Some of the first land plants: Mosses.

Moss in the Grass

David Beeson

So, how do you gardeners rid your lawn of moss? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out!

When life started to emerge from the watery realms it, unexpectedly, was poorly adapted to life on land. Evolution needs time to work its miracle. LOTS of time.

The mosses and liverworts (known as Bryophytes) were the relatives of the algae that made the leap first. Today’s types of bryophytes are very distant relatives of the first terrestrial invaders – and your lawn grass is one of them.

Human sperm and eggs have just a single set of chromosomes – 23 in number. Egg and sperm’s DNA combine to give the two sets, 46 chromosomes, of the normal human.

Mosses (and liverworts) have a similar, but very different, pattern of changes in chromosome numbers. The moss plant you spot in the lawn, growing on a wall or under a woodland canopy has just a single chromosome set. This generates egg or sperm cells which, under WET CONDITIONS, can fuse. However, this zygote (fertilized egg with two chromosome sets) grows in situ on top of the green mossy plant – a spiky, small stem with a bobble (Capsule) on its end. Eventually, this capsule will burst open liberating spores which can grow on your lawn to a new green moss.

Mosses (Liverworts, horsetails and ferns) must have a wet environment at the appropriate time to complete the life cycle. That is not true for conifers or flowering plants … or humans … although a warm beach can be an inducement!

Mosses can never grow big as they contain almost no system for transporting water around the plant … you need to move on to the horsetails and ferns before that happens … which is why they can grow bigger.

The spore capsules contain vast numbers of spores. They are everywhere. On my garden wall these capsules are consumed by goldfinches over the winter. They sit nibbling them off most days.

Mosses do not like really dry conditions – because they cannot reproduce. But, they can survive dehydration for a while, so in the UK are seldom killed off by a hot summer as a wet autumn and winter follows.

Iron sulphate is deadly to mosses. So, lawn sand is a combination of fine sand and iron sulphate. The sand, in theory, carries the iron and lightens the soil. Except, I do not believe the latter unless you add tonnes. Much better to buy the iron sulphate and spread it with a gloved hand. Much cheaper.

Woodland moss without spore capsules

BUT, the soil is full of enough moss spores to grow new plants for fifty years. So, sit back, admire the mosses and do not chuck unwanted iron sulphate to pollute the water supply. ‘Going for the mosses’ is a waste of time and effort.

Mosses show, like ALL land plants, alternation of generations. This is a flipping between an asexually reproducing phase and a sexual phase. In the case of mosses the two are attached, the one parasitic on the other. In other plant types they can be quite separate e.g. ferns.

Gametophyte = green ‘plant-like’ structure. The hair-like sporophyte is composed of seta and capsule (with its spores).

The gametophyte is haploid (each cell has only one set of chromosomes), the sporophyte is diploid (like us) and each cell has two chromosome sets but reduces that number in the spores via a nuclear division called meiosis.

Image result for moss life cycle diagram

I often spot goldfinches eating the spore capsules, but not the green gametophyte.

A similar life cycle occurs in liverworts.

In ferns, horsetails, conifers and angiosperms (flowering plants) the sporophyte is the dominant plant (what you normally see) and the gametophyte is much reduced. In flowering plants there are ‘male’ (Pollen, released) and ‘female’ spores (not released) and they germinated to form the gametophytes. The gametophyte has two forms: 1) Male spores grows into the germinated pollen (Pollen tube) or 2) the ovule containing an egg cell that is held within the carpel of the flower. All very confusing! Get a good botany book and check it all out. (Buy a second hand ex-uni library copy for just a small amount of money! The material will be bang up-to-date … it doesn’t change.)

Image result for angiosprm life cycle

Yellow and Blue

David Beeson, 5th May 2021

This is the end of the garden, adjacent to the forest.
The BATTLE ZONE. Primroses love shade, cowslips light – and this is where the two come together. Primroses win in the wood and cowslips in the open meadows.
English bluebells have elongated flowers and they flower on one side of the stem. Spanish version have more bell-shaped flowers and often are all around the flower stem. We have every variant, from 100% English to 100% Spanish. As I have said before, this is a worry as Harewood has bluebells adjacent to our garden and the genes will spread. There is nothing, I feel, we can do.
Harewood from our garden. Its bluebells are slow to flower as the soil contains more clay, and that warms slowly and influences development. Give it two weeks and it will be a sea of blue. The track was destined as a public path … it has all gone quiet.
I have just completed my PLANTLIFE cowslip survey. Looking at the two morphs – those with a long and short stigma / style. I call them pin-eyed and thrum-eyed types. My results – 70 with the stamens at the top (thrum) and 71 with the stigma at the top (pin). It only took fifteen minutes, so, if you know a patch of cowslips, look up the survey on the PLANTLIFE website. Citizen science.
The marsh marigolds are now growing. They are at least three weeks behind this year, and we had another frost last night.

The weather has been cold this year, and plants have responded by glowing more slowly. Yes, the light levels have been good, but the enzymes driving metabolism are temperature sensitive and that wins. Our grassy meadows are low, and even those parts that we trim (Paths and lawn edge) are requiring little attention, so the compost heap lacks herbage.

The Value of Ancient Oaks

I’m passing on an article in the Guardian that explains why careful land / tree owners may wish to be less tidy.


Also reminder: are you taking part in the NO CUT* of lawns in May? I am, and so far it it covered in the yellow of buttercups and the white of the daisies. Photo soon.

*Link below.


Around Harewood Forest in late April

It has been much colder than usual this year. The bluebells are two or three weeks behind last year, and still fail to show in the woodland, yet optimism fills the Hampshire air and a few over-wintering butterflies are fluttering.

David Beeson, 30 April 2021

Our garden bluebells, in the open, are flowering ahead of those a few metres away in the woodland. For wild bluebells it is best to explore the southern edge of Harewood and at John Lewis’s nursey near Longstock.
The oak tree buds are slowly opening. This is when the moth and butterfly eggs hatch. The young insects will feed on the non-toxic foliage until the tannin level increases and stops further feeding. These larvae will feed the young blue tits, and their like, and they the predators.
Wild cherry trunk on the left, the rest are silver birch.
Young woodmouse.
Most of the silver birch trees are well past their prime. This one is dead but providing resources to the decay fungi and a surface for mosses, lichens and algae.
Who says that tree trunks are brown?
No sign of our dormice yet. They must be around but are avoiding my wildlife camera … not so brown rats!
The cowslips are in their prime. You will find that they have the same mixture of pin-eyed and thrum-eyed flowers as do the primroses. PLANTLIFE are running a survey of cowslip flowers. Look up their website. http://www.plantlife.org.uk. A simple citizen-science project.

