Sunday, 17 February 2013

Lichen or lichen? Face of Jesus.Wildlife folklore, Earth Star,

Rather than tag it on the end I want to start with Any Other Business. I am  gradually getting to grips with the technology of blogging but I have noticed that depending on which browser you use e.g. Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari and the like, you might get a different presentation of the blog site. Some fonts don't translate from one  service to another, for example  my  AC/DC  font was okay on I.E. but failed on Chrome. Also on  the mobile version the background image scrolls with the text making it impossible to  read parts of it. Oh what woe! At the moment I have no idea how to overcome these problems but I am working on them. 
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Lichen or Lichen?

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers sang, - 'You  like  tomayto I like tomarta, you like potayto and I like  potarta, tomayto, tomarta, potayto, patarta , oh lets call the whole thing off...........'  I sang, -  'You say Heushera , I say Heuchera, you  say Weigelia ,I say Weigela, I say Clemaytis  you  say  CLEMatis, you  call it lichen and I call it liken, let's call the whole thing off. ' We'll leave the Heuchera , Weigela, and Clematis thing for another day and just deal with the lichen or liken issue. I looked it up in the dictionary to check out the phonetic  pronunciation and  it says,  '' Pronounced lie-ken ( it was  written out in those  funny phonetic symbols  but they don't come out well in this font  and who actually understands them?)  but  sometimes said  lichen as  in kitchen.''  So there you have it, you can please yourself. Hooray. Well not quite. Lichen comes from Greek and I am not a Greek scholar but I think they would say a hard ch ( Kick)  rather than a soft ch ( Chin).
Whatever you call them they are quite a piece of  something. I say something because they are not plants nor are they animals but a combination of two separate organisms, a fungus and either an algae or sometimes  a  cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria are blue-green bacteria which can make energy from sunlight just like the algae.The fungus and its symbiotic  partner get by  mostly  by the algae or bacteria providing energy  garnered from the sun  and the fungus helps by retaining water and providing a bigger area for capturing nutrients. The relationship is  complex and that explanation is a big over simplification.
This symbiosis allows them to occupy environmental niches that they could not survive in as separate entities. The algae can live without the fungus but the fungus cannot live without the algae. It has always puzzled me how such a mutually reliant existence allows them to reproduce when you have  two different organisms involved but operating as one. It turns out that they  can spread by vegetative means which means bits come off and establish themselves in a new location but they also produce a type of spore which contains a bit of both the algae and the fungus and this is dispersed by the wind. Where there is a need evolution invariably finds a way.
Lichens can withstand considerable desiccation which allows them to colonise  a wide range of often inhospitable environments. The pictures below show them on wood, asbestos, and painted metal which are not particularly   inhospitable  but certainly varied and providing very little nutrition.  .
     This is not meant to be a scientific look at lichens because there are many and varied variations  on the lichen theme  and their life history can be complex. I am more  concerned by the beauty of their shape and colour. Take a look at the British Lichen Society  website for comprehensive information.  

Lichens of many shapes and textures were clinging to an apple tree I pruned recently

The pictures below are all taken within a yard or two of each other and  I would not be surprised if most times when you are outdoors  that along with that rat we are always only a few feet away from you are not that far from a lichen. They are sensitive to air pollution so town dwellers might  have to look a bit harder. 

I live in Potter's Lane and this sign is typical of many where the sign cleaner  never gets - thankfully.  

It would be  perfect if the name of this lichen began with S........

.....and this one began with P.
The  spattered, tiny, coral-like fragments on this P were finely detailed and sublime. 

I borrowed this T from the sign opposite because the lichens were  better than  on the T above.

Lichen on stone wall 1

Lichen on stone wall 2

      Lichen on stone wall 3

Lichens on wooden bench 1

Lichens on wooden bench 2 

Lichen on asbestos shed. 1 (Can you spot the face of Jesus?)

Lichen on asbestos shed 2 or is it a picture of the cosmos or is it just a boring picture? You decide.

