Saturday, 22 October 2016

Clematis and Hawthorn

This is the second post about fruits and berries in Milton Country Park.



Bank of fruiting clematis
Clematis vitalba - 21 September 2016
Its similarity to an old man's beard is striking

Clematis vitalba has colonised a number of the trees and bushes in the north of the park.  In many cases, the climber has completely swamped its host, and, as in this picture, very little of the supporting tree or bush is visible, behind a bank of the invader.  The appropriateness of its common name, old man's beard, is very obvious when a mass of its seed heads like this are seen.

Tree covered in flowering clematis
Flowering clematis - 31 July 2016
Tree completely covered in clematis flowers.

This plant is also commonly known as traveller's joy. This name, that has been in use since at least the 16th Century, refers to the bright and cheerful display its seeds make during the sombre autumn months.  Although small greeny white flowers are quite showy, they do not have the impact of later fruit.  

Close up of clematis flowers
Clematis flowers - 24 July 2016
The flowers are unusual in that they have no petals.

The most unusual feature of the flowers is that they have no petals; the petal like structure that can be seen in this picture are sepals.  Maybe not that surprising in the wild plants, but, far more so in the cultivated plants with their huge multicoloured sepals.

Fruiting clematis and brambles
Clematis and brambles - 12 September 2016
Like scavengers fighting over a corpse, brambles and clematis vie for dominance

One of the things I have become increasingly interested in is plant communities and how plants compete for space and light.  In this picture, it is hard to know what is buried below the smothering mass of brambles and clematis.



Clematis with fruit climbing around hawthorn full of red berries
Clematis and hawthorn - 11 September 2016
Contrasting seeds of hawthorn and clematis

Given the number of hawthorn bushes in the park, it is not surprising that some have been invaded by clematis.  I found the contrast of the small dense berries of the hawthorn and the fluffy white seeds of the clematis quite striking.

Hawthorn bush with masses of red berries
Hawthorn - 12 September 2016
Hawthorn bush with a good crop of berries

What a difference a year makes!  Last year, I worked hard to find any hawthorn bush with more than a few berries.  This year, every bush, like the one in this picture, was laden with them.

Rose Hips


Arching briar with rose hips
Rose Hips - 12 September 2016
Easily missed amongst the mass of hawthorn berries

Almost totally lost amongst all the millions of hawthorn berries in the park are few dog roses with their bright orange red hips. I spotted these on a bush at the north of the park.

I was surprised how little folk lore and herbal medicine is attached to this plant. Its medicinal use seems to be confined to use as a source of vitamins, particularly vitamin C, when a syrup is made from the hips.

Perhaps, the most intriguing bit of folk lore I came across is the Indian belief that if fairies ate rose hips and turned three times counter clockwise, they became invisible. Eat the rose hips again, and turn three times clockwise, and, hey presto, the fairies become visible again.

The rose has also been a symbol of silence since the early Egyptians. Any matters discussed under a rose were in strict confidence. This led to the custom of carving roses on the ceiling of banquetting halls to remind guests that any conversations were not to be repeated outside of the hall.

Next: Reeds

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Apples and Plums

Photographing Milton Country Park for the second year running has given me the opportunity to either picture things I missed the first time around, or, hopefully, improve on my images from last year. As anyone who has photographed in the same place for any length of time will know, seasons vary tremendously from year to year.

Cherry Plums 

Tree laden with cluster of ripe cherry plums
Cherry Plums - 31 July 2016
A bumper crop this year


The mild spring and the warm and wet summer has meant a bumper crop of cherry plums. Last year, I took some pictures at an early stage when just a few plums were ripe. When I went back later, they had all disappeared. This year, to avoid the same mistake, I assiduously photographed the plums twice a week for three weeks. But I needn't have worried, as the trees were laden with fruit as the image above shows. This is far more than last year. Interestingly, the plum trees in the orchard had far fewer plums than in 2015.

Lords and Ladies


Spikes of ripe but uneaten lords and ladies among bramble and ivy
Lords and Ladies - 7 August 2016
A clump of ripe but uneaten fruit among the brambles and the ivy

Another fruit I struggled to capture last year, was the bright red berries of cuckoo pint (for some reason I think of the plant as cuckoo pint, and its fruit as lords and ladies). In 2015, all the spikes seem to be eaten as soon as they appeared. This time around, I had no problem in finding entire spikes, like the group shown here. Is this a reflection of an increase in number of berries, or that the birds, squirrels, and rabbits had plenty of other things to eat?



Bunches of ripening apples in closeup
Ripening Apples - 28 August 2016
They may not be the forbidden fruit but their temptation is obvious

It appears that it has been a bumper year for apples as well. This cluster of large, juicy fruit was typical of all the apple trees I saw in the park. Fruit such as this make it easy to understand why the apple has become associated with the forbidden fruit in the tale of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from Eden. But the Bible does not the name the forbidden fruit, and its identity with the apple is more a product of the imagination of Renaissance painters. In fact, some would argue that the forbidden fruit could not have been an apple as it would not have been found in the Middle East at the time. However, this argument seems specious as the ecology of the surrounding countryside is generally irrelevant to the contents of a garden, particularly a paradise like Eden – just think of all the non-native plants found in modern day Eden Project in Cornwall.

Apple tree with apples shining in the early morning sunshine
In the Orchard - 28 August 2016
Apples gleam in the early morning sunshine

There is the old saying that you can't see the wood for the trees; but when it comes to photographing apples in the orchard, it seemed more a case that the camera couldn't see the fruit for the trees. I finally settled on this picture where the apples reflect the low sunlight more strongly than the surrounding leaves and stand out just that little bit.

Branches of apples laden with apples against the sky
Overhanging the path - 25 August 2016
Why is it that the best fruit is always out of reach?

In both these cases, the apples were green. On the higher boughs, where they got more sunlight, they were already turning a mouth watering red.

Apples are of course healthy. We have all heard the saying 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away', but the list of diseases the apple has been thought to cure is truly impressive, including: constipation, gout, fatigue, rheumatism, problems with the kidney or liver, anaemia and urine retention. It is said to lower cholesterol; and rubbing two halves of a sliced apple on a wart, then burying the remainder, eliminates the wart. No wonder the apple is associated with immortality.

Horse Chestnut

Small horse chestnut tree with conkers
Young Horse Chestnut - 28 August 2016
Conkers clearly visible on this tree which so far has escaped the ravages of the leaf miner

One of the newly planted horse chestnut trees in the south of the park produced a nice crop of 'conkers', which inevitably led to my wondering why they are called conkers. The most likely explanation is they are named after the game of conquerors, which was originally played with snail shells or hazel nuts. Wikipedia lists the wonderful obblyonkers as a regional alternative name.



Racemes of greeny white hop flowers
Male Hops - 21 August 2016
I have so far been unable to find any female plants with hops

I end this post with the fruit I didn't find. At the north end of the park by the Fen Road exit, I noticed a couple of trees covered with a large leafed climber with whitish-green flowers in panicles. As far as I can tell these climbers of male hop plants, and so far I have been unable to locate any female plants bearing the familiar hops anywhere in the park.

Next: Clematis and Hawthorn