Tulipa saxatilis, a native of Crete, but flowering in Forest Edge. Yes, those are the wild-type colours.

An Eco-garden in Early April

An English Eco-garden in Early April

David Beeson

The garden at Forest Edge is around an acre or 0.4 hectares. It is longer than wide and ends on the very fringe of an ancient oak and hazel forest that has probably always been there. Our soil is clay-over-chalk and is sticky in winter and rock-solid in a dry summer. Yet, being in a gentle climate in Central Southern England is a great spot!

We have been here over 30 years, and very soon after arriving we decided on the eco-bias to the plot … but it is still very much a garden for us to enjoy and for the grandchildren to have fun in. Sometimes plants get trampled, although mostly it’s in enthusiastically fleeing a rampant grandfather, so no one complains.

[Our garden is visible on Google Earth, so look it up if you wish. Forest Edge, SP11 6LJ. Look for the solar panels and the near-circular conifer bed in the gravel patio.]

We have a mixture of garden areas – possibly one could call them Garden Rooms.

View from the more-open Spring Meadow

Near the house we have a gravel patio with exotic dwarf conifers that are nest sites to various birds in the spring. At any time, our diminutive shrews and wrens search beneath the plants for invertebrates and the zone looks great in winter when elsewhere is closed down.

The Main Lawn has never been fertilized or weed killed, indeed we sow wild seed and diminish the grass by cutting and removing the herbage. In High Summer it is left uncut to flower and feed the butterflies, now it has had a high cut to slow grass growth and smarten it up. A mole established a runway across the lawn before we arrived, and its motorway is still employed when transferring from one side of the garden to the other, its occasional soil heaps are soon spread. At least three orchid species have seeded themselves here – Greater Butterfly, Twayblade and Pyramidal and they flower in summer.

Our garden is a mixture of natives and exotic (non-native) plants

A circle of fairly conventional flower beds surrounds that lawn. These have been renovated during the Covid lockdown with plenty of biogas dregs and mulched wood added to lighten the soil. The insect-eating birds love to explore here. The blackbird especially explore beneath the surface layer, which is agressively thrown asunder to the amusement of human onlookers.

The ground was dug and humus added to lighten the soil. These plants are recycled from elsewhere, but new types are being grown from seed and some purchased by mail order.

While about 50% of the border’s flora is native, the rest are the plants you might find in any garden – Brunnera, daylily, scilla, astrantias and geraniums. While the non-natives may not feed the insect larvae, we do select plants that generate good nectar or pollen. For example, Ammi majus will flow through much of the area this year.

Around half-way down the garden are our two 100+ year old walnut trees. These have yet to show blossom or leaf, however the area beneath them is a mass of colour – part of our uncut Spring Meadow. This grassland has gone from the white of snowdrops to the purple of crocus blooms; yellow wild daffodils are now waning but anemones, white giant hyacinths and blue grape hyacinths are fighting with the yellow of Tulipa sylvestris for dominance. Cowslips and a mass of meadow saxifrage are imminent. Orchids are showing their leaves, although this area is cut before they flower. The final hurrah will be a yellow sea of bulbous buttercups in May. These coat the ground to the delight of wood pigeons who will descend in late May to gorge on their seeds … and trample it down. The area is cut in June (shade and lack of moisture inhibit most plants) and we spend the summer under the shade of the trees!

Ground ivy is a nightmare in the borders but we are content for it to flourish beneath the walnut trees.
White and blue violets cling to the areas adjacent to the walnut trunks.

Non-natives join the locals under the trees. Anemone blanda.

A second, more open and moist Spring Meadow is beyond. It has similar flora but remains uncut for longer because we have our only green-winged orchids here. Twayblade and pyramidal orchids flourish and tall members of the dandelion family attract the late spring insects in their droves.

Tulips flower in a border with Spring Meadow wild daffodils beyond.

Human activity is directed to cut pathways through all the meadow areas, and these give a sculptural feel to the grasslands. The grandchildren have a maze of routes to run or cycle along.

The final zone is the Summer Meadow, surrounded by native hedges. This area is mostly quiescent now, with just the initial rush of cowslips in the well-lighted open areas and primroses dominate in the shade. Snake’s head fritillaries are spreading from around the pond and into the meadow.

Summer Meadow deep in frost. You should spot just a few of our hundreds of wild daffodils, the wild pond, the forest’s fringe and the start of the cut pathways through the meadow.
The western edge of the Summer Meadow was not cut in the late autumn to give space for over-wintering insect larvae. Another patch will be left this year. We cut and remove most herbage to reduce the nutrient levels in the soil – that discourages grasses and gives more space for the diverse flora. The daffodils are Tenby types, originally thought to be a natural wild variety. Most daffodils are of the true wild-type that are found in one secret spot in the woodland. This longer grass is the current site of the long-tailed voles’ nest.

The frogs’ spawn has hatched, and the tadpoles are being chased by palmate newts and dragonfly nymphs. Water boatmen stalk prey beneath the surface and whirligig beetles and pond skaters patrol the top. An unusual alga(Chara) and Spirogyra dominate the water, with float grass and Canadian pondweed also present. Around the edge, in the damp zone, are the emerging leaves of marsh orchids and spotted orchids.

It needs alert eyes, but more orchids have shown themselves in the patch nearest to the woodland – a soldier x monkey, lesser butterflies that both came from donated French seeds, naturally-seeded pyramidals by the thousand, twayblades and sometimes bee orchids enjoy this area. Their flowers are awhile off yet.

Yellow meadow-ant colonies* occur in this Summer (Hay) Meadow, and we have easily found nests of bank voles, while the field voles hide themselves more carefully. Rats rummage in our compost heaps, dormice, woodmice and yellow-necked mice inhabit our coppice. Tawny owls nest most years although we have no evidence yet. Slow worms are here too, with an occasional fox and stoat. Hedgehogs have now become rare visitors, as are rabbits and hares.

[*The ants, I understand, almost never appear above ground. They forage for food on plant roots.]

One of the problems of an eco-garden like ours is the flow of genes from non-natives to natives. Here a wild cowslip has picked up domestic primula genes. This is an issue yet more serious is the flow from Spanish bluebells to the native type as that occurs in both the garden and in the adjacent woodland. The Spanish bluebells came in as seed sold as native bluebell seed and the problem only showed itself several years later. Going back is near impossible.

The end hedge, adjacent to Harewood, has been ‘layered’ to thicken it, although there is little sign of vibrant new growth at this time. New shrub planting has occurred here too. With bird cherry, an uncommon native in our area, and wild dogwood added.