I sometime get asked to look at 'diseased' shrubs to advise on what can be done only to  find that the plant in question is just covered in lichens. It is usually on old shrubs where the lichen has had time  to get well established. The lichen does not penetrate the plants and does no harm. This also applies to ivy on trees. The ivy takes nothing from the tree but does make branches heavier and  more likely to break off in high winds or when laden with snow.

Lichen on this small, round leaved deciduous Lilac, Syringa meyeri var spontanea 'Palibin'  gives it a frosted look.


Earth Star

Here's a curious little fellow.  It is an earth star fungus and more specifically the Arched Earth Star and more scientifically Geastrum fornicatum. Ge = earth as in geology, astrum = star as in Per ardua ad astra and fornicatum  as in, well, what are you expecting?  It means arched or vaulted.  Wikipedia  tells us  about fornication - 'It is a common belief that the origin of the word derives from Latin. The word fornix means "an archway" or "vault" and it became a common euphemism for a brothel as prostitutes could be solicited in the vaults beneath Rome. More directly, fornicatio means "done in the archway," perhaps a reference to prostitution.' Well, well, well, the things you learn from a lowly fungus.  


Wildlife folklore 

I recently asked a friend,Phill Clayton, if he fancied  contributing  to this blog. He did and here it is below.
Phill is an accomplished wildlife photographer and very knowledgeable naturalist. He has logged several species of wildlife never before recorded in South Warwickshire and built up a comprehensive picture library of the wildlife of the local area through birds, flowers and insects. He is a keen conservationist and one of the main movers in the Stour Valley Wildlife Action Group . Much of his work can be seen on their website. (
The group also has a Facebook page.) It is a valuable resource for those interested in the well being of their countryside. 
Take it away Phill. 

''After reading the various posts I thought, having an interest in the natural world, I would like to add a slant in that direction!
A slant perhaps at a tangent  that delves  more  into folklore and myth. Why? Because we have learned much about the natural world over the centuries culminating in some fantastic video footage of species' life cycles that are even stranger than fiction. However, this interest lies in how our ancestors tried to make sense of the living things around them, within the constraints of their times! Probably the most familiar of our wildlife, are the birds we see around our gardens and local countryside!
We can attempt to see these through the eyes of the ancients who wrote about them with, in some cases, great detail.
When Christ was crucified it is said that the Crossbill drew out the nails to release Christ and this is how it has a deformed bill, The red markings are  the blood of Christ from their efforts to free him. Swallows it was believed, flew off with the nails so they couldn't be  used again! It was the Sparrow that followed them and brought them back and for punishment had their legs fixed together invisibly so now they can only hop and never run again. Thus, it was a sin to kill the swallow and some believed that if a farmer does this  his cows will yield blood instead of milk!
(Religion was of course one of the great constraints of these times!)
    Nisus, the King of Megara, had a daughter called Scylla who for the love of Minos betrayed her father and country. On realising her betrayal she  threw herself into the sea in despair and was changed into a lark. This doomed her to be pursued forever by her father who changed into a hawk……….The species name for the sparrow hawk is Accipiter nisus!
    The Cuckoo or Gowk, has been the subject of much folklore. Where did it go in winter, where did it nest, why did it change its song, why did it eat other birds eggs? Why did grasshoppers hatch from its spittle?
The attempts to answer all of these conundrums were quite varied, some believed that cuckoos turned into hawks in the winter (The barred breast of the cuckoo is quite Sparrow hawk-like!). Others believed it hibernated in this country, either in the mud at the bottom of ponds, or would lose its feathers and hide in the hollows in trees and looked like an owl. (Tawny owls nest early in hollows so finding young owlets could explain this!) It was also thought that the cuckoo arrived here on the backs of Kites as their flight was poor! (This probably came about as a coincidence in arrival time!) Some believed a Cuckoo could not sing until it had eaten the egg of a small bird. (Cuckoos do take birds eggs, this is to make room in the nest of the host parents for its own egg, so a thread of truth!) The tiny soft bodied Frog-hopper larvae that secrete the protective foamy substance we know as Cuckoo spit are most evident in the months the Cuckoo sings so again it seems the two must be associated by pure coincidence!
But why did these stories come about?
Explaining why a bird like the cuckoo, (which would have been very common back then!) made itself so obviously present within the few months of summer and then apparently disappearing completely, must have been quite important. For a better or wise person having to explain to a lesser being  that you didn't know the answer would never do! So explanations were created.
I guess by now us commoners should be used to the tales we  have been  spun by our peers ever since!''           


