Sunday, 19 December 2010

PLANT: Salvia veneris (Hedge) a Cyprus narrow endemic

Date retrospective: April 2001:
Salvia veneris is a beautifully-flowered extremely narrow endemic restricted to an area of only a few square kilometres of ecologically-interesting terrain around Kythrea (Degirmenlìk) in northern Cyprus. The plant has rounded, flattened, thickly felted grey-green leaves, nearly all of them basal. The flowers have a pale sky-blue hood and a cream-yellow lower lip finely flecked with darker markings although I've also found a few plants with pure white flowers.

[White-flowered form]

The substrate where it grows comprises barren eroded sandstones and marls and plants are usually found on the slopes of small hummocks amongst minimal competition. Such open dry earth is very loose and friable and although quite deep-rooted, the plants (and the habitat) can be easily damaged by trampling. They occur in discrete local populations, often comprising only 10 to 30 individuals and can be surprisingly difficult to detect against the greyish soil.

[Several plants can be seen as grey patches scattered on the friable substrate]

Salvia veneris occurs in loose association with several other interesting plants which include the recently discovered Wiedemannia orientalis Fisch. & Mey. and the endemic Hedysarum cyprium Boiss.

[Wiedemannia orientalis]

[Hedysarum cyprium]

Salvia veneris was first discovered by the party of botanists led by the Englishman John Sibthorp during a tour of the eastern Mediterranean in 1787; a specimen which they collected is preserved in the Oxford University herbarium. In addition, a beautiful and accurate painting was made by Ferdinand Bauer, the renowned Austrian natural history artist, who accompanied Sibthorp's party and an engraving of this is reproduced in ‘Flora Graeca' published by James Smith in 1806. Unfortunately no locality details were given on the preserved specimen and so the precise place where it was first collected is uncertain but may have been a little to the west of the limited area from which it is now known.

For a detailed account of this plant and its close relatives, see the Karaca Arboretum Magazine Vol 7 part 1 (Foley 2003).

Monday, 6 December 2010

PLANT: Arenaria norvegica subsp anglica (English Sandwort) in the British Isles.

Arenaria norvegica subsp. anglica, Ingleborough, North Yorkshire

Date: retrospective to the mid 1990s
This very scarce small white-flowered plant is a member of the Caryophyllaceae (Pink family). Arenaria norvegica occurs in Britain as two distinct sub-species (subsp. anglica and subsp. norvegica). The former, subsp. anglica, is a British endemic (i.e. not known elsewhere in the world) and is restricted to just a small area of the Yorkshire Dales whereas subsp. norvegica, although still scarce, is rather more widespread and is found in the Assynt area of Sutherland, Shetland, Argyll, the Isle of Rhum and western Ireland.
Subspecies anglica is biennial with narrow elliptic-ovate leaves, flowers to c.20mm in diameter and with three styles; subsp norvegica is perennial, has obovate leaves and smaller flowers bearing 3-5 styles.

Subp. anglica, Crummack, Ingleborough

Most populations of subsp. anglica are to be found on the limestone pavement area on the eastern flank of Ingleborough although it can easily be overloooked. It prefers very thin soils over well-drained limestone and grows in cracks and small depressions in the rock where competition from other plants is minimal. It has also been found in damp flushes and occasionally has colonised track-sides where limestone gravel has been laid as a base. In the early 1990s I took part in a survey of the plant on Ingleborough where eventually 27 separate populations were found in this very limited area. Population sizes can fluctuate dramatically depending on climatic conditions at the time of flowering (May onwards).

Subsp. norvegica, River Loanan shingle, Inchnadamph, Sutherland

Subsp. norvegica is also restricted to limestone substrates. In Scotland it mostly grows on fine scree and on riverside gravels (as above). In Ireland it was recorded on a single occasion in 1961 on extensive pavement in the Burren but couldn’t be re-found in subsequent years and was thought extinct until rediscovered in 2008. It also occurs in Scandinavia and Iceland.

Monday, 22 November 2010

HOVERFLIES: Some common Lancashire hoverflies

August 25-27, 2010:
A few photographs of some local hoverflies are below. Identification to species level (and even to genus) can often be difficult. Some of those shown are only named tentatively and therefore open to correction.

Heliophilus pendulas, Hawes Water, 25.8.2010

Heliophilus pendulas, Brockholes Wetland, 27.8.2010

Episyrphus balteatus, Mere Sands, 26.8.2010

Episyrphus balteatus, Hawes Water, 25.8.2010

Eristalis pertenax, Hawes Water, 25.8.2010

Syrphus vitripennis, Mere Sands, 26.8.2010

Syrphus vitripennis (left) & Episyrphus balteatus, Mere Sands, 26.8.2010

Query Epistrophe grossulariae, Hawes Water, 25.8.2010

Query Melanastoma scalare, Brockholes Wetland, 27.8.2010

Query Eupeodes luniger, Brockholes Wetland, 27.8.2010

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

FUNGUS: Some gasteroid fungi in north-west England

September 28-October 4, 2010:
'Gasteroid' is a loose term used to describe fungi in which the spores are developed within the closed fruitbodies. The result is that the spores are not forcibly dicharged but are released passively often through a central hole (ostiole) by the aid of external agents such as wind or falling rain drops. The group includes those fungi well-known as puffballs, earthstars, etc. Dunes and woodlands are typical habitats with those at Ainsdale NNR near Southport being especially rich. A few seen and photographed recently are shown here.