Forest Edge’s plot is garden, but with a strong eco-edge to its design and management. It is biologically diverse, and it is controlled with a light hand, yet occasionally plants change from benign occupant to become ‘weeds’ and they are controlled. We are not a pure nature reserve. We see the wild, native plants as garden plants just as much as tropical cannas that flower near the bungalow.

Our acre could have been a horse paddock – weed killed to remove anything except grass, fertilized to encourage only grass, trampled to a rocky surface and chemically treated to kill off any insect life. We enjoy the contrast.

Under the walnut trees
Vole nest that lies beneath a piece of tin. Slow worms will move in soon.
Interest moves down the garden as the year progresses. This meadow is often at its best in July.
Harewood from our garden. Wild bluebells just emerging.

The Natural World in Photographs – 4, Dragonflies.

Note: The INDEX is with Rocky Mountains, USA. You will have a list of nearly 90 posts about wildlife. Information free of adverts.

Photographs by John Solomon, 2020.

Dragonflies are aquatic during their immature stages. Locally, they live in fairly still freshwater. The immatures, like the adults, are fiercely carnivorous and in garden ponds can ‘mop up’ many of the smaller forms of life.

The invertebrates have an incomplete metamorphosis, with the immatures looking largely as the adults but lacking wings and colour.

What are the similarities of complete and incomplete metamorphosis? - Quora
Incomplete metamorphosis: a change in body form with three stages: egg, nymph, and adult. Nymph: young stage of insects that undergo a partial metamorphosis; similar to the adult except that wings are not fully developed.
Brown hawker, Female
Emperor Dragonfly (F)
Emperor Dragonfly (M) (1)
Emperor Dragonfly (M) (2)
Golden Ringed Dragonfly (F)
Golden Ringed Dragonfly (M)
Migrant Hawker (M)

Adult dragonflies hunt on the wing using their exceptionally acute eyesight and strong, agile flight. They are almost exclusively carnivorous, eating a wide variety of insects ranging from small midges and mosquitoes to butterfliesmothsdamselflies, and smaller dragonflies. A large prey item is subdued by being bitten on the head and is carried by the legs to a perch. Here, the wings are discarded and the prey usually ingested head first. A dragonfly may consume as much as a fifth of its body weight in prey per day. Dragonflies are also some of the insect world’s most efficient hunters, catching up to 95% of the prey they pursue.

The larvae are voracious predators, eating most living things that are smaller than they are. Their staple diet is mostly bloodworms and other insect larvae, but they also feed on tadpoles and small fish. A few species, especially those that live in temporary waters, are likely to leave the water to feed. Nymphs of Cordulegaster bidentata sometimes hunt small arthropods on the ground at night, while some species in the Anax genus have even been observed leaping out of the water to attack and kill full-grown tree frogs.

From Wikipedia, and, yes, I do give them money!

Feedback: dandabeeson@gmail.com

Rocky Mountains, USA and Index

David Beeson

We have been fortunate in having visited this area twice – once via Denver and again via Seattle. If you have the opportunity, go! The USA is easy to explore and booking hotels or AirB&B in advance is possible but not vital.

A few images to catch your imagination as the world may open up soon.

Marmot in Rocky Mountain NP
Near Glacier NP
Despite our being far from safety, this magnificent bison ignore us. Lamar Valley, Yellowstone. And, yes, we did have close view of wolves – magnificent and worth the journey alone.
Don’t go to Iceland or New Zealand – go here!
Heat tolerant microorganisms fringe the steaming pool – they have been critical in biological research and useful in industrial processes.
Falls in Yellowstone
Grand Teton NP is virtually attached to Yellowstone, yet quite different.
Lots of water snakes and pika here
We were walking way off the roadway when a couple came running towards us. “We are being chased by a moose!” was the cry. Indeed, we could spot one some 200m up the path, and we diverted up a rocky slope to clear the path. A short while after, the lone moose cautiously came down the path watching us with more concern than we had for it. The couple had just stumbled into its daily routine and the animal was after breakfast in the river valley.
Olympic NP
Calypso Orchid, Glacier NP

The articles published on the site are numerous – some 90. So, you may have missed one or two!! Perhaps you should see if any of these take your fancy.

INDEX: Oldest articles first – from late 2019.

  1. Harewood Forest – an introduction to an ancient UK oak woodland
  2. Along the river valley – the early stages of a crystal-clear chalk stream – River Anton, Hampshire
  3. Harewood Butterflies – high summer delights
  4. Bluebells – the iconic English spring bulb
  5. Heathland – acid lands north of Andover UK. Contrasting ecology.
  6. God’s Ponds – ancient man-made ponds
  7. Butterflies and chalk flora
  8. Holly leaf-miner – an unusual lifestyle
  9. Mammals
  10. Old Burgclere – an old chalk quarry, now a mini but rich nature reserve
  11. Snelsmore Common – acid heathlands with snakes, carnivorous plants and rare birds
  12. Stockbridge Down – chalk grassland butterflies and more
  13. Watermeadows – an ancient agricultural technique that still shows traces
  14. Watership Down – chalk hillside
  15. Longparish’s River – the amazing River Test
  16. Fungi
  17. Odonata 2 Mayflies and dragonflies
  18. Odonata 1
  19. February
  20. December
  21. Mammal mapping
  22. Good news
  23. March
  24. Lawns
  25. War! – Primroses v cowslips
  26. Botany and Geology
  27. You cannot see the wood for the trees – tree ecology
  28. Moss and plant life cycles. This article will surprise you.
  29. Dino-botany – horsetails
  30. March
  31. Today in the garden – ecogarden
  32. Of Dukes and Men – butterflies
  33. More creepy-crawlies
  34. Edge of the A303 – road verge botany
  35. Sidbury Hill 1 – Military ecology
  36. Was that a Sea Eagle?
  37. Being a male can be hard work – common blue butterfly
  38. Secret meadow – damselflies
  39. Like Southern England 200 Years Ago
  40. No Cut Lawn in May
  41. Edge of the A303, 2
  42. A Wet Meadow
  43. Damselfly Hunt
  44. Moths of Harewood
  45. Insects
  46. Harewood in Summer
  47. Wild Gladiolus
  48. Damsels
  49. Sampling and Recording Data
  50. River Test
  51. Ticks
  52. Grasses (Most Hated Wildflowers)
  53. I Poison Myself
  54. What do Insects Eat
  55. Children – water Ecology
  56. Ticks
  57. Nectar
  58. Eco-gardening
  59. Damsels and Dragons
  60. Plants are Clever, 1
  61. Early September
  62. An English Canal
  63. Dorset Heaths
  64. Re-introductions
  65. Dormice 1 (A Brilliant Day)
  66. Harewood Forest
  67. Dormice
  68. Oak Woodland in November
  69. Inside Plant Stems
  70. SE USA, Okefenokee Swamp
  71. Wildlife Encounters
  72. Photo Essay
  73. 1st January
  74. Hibernation (Feeling Sleepy)
  75. Inside Plant Roots
  76. Signs of Spring
  77. Natural Wold in Photographs 1, 2 and 3 (Damsels and Dragons)

The Natural World in Photographs – 3

Images by John Solomon

NOTE: over 90 articles available, free of adverts. See: nwhwildlife.org – Rocky Mountains, USA and Index.

