Saturday, August 14, 2010


Lords-and-Ladies (Arum maculatum)

Lords-and-Ladies (Arum maculatum)
August 8

I've been wanting to write about Lords-and-Ladies for some time now. It was one of the two unusual plants that I first noticed (and loved) last year when we first moved to the UK. The other was foxglove.

I noticed it because it's so colorful, growing low under the hedgerows. I had no idea for some time what it was - the orange berries not the flower and the leaves absent made it impossible for me to identify.

Earlier this year, I found another striking plant ... it looked very similar to what I knew as a Jack-in-the-pulpit back in New England. I identified it as Lords-and-Ladies (or "cuckoo pint") and posted a photo of it on my aunt's Facebook wall for her birthday. (I always like to give to other people things that I'd like to get. Wouldn't it be awesome to wake up on your birthday, log into your email, and see a photo of a beautiful flower like this?)

Lords-and-Ladies (Arum maculatum)

Lords-and-Ladies (Arum maculatum)
Photo taken May 4
The flower head spike is called a "spadix" and is a chocolate dark purple color. It's enclosed in a leaf-like "spathe" and is pretty distinctive.

I was really excited about this one and noted the location (just down the hill from Gamswell Farm - opposite the driveway to the next farmhouse). Soon after, I saw one more flower like this (same stretch of road) but no others.

In June, I started seeing single stems with a single small clusters of green berries - this time I knew what it was. What delighted me was the fact that these were everywhere! Not in great numbers, maybe one or two here and there, but certainly many more than I had ever dreamed, given that I only saw two in flower.

Now, in August, the berries (said to be extremely poisonous) are just past their peak. The stems don't hold up well - except for this monster on the right that seems to defy the laws of gravity. It continues to stand straight and bold, when all other have toppled over. I'll definitely be looking for the regeneration of this one next spring.

Lords-and-Ladies (Arum maculatum)
June 8
Lords-and-Ladies (Arum maculatum)
July 30

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Nettle Rust

Nettle Rust (Puccinia urticata)

Nettle Rust (Puccinia urticata)

This photo was taken on July 7th. At the time, I was amused that something was attacking and twisting what looked to be a perfectly healthy (and nasty) Stinging Nettle. In fact, I thought it was some sort of caterpillar ... until I touched it and discovered it to be quite solid. Creepy.

Must be some sort of disease (evil laugh), I thought, as I put the photo aside.

Fast forward to my recent discovery of the realm of galls. Galls, according to Wikipedia, are abnormal outgrowths of plant tissues and can be caused by various parasites, from fungi and bacteria, to insects and mites. This has opened up a whole new world to me! As I googled the variety of galls one image leapt out at me - nettle rust! So that's what that creepy orange caterpillar-like thing was!

Nettle rust isn't a disease after all but a fungus. Well, no, not a fungus but a deformity caused somehow by a fungus. Puccinia urticata is the fungus' scientific name and, according to my brief study, is mentioned only in connection with Nettle (Urtica dioica).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wild Angelica

Wild Angelica (Angelica sylvestris)

Wild Angelica (Angelica sylvestris)

I discovered a wonderful blog recently. I think of it as "Bob Donegal's Blog". Actually its author is Stuart Dunlop and its content focuses on Donegal, Ireland. How I get "Bob Donegal" out of that I don't know. So, apologies to Stuart but we dub thee "Bob". Bob's been writing recently about Angelica and that got me to wondering where the heck the Angelica plants have been hiding because I haven't noticed any.

Oh, they're there all right. I just didn't see them for who they really are; mistaking them for hogweed. Yeah. Yeah. Dumb. On a walk past the reservoir I saw hogweed - yes, double check: thick stem, leaves, flower cluster is rimmed by somewhat larger flowers, FLIES. But very close by ... a very similar plant -- but with very purple stem. And its leaves were wildly different. *THERE* WAS MY ANGELICA!

Wild Angelica leaves Wild Angelica (Angelica sylvestris)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Downy Rose (or more correctly: Gall and Unknown Rose)

Downy Rose (Rosa tomentosa)

Downy Rose (Rosa tomentosa)

This was going to be the mystery flower for the month of August.

Photos of it have been sitting in my iPhoto collection for at least a couple of weeks. I've looked in all my books trying to identify it but it doesn't even look like a flower. It looks more like a dustball that you might find under the bed except that it's bright red.

I've seen it only in one place, just up from Castle Hill farm, on the left and buried in the weeds. Sometimes I'll walk past and don't see it at all, other times it just barely catches my eye. I think it's from outer space. How can it be that none of my books display anything even remotely close? I was flummoxed. I thought maybe my eyesight was really getting bad and that maybe it was just wild strawberries - so I took a closer look and was surprised to discover thorns (ouch) and rose-like leaves. That should have been my first clue.

So, I thought, it must be a rose planted and since forgotten by someone at the nearby farm. My next task would be to concentrate on the rose family (groan). Fortunately, I was saved from that daunting task by a stroke of good fortune: I found a photo of it while browsing the National Education Network Gallery! I need to do a bit more research to confirm but I can't imagine there'd be other flowers that look quite like this one.

Downy Rose (Rosa tomentosa) and Gall

Downy Rose (Rosa tomentosa) and Gall

Update August 09: I can hear my daughter scolding me now: "MOM, YOU DIDN'T EVEN READ IT, DID YOU?"

She's right. I didn't bother to read the text next to the photograph on the NEN website. If I had, I wouldn't have wasted two hours last night searching for a rose that had a bundle of red fibers for a bud.

This is what I would of, could of, should have read:
The Downy rose grows in hedgerows and grassland. Like many wild roses it is frequently attacked by the gall-wasp -Diplolepis rosae. Gall wasps are small dark-coloured insects about 4mm long. The wasp punctures the plant and lays its eggs. The galls are formed by a reaction of the cells of the plant to the presence of the larva. Although the exact reactions in the host plant are little understood. The galls are a mass of filaments within which are found a number of sealed chambers enclosing larvae. The larvae feed on the gall tissue. On downy roses such galls are bright red and known as robin's pin-cushions.

Live and learn.