[Dunes at Ainsdale]

Lycoperdon perlatum, Common Puffball, (below) occurs either singly or in small clusters and has its outer surface delicately covered with fine spines or 'pearls'. It is widespread in Britain and very common at Ainsdale where photographed here.

[Fruitbodies from which the spores have been expelled]

[Above, probably the closely-related Lycoperdon nigrescens, Ainsdale dunes]

Lycoperdon excipuliformis, Pestle-shaped Puffball (below) also occurs at Ainsdale but less frequently. It mainly differs from the above in its shape as suggested by its common name. It is more elongated and taller than L. perlatum.

[Lycoperdon excipuliformis at Ainsdale]

Lycoperdon pyriforme, Stump Puffball, is common throughout the country and grows in woodland on strongly-decaying wood. Photographed below at Eaves Wood, Lancashire in 2008.

[Lycoperdon pyriforme]

Scleroderma citrinum, Common Earthball, (below) is tinged yellowish and has coarse scales or warts on its outer surface. It favours acidic woodlands and heaths and is often associated with birch, beech or oak. Here it was growing amongst scattered birch on the heath at Foulshaw Moss, Cumbria.

[Scleroderma citrinum]

Geastrum triplex, Collared Earthstar, is probably the commonest species within the genus. The expanded fruit body splits into several arched rays to reveal the onion-shaped central body. Often found on dunes or in calcareous woodland as here at Silverdale.

[Geastrum triplex]

Sunday, 26 September 2010

MAMMAL: Roe Deer at Brockholes Wetland, Lancashire

September 26, 2010:
Being close to the Ribble and with much woodland and scrub both on the site and nearby, this wetland is a haven for a number of mammal species which sometimes includes Roe Deer. Intensive construction work on the new facilities is carried out on weekdays so that not many animals have been seen lately but on this quiet Sunday afternoon, one at least was inspecting the new developments.

It took quite an interest in the brightly coloured notice-board and seemed reluctant to leave until spotting a long lens aimed in its direction 150 metres away.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

DRAGONFLY: Brown Hawker and Migrant Hawker at Mere Sands, Lancashire

September 16, 2010:
On a cool blustery early autumn day with little sun, it was rather rather surprising to see Brown and Migrant Hawkers flying. They mainly kept to the more sheltered areas at the tree margins but were inclined to settle onto vegetation more frequently than normal. This was especially noticeable for the Brown Hawker as these seem to fly for ever and are rarely seen settled except when ovipositing. Common Darters were also flying as well as Comma, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood butterflies.

Brown Hawker, female (both above), Migrant Hawker, male (both below)

Friday, 10 September 2010

DRAGONFLY: Southern Hawkers (Aeshna cyanea) near Silverdale, Lancashire

September 9, 2010:
A small sheltered pool near Silverdale has several species of dragonfly including Common Darter, Black Darter and the rather scarce Ruddy Darter. Here also are Southern Hawkers but despite having made several visits to the site in the last few weeks, I had failed to get a photo of any at rest. Today, whether it was the temperature, the cooler weather conditions, or the time of day, several males settled obligingly, only spending short periods in flight or buzzing an onlooker, and much preferring to perch at the pool edge on the reed-mace, willow-herb, meadowsweet or bramble.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

DRAGONFLY: Southern Hawkers and Common Hawkers near Burnley, Lancashire

September 2/3, 2010:
A small isolated wooded pool close to the Pennine moorland had at least three species of Hawker flying today. The conditions were ideal for dragonflies, windless and very warm in the sheltered hollow amongst the trees. A female Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) attempted to oviposit (below) onto a desiccated log well above water-level and repeatedly changed position in trying to find an acceptable site.

Males also patrolled the area (below), regularly buzzing any observer whilst a Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) was seen ovipositing on floating weed but this was on the far side of the pool and out of camera range.

[A patrolling Southern Hawker]

Common Hawkers (Aeshna juncea) were also flying and a bonus came when one settled on the trunk of a nearby pine. At first photographed at long range, it was soon possible to approach extremely closely and even then it didn’t fly, only doing so later to pursue a male which had invaded its territory. Seen against the rough bark of the tree, it was well camouflaged and presumably it knew that.

[Common Hawker]

[The dragonfly pool with a light mist rising]

Several Common Darters (Sympetrum striolatum) were also seen as well as numerous Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) butterflies. Thanks are due to Allen Holmes for details of this site.