Banded demoiselle, Female.

The legs bear many spiky hairs, seen beautifully in this image.

Banded demoiselle, Male

The venation of the wings shows clearly here, as does the metallic colour that seems to occur across all the odonata.

Beautiful demoiselle, Male
Common darter, Female

A leopard of the sky? Fierce predators, and the combat between males sounds brutal with the clash of wings. John and I are looking forward to May and the re-appearance of damsels and then these dragons.

Common darter, Male

The red-brown of the abdomen is in stark contrast with the female. Adults do not have lungs, but breath through tubes that lead from small holes (spiracles) in their exoskeleton – which I think I can spot.

Common darter, Male.
Red-eyed damselfly, Male

A stunning creature, in glorious detail.

Ruddy darter, Immature male.

The resting position of the wings varies between the damsels and the dragons.

The immature, aquatic stages of dragonflies and damselflies can be caught by dredging a stream or riverbed with a professional net. Best to hold the net downstream of the sampling site and then disturb the substrate with your heel – the hidden life is washed down into the net. (See article on Children.)

NOTE: over 90 articles available, free of adverts. See: nwhwildlife.org – Rocky Mountains, USA and Index.

Signs of Spring?

David Beeson

With the cold snap having evaporated, and our local temperature hitting the mid-teens, our wildlife is waking up … slightly.

While domestic varieties of daffodils can flower much earlier (January Gold, especially), our wild daffodils usually show their flowers in late February, at the same time that the frogs appear.
Some 50 spawn masses have been laid over two nights. Over the last two years almost all has been eaten. Newts take plenty of newly hatched tadpoles and mallard ducks can also be a predator. This year, I have saved some spawn on a big tank, and I have covered the rest in a net.
The frogs never stay. They come, lay and vanish. Too many predators?
Our crocus plants are spreading widely from seed and are abuzzzz with hive bees. These are growing with snowdrops and Tulipa sylvestris. This image is from beneath the walnuts and will be a riot of colour until June, when the area is cut.
Stinking hellebore, a native is a very early flowering plant. It provides early-season nectar and pollen.
Green hellebore, a native in flower in a border.
An exotic hellebore.

NOTE: over 90 articles available, free of adverts. See: nwhwildlife.org – Rocky Mountains, USA and Index.

The Natural World in Photographs – 2

NOTE: over 90 articles available, free of adverts. See: nwhwildlife.org – Rocky Mountains, USA and Index.

John Solomon’s images from 2020.

We can all look at a damselfly and say to ourselves, “Sure, it is only another damselfly.” Today, you have the chance to take a second look at these British species, and to enjoy their delicate form, their wing-venation, the hairs on their bodies and the hues on their exoskeleton. What a delight they are! But, so transitory.

So, may I suggest, you sit back, enlarge the photographs (all wild-taken) and just enjoy our stunning wildlife for a few mindfulness moments. The UK may not have wild elephants … yet, what we have (left!) is delightful. David.

Blue-tailed damselfly (F-infuscans)
Blue-tailed damselfly (F-rufescens)
Common blue damselfly, male
Common blue damselfly, male
Emerald damselfly, male
Large red damselfly, female.
Large red damselfly, male
Red-eyed damselfly, immature male.

NOTE: over 90 articles available, free of adverts. See: nwhwildlife.org – Rocky Mountains, USA and Index.

Inside Plant Roots

Inside plant roots – an introduction

David Beeson, February 2021

You would be advised to see the articles on stems and leaves first.

Seldom seen, but roots are useful plant components!

Most people first come across in the form of carrots, parsnips and swedes. These are food-storing tap roots, while most roots are fine and spreading – netted or fibrous root systems. Both styles function in anchoring the plant, taking in water and soluble minerals (nutrients, mineral salts). A modern botanist would add: communicating with adjacent plants, producing hormones and interacting with fungi. Of course, roots will also store useful resources, and move materials up and down from the aerial parts of the plant.

We saw previously that young* stems have their transport (vascular) tissues towards the outer edge. This copes well with side forces from wind. Roots care little about side forces, but care greatly about forces attempting to pull the plant out of the ground – their vascular tissues are mostly central.

*Always start plant anatomy with young (primary) structures, as they are easier to understand, and you can observe the whole cross section (TS or transverse section) under a microscope. Older developments are secondary structures or tissues.

Sunflower (Helianthus) primary root centre

Px = primary xylem, a = primary phloem, with the ring of cells the endodermis

Look for those components below, and you will also see a side (lateral) root developing. The cortex is beyond the endodermis.

As before, red stain = lignified tissue, in this situation xylem for water transport.

Green-stained cells are non-lignified and those within the endodermis include the food transporting phloem tissues.

Above: You should still be able to spot the large, central xylem in a cross and clusters of small phloem cells between the arms. The cortex (showing starch grains inside) is composed of large cells that could be storing materials and there will be an epidermis around it all to offer some protection.

Root hairs are short-lived single cells that grow out of the epidermis.

My plant anatomy reference book is: Plant Anatomy, an applied approach by Cutler, Botha and Stevenson. It may only be available second-hand.  

PS I did not have great specimens in my own collection, so have had to borrow! They are not showing as clearly as I would wish … but you can find them on the Internet in better detail.

NOTE: over 90 articles available, free of adverts. See: nwhwildlife.org – Rocky Mountains, USA and Index.

Feeling sleepy? How about being awake for only a few weeks each year … and it is a European mammal!

Adverse conditions

David Beeson, January 2021

Glis glis, the Edible Dormouse

The weather changes in the UK from day to day and with the seasons. With the Earth at a moving orientation to the Sun throughout the year, the input of energy in a particular spot changes. In the UK winter, the constant energy output from our Sun is spread over a larger area than in the summer. Less energy per square kilometre means lower temperatures, in addition to a shorter daylength. Many organisms are content with that, yet many seek to avoid the colder, darker conditions. They will cut down their body chemistry (metabolism) or go into full dormancy – enter diapause. Hibernation.