Face of Jesus. 

We've all seen it haven't we?  Pull a slice of toast out of the toaster  and there it is the face of Jesus, spill milk on the table and there it is again; just about to take a sip and there it is, the face of Jesus, in the froth of our pint of Guinness. Well, I was knocking apart an old pallet the other day and there it was, the face of Jesus, but what I hadn't realised was that he smoked. 


Winter wonders.

This is one of the few variegated plants I get excited by. I grow it alongside the path to the house to cheer me as I go by. It is reliable and  bright and clean  throughout the year but seems particularly so  in the winter  when it shines out against dark wet earth and bedraggled  plant debris. It even looks good through the snow. Yucca filamentosa 'Golden Sword', try it. 

Here are two rather poor pictures of  a plant I have overlooked  for much of my gardening life. Leucojum vernum  This  plant  has been  flowering  from  mid to late January through February in the UK Midlands.  Snowdrops fit in well with winter, they look cold with their pure white flowers and blue tinted foliage but this plant has the luxuriance of a summer flowering  bulb.The foliage is dense and a rich dark green  and the white flowers, held well above the leaves, are perked up with bright yellow anthers and petals with yellowy green tips. It is called the Spring Snowflake but it is too early and far too warm to be called either Spring or Snowflake  Don't miss out on it like I have all these years, track one down in readiness for next winter.    

Flowering it's head off in early February Cornus mas must rate only just behind Hammamelis, Witch Hazel, but ahead  of most everything else for  winter colour. It is a deciduous, hardy, large shrub/small tree that tolerates a wide range of conditions and if you are desperate enough you can make jelly from its berries though it needs a warm spot  to fruit regularly.


It is that time of the year when everyone writes about Hellebores. Here's my contribution. This is a fabulously dark selection from Ashwoods Nurseries Not only are the flowers so very dark but the new foliage is a rich chocolate purple. It is exquisite.  

 There is a lesson to be learned in this  picture.  Because we had a great heap of  them I used felled tree chippings as a mulch. It certainly works well as a weed suppressant and helps retain soil moisture in this free draining sandy soil but it can be distracting when you want to appreciate  some of the smaller plants growing through it. Once the plants are up and  their own foliage acts as a background to their flowers it is fine but in early spring  when the likes of snowdrops, hellebores, species tulips and Cyclamen coum are doing their best to be seen they can be lost against the jumble of  shapes  and colours of the mulch. It will take several seasons before  the mulch  breaks down sufficiently for its colour to darken. 
Another lesson is that when you cut back your old hellebore leaves in winter try not to leave stubby bits of stem showing;it spoils the effect.( I am in a quandary, should that be effect or affect? Help me out English scholars.)  


Bits and Bobs

Young engineers overheard at Job Centre.... 'Drilling is boring'....... 'I went for a job as a lathe operator. I got turned down.'


In the UK there are several genera of Woodlice, those small ancient looking insects that creep around in damp and shady places. One of the genera is Armadillidium which is a great name to pronounce, but, better still, they are classified in the section  Armadillidiidae - is that an insect or a traditional Irish fiddle tune?


President Carter, Gracie Fields, Bill Gates, Tiger Woods, Charlotte Church, Jenny Meadows, Tim Shepherd, Helen Brook, Billy Twelvetrees, Joan Rivers, Stonewall Jackson, John Farmer, Jim Dale and Giant Haystacks all stand shoulder to shoulder to create a rural idyll. 

Anyone else we should include?

Sandy Shaw could start a seaside scene.