. Importance, of course, is relative.

The Dream Beetle, Strangalia quadrifaciatus, is a large beetle that feeds on nectar and is only very rarely seen. We are very fortunate to have them in Wicklow, but I’m the only person I know of who has seen one! That’s why a camera is so important.

Well, the blog is back after terrible flu, endless rain, sub-summer temperatures and the many other little nuisances that afflict the online naturalist. I do plan to change the direction a little though, and perhaps make things more exciting. But you, dear reader, will be the judge of that…

Winter…turning into Spring!

It’s January and the beautiful-looking and beautifully-scented Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) is in full bloom, with soft feather duster-like flowers pouring aniseed-scented perfume into the warmer than average air.

Winter Heliotrope at sunset today, a January afternoon.

Not only this, but there are insects to be found everywhere, as there is little or no frost. Even now the Green Shieldbugs are changing from their brown winter colours to the green that gives them their name.

Brown form of Green Shieldbug already changing to green.

However, unusually for so early in January, the leafy spikes of daffodils have already broken through the surface of the clay, and are far in advance of last winter. The warm soil-temperatures and general lack of cold, and particularly frost, have led to this unusual situation. But there is one plant that puts the rubber stamp to an Irish spring, and that’s the crocus. So far I haven’t found any above ground or flowering, but they are not easy to find until their bright flowers burst open, which will very likely be very soon.

 

Daffodils photographed today, about two or three weeks earlier than last year, due to our unusually balmy January conditions, not to mention those preceding warm spells in November and December.

So, if you’re tired of snow and frost and ice, hop on a plane or ferry and come to Wicklow to see a wonderful early spring where temperatures are well above freezing and there are even summer garden plants still blossoming…with daffodil flowers coming shortly.

Book launch!

Last week I attended the launch of botanist Zoé Devlin’s beautiful new book Wildflowers of Ireland: A Personal Record. Zoé was on hand to sign autographs of this magnificent tome – the book is a quality publication, produced by the Collins Press. There was a time when such lavishly illustrated books on Irish nature were unheard of, but the Collins Press have made a name with prestige volumes of this high quality, and it is very fortunate for anyone with an interest in Irish wildlife. That said, the book is heavy in construction (if you should find yourself in front of a firing squad it would be helpful to have a copy tucked under your shirt!), but laden with superbly-written information and detailed maps for each plant species, and absolutely fantastic photographs taken by Zoé. Anybody who is familiar with this blog will remember reading in June of how I came to meet Zoé and her husband John as they searched for rare Sea Kale along the Wicklow coast in June.

Zoé Devlin with her beautiful and lavishly illustrated Wildflowers of Ireland: A Personal Record.

The Collins Press produce books designed to stand the test of time, so although this a bit too heavy to serve as a field guide, it is a perfect reference, and the descriptions of folklore, medicinal application and personal encounters elevate this volume to a status far above anything you are likely to find in a typical book on the subject. For example, here is part of her description of Silverweed – Potentilla anserina:

“My first record of this plant is from the Vartry Reservoir near Roundwood, Co. Wicklow, in 1976 and I photographed it at Tacumshin Lake, Co. Wexford, in 2008.

Also called ‘Argentina anserina’, many of Silverweed’s names refer to its leaves; in French Richette and in Dutch Zilverkruid. These same leaves were, at one time, used as insoles in the shoes of tired walkers to ease their feet. The plant was also used as food for geese, hence its species name ‘anserina’ (anser = goose in Latin). In early times the roots of this plant were cultivated in some of the Scottish islands until potatoes were introduced. It is said that they taste somewhat like parsnips. The dried fruits were also ground and used like flour in bread-making.”

The beautiful cover: you can judge this book by it's cover! It's superb.
Just a sample of the layout of the book: each page contains superb photographs and detailed information, and beautifully-written anecdotes.

Clearly the sort of book that will be of interest to botanists, general purpose naturalists, folklorists, foragers, cooks, medicinalists and, of course, survivalists (so if you’re a fan of Ray Mears I’d say this book is for you).

There were quite a few scientists and TV personalities at this book launch, and the event was hosted by Gerald Fleming, known as the “winking weatherman” from his broadcasts on RTE television.

Cornered by two people armed with cameras, Gerald Fleming contemplates the inevitable photographs.

For anyone interested in spending the money on Zoé’s magnificent book (money well spent!) follow this link to Amazon.co.uk (which lets you see more content too):

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wildflowers-Ireland-Personal-Zo%C3%AB-Devlin/dp/1848891261/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1320181298&sr=1-1