In some parts of the world, it is not daylength or a reduction of input energy that causes diapause. It could be lack of water – drought. I have heard it suggested that deciduous trees lose their leaves due to drought rather than any other main reason, for roots need a temperature above four degrees Celsius to take up water. Also, if there is no soil water that will trigger leaf loss. Of course, there are other reasons as well for leaf loss; for example, to stop trees being upended in winter storms, or to allow easier wind pollination in the flowering season. Trees that retain their leaves, evergreens, may have a good climate strategy and sufficient water supply, or be blessed with water-retaining leaves with perhaps a waxy surface or few stomata.

Once an organism is adapted to its climate it will exhibit its survival strategies. If it is not sufficiently adapted it will lose the evolutionary race and become rare or extinct.

Spring-flowering bulbs (corms etc) will go into summer diapause. Bluebells and wild daffodils are good examples. They avoid the lack of light and, possibly, a summer drought in the soil’s surface. They store energy as carbohydrates and stop water loss by shedding their leaves and having a waterproof bulb surface. Many are highly toxic to discourage herbivores – you will have noticed that horses do not eat daffodil leaves.

Deciduous trees (and many animals) can measure daylength – the photoperiod, with light switching a leaf chemical between two forms. This, possibly in conjunction with environmental temperature, will trigger leaf fall. The leaf shedding will virtually stop water loss and may allow the removal of toxic metabolic waste.

Seeds would be wasted if they germinated in adverse conditions. Many have strategies to break their dormancy when conditions are optimal. Cactus seeds need a good dousing with water, other plants need a cold period before an equitable temperature and water content to the soil will trigger germination. [With birch seeds (Betula), they usually need a chill before they will grow, but may germinate with a long photoperiod and a suitable temperature. Either way, it will be spring conditions that allow growth, and the seeds will not be wasted.] Smoke can trigger some seeds to be released from fir cones and allow them to germinate (Yellowstone NP and Australian woodlands).

All these mechanisms are adaptations to ensure survival, or for life to recommence when environmental conditions are suitable.

For the UK, temperature is often the critical aspect controlling the need for dormancy. Enzymes are the catalysts that encourage chemical reactions to take place, and they are temperature dependent. Too cold and enzymes work too slowly to sustain energy release or maintain other life processes. Too hot and they are curdled, like cooking and killing an egg. So, temperature can be a key feature to trigger a shut down in an organism. But daylength is a predictor for a fall or rise in temperature, so it too can be a metabolic trigger.

So, why this topic? Ah, it is all about our dormice. The technical books about the species suggest that hazel dormice hibernate possibly as early as October, yet ours were active through at least two sharp frosts and until 22nd November (at least). So, what is the trigger? Temperature? Daylength? Food stores?

Forest Edge’s young dormice

First, some background.

Average longevity in free-living edible dormice (Glis glis) can reach 9 years, which is extremely high for a small rodent. This remarkable life span has been related to a peculiar life history strategy and the rarity of reproductive bouts in these seed eaters. Most females (96%) reproduce only once or twice in their lifetime, predominantly during years of mast (high levels of) seeding of, e.g., beech nuts, but an entire population can skip reproduction in years of low seed availability. Surprisingly, in non-reproductive years, large fractions of populations apparently vanished and were never captured above ground. Therefore, the researchers studied the duration of above-ground activity, and body temperature profiles in dormice under semi-natural conditions in outdoor enclosures. They found that non-reproductive dormice returned to dormancy in underground burrows throughout summer after active seasons as short as <2 weeks. Thus, animals spent up to >10 months per year in dormancy. This exceeds dormancy duration of any other mammal under natural conditions. Summer dormancy was not caused by energy constraints, as it occurred in animals in good condition, fed ad libitum and without climatic stress. The researchers suggested that almost year-round torpor has evolved as a strategy to escape birds of prey, the major predators of this arboreal mammal in non-reproductive years. This unique predator-avoidance strategy clearly helps in explaining the unusually high longevity of dormice.

Reference: [Summer dormancy in edible dormice (Glis glis)without energetic constraints. Claudia Bieber & Thomas Ruf – research publication 2009.]

An amazing research finding!

I think they are young. Do you?

Another publication, but, again, not the hazel dormouse, states: Prior to hibernation, juvenile hibernators have to sustain both growth and fattening to reach a sufficient body mass to survive the following winter season. This high demand for energy is especially challenging for juveniles born late in the season, since they might already experience reduced food availability and decreasing temperatures.

Yearly variations in the diet composition of the hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) were studied in typical dormouse habitat in Lithuania over 5 years (2010–2014) with different feeding conditions. A high proportion of birch seeds in the dormouse diet in two out of 5 years was a very much unexpected result. Dormice consumed them from mid-June until late October even when the most preferable food—hazel nuts—was abundant. In autumn when accumulating fat reserves for hibernation, hazel dormice fed on four main food sources—fruits of buckthorn, oak acorns, hazel nuts and birch seeds. The consumption of these food sources was directly related to their availability. During the study period, only one, two or three of these food sources were abundant in any particular year, while others were absent or scarce. In total, the fruits of buckthorn and oak acorns accounted for the major portion of dormouse diet in autumn. Dormice living in habitat with irregular fruiting of the main food plants are adapted to feed on varying food sources and can switch from one food source to another in different years.

Now, let us introduce a hormone: Leptin.

Leptin is a hormone released from the fat cells (adipose tissue).  It sends signals to the hypothalamus in the brain. This hormone helps regulate and alter long-term food intake and energy expenditure in humans. Not just from one meal to the next … the primary design of leptin is to help the human body maintain its weight.

Because it comes from fat cells, leptin amounts are directly connected to an individual’s amount of body fat. If the individual adds body fat, leptin levels will increase. If an individual lowers body fat percentages, the leptin will decrease as well.

So, Forest Edge’s late feeding dormice? Perhaps the books are correct, and most adult hazel dormice hibernate early as their fat levels, from feeding all year, are high … and in that species high leptin equals hibernation. Our young dormice were possibly late-born, and needed more food to build up fat and leptin levels. And, they were spending much of the night eating fat-rich walnuts – excellent prior to hibernation.

My guess the young dormice will come out of hibernation early … I’m expecting March 2021, even if the books say May!

NOTE: over 90 articles available, free of adverts. See: nwhwildlife.org – Rocky Mountains, USA and Index.

The Natural World in Photographs

The odonata

John Solomon

Azure damselfly, female (Blue form)
Azure male
Azure male
Blue-tailed damselfly, female (Teneral)
Blue-tailed, male
Broad-bodied chaser, female
Four spotted chaser, male
Blue-tailed damselfly, male

Sometimes it is just lovely to see the organism in all its glory … not long now until the UK’s wildlife opens up again!

NOTE: over 90 articles available, free of adverts. See: nwhwildlife.org – Rocky Mountains, USA and Index.

Photo essay – a frosty 1st January

David Beeson

Bet you are as fed up with 2020 as I am. I want some sunshine and non-muddy trackways … and a tasty vaccination.

We used to import African art as a Fair Trade product … many still wander the garden. This one thinks it should have migrated.
Frost daggers.
The forest fringe – the grasslands are full of wild daffodils and other delights such as primroses.
The frogs will be with us soon – migrating from the forest in February to breed and run away before the buzzards, owls, stoats and foxes know they are there.
Plenty of food remains. As the starches biologically change into sugars the fruits become palatable.
The forest fringe has been crudely hedged. The hazel is partially cut through, pulled down and staked. It should sprout in spring and form a dense thicket suitable for the dormice. There are hibernation and nesting spots in the 100+ year old stump.
Looks like just grass? Think again, this is biologically diverse.
Just beyond our gate is the ancient woodland. This patch is un-coppiced hazel. The last time it was cut was probably 100 years ago. You will also spot oak trunks. The forest still has the signs of the bomb storage during WW2 – used in the Normandy Landings.
Not pretty! BUT, the native hedge is good for wildlife, the metal is home to voles and slow worms, while the voles enjoy the slowly decaying herbage as cover. There is no need to make everything tidy. We leave piles of herbage along our boundary and beneath will be old roof tiles to give nesting and resting safety.
These native hellebores will perk up soon, and they provide early year nectar to bumblebees.

Most of the plants are in hibernation – hiding their resources away from herbivores. Only the fruits, with the plant’s seeds inside, are being offered – and there is an ulterior motive here. The wild daffodils, found wild in a few woodland patches, are just showing their leaves, the primroses have retreated to small stumps but will be in leaf and flower soon. The energy and nutrient stores are just awaiting favourable conditions to be mobilized and the world will be full of vibrant green growth.

John and I hope you are coping with these unusual times, and do recall – spring is on the way, and the daylight hours are increasing. What a positive thought.

NOTE: over 90 articles available, free of adverts. See: nwhwildlife.org – Rocky Mountains, USA and Index.

Photo Essay – Winter and Summer in our Eco-garden

December 2020

Forest Edge is an eco-garden, in that we attempt to optimise the wildlife, whilst still delivering a beautiful garden AND a play area for the grandchildren.

We cannot do everything in the area we have, so there are limits. We have had herds of fallow deer (30+) in the garden – that has been stopped with a fence. Potential lawn meadow is a play and picnic area, and a swing cuts a swathe through our spring meadow when the grandchildren are in circulation. Yet, many will see our plot as a weed patch! For where stripped lawn might appear we have waving grasses in flower and pink orchids.

In the end we all make choices. Annette and I are content with relaxed formal flower and shrub borders, and the free-flowing wild zones. We consider we have the best of both gardening styles. What do you think?

In summer the area beneath the walnuts goes through multiple phases ending with bulbous buttercups in flower. Their seeds are heavy and do not spread into the borders nearby.
Christmas Day 2020

While the yellow impact has gone in winter, we have the stems of the dogwood (Cornus) and the green of the conifer to catch the eye. The lawn looks as if it is just grass – yet grass is only a minor percentage of the composition.

The flowery lawn is also a playground for children and butterflies. Its growth varies from only 10cm to perhaps 20cm, with pathways cut through it.
Main lawn in December.

The main lawn is now cut and the millions of leaves deposited in huge bags to compost – next autumn to be added to the borders to add nutrients and enhance the soil’s structure. The flowery borders are (this year) cut down for the winter, yet are often left until spring before cutting. Exuberant growth will ensure they look good by summer.

The swing is still there!

For a short time this bed (above) contained only local wild herbaceous plants. It was was lovely the first year, however the local plants loved our soil and climate far too much. They became enormous and looked more like weeds than traditional garden plants. Perhaps it is better to grow natives which only marginally like the soil and conditions. We now have a mixture of natives and exotics – to give winter and all-year interest.

To make an impact as an eco-gardener you must also show you can garden. No person will enjoy just a weed patch on its own. My advice is to have the two – semi-formal and eco-zones.

Wild orchids, and multiple other local species, will move into your garden, given a chance – less mowing and tidiness! This military x monkey orchid (Above) cross was introduced by seed … but a 10 years wait for flowering.

Rare dormice live in this hedge.
Betony, a local native.

Above, part of the Summer / Hay Meadow is full of pyramidal orchids – all growing there by their own choice. But, that area now looks just like our winter lawn – cut grass. This reduces competition for short-grassland species, which can then thrive. The cutting mirrors the effect of grazing.


Wildlife Encounters


David Beeson, 15 /12 /20

  1. It was in my early days of wildlife watching and I had a brand-new telephoto-lens. And I needed mammal photographs for a lecture course I was about to teach.

So, I drove out to a stream just outside Salisbury – near Odstock, where watervoles had been spotted.

Now, my system was to settle down opposite some watervole holes and the ‘lawns’ produced by their grazing. Once comfortable, I would peel an apple, throwing the small peel pieces onto the opposite bank, just a metre away, and wait. The animals just cannot resist apple and they would soon emerge. Meanwhile, I munched the apple and popped the core just beneath the long 400mm lens.

It worked. The vole could not resist the apple. There was just one snag. It was sleeping on my side of the stream, and was soon munching the apple core beneath my hands. I needed not a telephoto but a macro-lens for close images!


2. It was 1998, and I had been given lots of money to search for otters in Kenya.

I had been ‘into’ otters for many years, and had spotted signs of them in Malawi in 1976, so why not try Kenya? Aonyx campensis, Cape clawless otters, were said to be there – so let us investigate.

But, researching otter distribution in the UK is rather safer than in Kenya. The thought of hippo, crocodiles and snakes was intimidating, so I resorted to using a boat to approach the edges of lakes to seek out otter prints and droppings. That gave more security … but not total.

Hippos hide – both underwater and on land. I could mostly avoid the former by observing their behaviour, the latter should be no issue as they come onto land at night … or so I thought.

I was wandering Crescent Island in Lake Naivasha, at that stage looking for a huge snake said to live there, when a day-wandering hippo decided I was in its territory and made hast in my direction. Now, they may look slow, but that is not true. They have a good turn of speed … and I was fleeing. I guess I was fortunate. It was less keen on running than me. I won the race.

Since that encounter, I was in St Lucia National Park in South Africa, on a night drive, when some hippos overtook us, running alongside – they are indeed fast.

3. Elsamere, is a conservation lodge and restaurant, that fronts onto Lake Naivasha. Its boats were festooned with otter droppings, however, a meal in the restaurant was that evening’s entertainment. The snag being the gap between the car park and the building – their lawn was the current venue to a dozen hippos. It took quite some while before a dash across was attempted.


4. Then there was the day when I was accused of going wildlife watching and bringing home ‘nasties’ on my boots. Why? There was a nasty smell in the boot cupboard. Naturally, I defended myself, and my boots proved to be clean. Yet, there was an animal smell there.

It took some while, eventually I removed an electrical control panel in the cupboard to see what was inside … surely, that could not be an issue. But, might some wiring or some electronic module be burning out? Not so. What I did discover was a wood mouse with one foreleg on a live terminal and another on the return / neutral – frizzled to death and now slowly drying out.

5. Joan Root. Joan lived on the edge of Lake Naivasha in an old, colonial-style bungalow surrounded by, what appeared, pristine woodland and scrub. And she had a pet female porcupine, complete with 30cm-long quills. It was cute and she and I enjoyed a healthy stroke and cuddle – quite unexpected.

The lady was later killed, in her bungalow, by locals who objected to her attempting to stop them poaching on her land.

Lake Naivasha

6. There was a small pond outside of our patio window of our former home, and it was raining. A movement by the curtains / drapes and in wandered a palmate newt. Several followed over the next few months. How they entered we never worked out.

7. I had agreed to share a pair of edible dormice with a photographer friend. Graham Dangerfield sold them to me. He was supposedly knowledgeable about these rodents … but, not enough. The pair were sent in a carboard box by train. They ate their way out in Andover station’s parcel’s office, and ran riot until, blooded, the clerk captured the two and deposited them in a metal box.

Glis glis – the Edible Dormouse. I have only seen it in the wild in Slovenia.

8. Putorius, our polecat-ferret, escaped and followed his usual walk north and into a wood. Here the local gamekeeper grabbed him. When I arrived to reclaim the small, but feisty carnivore, the keeper said, “Ow do I nowse he yorz?” I picked him up, put him to my nose … he licked it … he might well have bitten anyone else, he did bite dogs and cows … “He’s yorz.”

9. I needed a rabbit for some photography. I stalked along some hay bails and dived. I had caught one. Woops, a rat and not a rabbit. I let it go!

10 Having kept the mice in a big glass tank for photography, I was semi-used to them escaping. They went into live traps readily, and so back to their tank. Not this one, it shunned the trap  – I eventually caught it climbing the floor to ceiling curtains – it had one pair of legs on each curtain, and they split, and it couldn’t move. Got you!

11. Shrews. These are minute insectivores – small enough to squeeze between wire designed to keep out slightly larger creatures. At one time, we had an open wood fire, with a tube to the outside to draw in air. The local shrews used this to enter our sitting room, run off to the kitchen to find (hard to believe, I know) discarded scraps on the floor … and to return minutes later. Happily, they ignored us and we them.

12. Then there was the time we were camping in Samburu National Park. On our tour we saw a huge owl and beneath it sat a couple of lions. We retired to our new campsite, and between us and the loo was a wild patch of countryside, alongside which sat our owl. No loo trips that night.

13. My hut was basic, but it was alongside an ottery Kenyan lake. I woke, itching. No, being bitten! I was covered in thousands of flesh-eating safari ants. Not a great way to awake – but a towel removed most, and I slept the night in the car.

African dormice lived in the double-skinned cabin with me. They came out at night and stole biscuits (Left to allow easy photography) and my pencil (into a hole in the wall. Why?) – the latter was not appreciated. Mr and Mrs Dormice were not getting on well. I suspect divorce happened soon, as they squeaked and complained all night. However, they looked cute.

African dormouse

14. I was sure, if I just went another step into the marsh I would obtain just the right angle for the photograph. Woops, my Wellington boot rapidly went down. I followed, and I had to crawl away on my stomach … with just one boot … and slightly muddy.

Want to share your wildlife stories?      dandabeeson@gmail.com

Not my photographs today – all from Web.

NOTE: over 90 articles available, free of adverts. See: nwhwildlife.org – Rocky Mountains, USA and Index.

A Trip to South-east USA

Like nowhere I had seen before – The Florida and Georgia Wetlands

Everyone seems to rave about Florida. Not me, and I’ve been there too. Now, I admit to no longer being a youngster, so I am not ‘into’ theme parks, over-crowded beaches or built environments. Yup, I am an old grouchy! But, give me a pristine wildlife site and I feel forty years old again. The same, plus a snake = thirty!

Most of Florida was instantly forgettable. It is nearly flat, is virtually history-free and full of people. Not so some of its north-west watery fringes, and certainly not the eastern parts of the neighbouring state of Georgia.

I went there early in 2019 for a three-week investigation, touring from Orlando north to the delightful city of Savannah in Georgia.

With limited human access to the Everglades, and the wildlife decimated by Burmese pythons, we gave that a miss, instead adding the stunning Okefenokee Swamps – a world class location.

At NASA Visitor Centre

A short drive east of Orlando is Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. 140 000 acres of sub-tropical grassland, scrub and wetlands that sit alongside the NASA Kennedy Space Centre and the technological wonderland of the Visitor Centre.

Merrett Island friend – it took no notice of us as it dug for food. Armadillo.
Yes, it caught its fish.

If we ever return to Florida, we would give Merrett Island three days. Sea turtles nest on its 43 mile long barrier islands, inside this chain manatees co-exist alongside the inevitable powerboats, while elsewhere there are 350 bird species and 31 mammal types. Add in the 68 reptiles and amphibians, 117 species of fish and one obtains some feel for the biodiversity. As everywhere, alligators are common.

Elegant Savannah with Spanish moss.

Across the state border into Georgia, it feels unworldly. Miles and miles of treed wetlands bordered the route. Living there looked mentally demanding and the residents poor. We shot north to the urban gem, Savannah and returned to Okefenokee – just north-west of Jacksonville.

Rare wood storks

A big word of warning: accommodation is not easily found next to Okefenokee. Especially near its main (east) entrance. You will need to explore your options well ahead of time. Also, try to obtain: A Naturalist’s Guide to the Okefenokee Swamp by Taylor Schoettle that cost us $25. It is 160 A4 pages of quality information.  

The Okefenokee Swamp is close to 700 square miles (3.5 times bigger than the New Forest) of a flooded depression surrounded by pine flatwoods. Most of the swamp is covered by water no deeper than about 2 feet (60 cm).

Now, access is difficult to the area. Boat trips are minimal and roads almost non-existent. It is possible to hire a boat and a guide, and canoe trips are possible.  With four entrances, each offering different facilities, my advice would be to visit them all. We had only time to visit the main (eastern) entrance.

Pitcher plants did not look their best in mid-winter.

We visited when water levels were high (February), so the grassy prairies (8% area) were flooded with emergent carnivorous plants everywhere. Bladderworts were in vast mats and pitcher plants reached high above water level. Swamp cypress trees were clothed in Spanish moss (a bromeliad, and nothing like a moss!) and the swamp forests make up nearly 60% land area. There is 30% scrub, while small ‘islands’ and lakes make up the rest. Some of the islands were once farmed and the trees logged – but neither were long-term viable, and the swamp is now human-free.

With nutrient-poor soils, regular flooding and a lack of human pressure the place is a biological and ecological wonderland. Alternation of hot, mostly dry, summers and wet winters also will put ecological pressure on the wildlife, which as evolved to often be unique. It also has to also cope with the lightning-induced summer fires.

I will leave the images to provide a feel to the place.

Bladderwort and lily pad

On the western edge of North Florida, adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico, are a chain of wildlife sites – State parks and wildlife refuges. These offer the chance, especially in winter, to see manatees. But vultures, alligators and water snakes are around in numbers too. We stayed in Cedar keys, Manatee Springs State Park and around Crystal River.

For a touch of inland Florida, try Eustis and the pretty Mount Dora – both close to the Ocala National Forest and touching distance of the airport at Orlando.

This brown water snake, and about a dozen others, had emerged at the end of the day to bask. Some were within touching distance. This one was a metre log, but not venomous. There were dozens of two vulture types in the trees above.

Alligators were even in public parks, merely resting as people wandered passed.
Funnings Springs State Park

All my own photographs. We did see a single wild manatee, but it was too difficult to photograph. The colder the weather the more likely to view manatees in the warm springs.

NOTE: over 90 articles available, free of adverts. See: nwhwildlife.org – Rocky Mountains, USA and Index.

Plants are Clever, 3

Plant metabolism

David Beeson, 24th November 2020

Posh words, like metabolism, frighten some folks. Not you, I’m certain. This word just means the total chemistry inside an organism. And we, plants and even our friend Covid-19 are bundles of chemicals, and they all work via chemical reactions. Yup, you and me are bags of chemistry. If the chemistry goes wrong, we are ill or die.

The study of body chemistry is called biochemistry, and that was my degree. I hated it! It never made sense … which is why I spent much of my life teaching it. Surely, I could do better than my university.

Bios = life, so, biochemistry – the chemistry of life.

Green plants trap carbon dioxide and water using sunlight energy and make things, chemicals, such as glucose.

Energy being the critical word, above.

Animals would start the diagram above from their food, rather than photosynthesis … the end products of digestion, releasing chemicals such as glucose.

In order to grow, an organism, plant, animal or virus, needs to make new chemicals. Building new chemicals is called ANABOLISM. *1 on the diagram. And we all know that making things needs energy.

That energy comes from breaking chemicals down, CATABOLISM. * 2 on the diagram.

So we have an equation: anabolism + catabolism = metabolism.

In a conventional power station we ‘burn’ (catabolism) coal or oil (both energy-rich) to make energy-rich electricity, which we use to make or do things (anabolism).

In organisms the equivalent of the electricity is an energy carrier, abbreviated to ATP. The organism’s energy currency. *3 above.

If the organism runs out of ATP, it is dead.

In most situations the anabolic reactions of making the ATP is called RESPIRATION. Take some cyanide and it stops respiration … and you know the result. No ATP, no life. But, there are lots of catabolic processes. Some need oxygen, some do not – e.g. fermentation to make alcohol needs no oxygen.

Clever, isn’t it.

BUT, organisms need other things in anabolism. To make bones, humans need calcium. Blood needs iron. Plants cannot live only from the outputs from photosynthesis. They need calcium to make cells stick together, iron and magnesium for chlorophyll and nitrates to make DNA, amino acids and proteins. In most plants these inorganic / mineral extras come from the soil. And many folks add fertilizers to ensure these are not in short supply, and limit growth. Me, seldom, as I prefer to add compost or mulched wood.

Ah, but some plants live where the soil is deficient in these extras. They grow in water-logged peaty soils … bogs. So, obtain their extras from capturing and digesting other living organisms, that have these chemicals. These are the CARNIVOROUS PLANTS.

Oval-leaved sundew in a bog near Wareham.

Some books call this type of plant – insectivorous, but they consume anything they can grab – including, in big plants, mammals. In the UK we have: sundews, butterworts and bladderworts. Elsewhere there are pitcher plants and the wonderful Venus fly trap.

The capture mechanisms are all clever diversions from the basic plant design to obtain their anabolic extras. And the ability to find these ‘little extras’ determines which plant lives where, as soil pH also influences mineral availability. Alkaline soils have a different spectrum of available minerals than a neutral or acid one. Different soil pH, different ecology.

Round-leaved sundew
Chasser prairie in Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia, USA. A stunning place with sheets of bladderworts and huge pitcher plants. Put it on your ‘to go to’ list. Amazing place.

So, now you know … a touch of biochemistry can help sort out your ecology!

Homework – look up bladderworts, you’ll not be sorry. Fascinating plants – look for them in the New Forest, Studland Heath and Wareham Forest.

NOTE: over 90 articles available, free of adverts. See: nwhwildlife.org – Rocky Mountains, USA and Index.

What is inside a plant? Stems.

Inside plants – the stem

Let us face it, the stem must provide multiple functions for the plant. It supports the leaves in suitable positions to allow them to photosynthesise, carries water and possibly nutrients up to the leaves or flowers and sugars down to the roots, it may store useful materials such as carbohydrates, perhaps make food itself (if green) and still keep the plant safe from attack. Quite a task. Add to these the need to expand and grow up, and you see that it is a complex organ.

The basics are simple enough.

  1. It is covered in an epidermis that may contain protective toxins and covered in a waterproofing waxy coating.
  2. It has vascular bundles – a package of phloem (organic nutrient transport mainly), a cell division layer (Cambium or meristem) and xylem for mainly water carriage. [In many examples there is a patch of sclenchyma outside the phloem – staining red.]
  3. The rest of the structure is often filled with a cell type called parenchyma that aid turgidity and have storage jobs.

Sometimes the peripheral zone has photosynthetic cells (chlorenchyma) or cells with thickened cell walls to add strength (collenchyma). The ‘corners’ of square stems are often filled with collenchyma – look at mint or deadnettle stems.

To stop water loss hairs may grow out of the epidermis.

There are two stem designs that are common: Those with vascular bundles that occur as a ring in young stems (dicot plants) and those that are more randomly located (monocots like grasses).

Most photographs you will encounter are of young stems. In older stems the vascular bundles merge to form a continuous ring in dicots, and eventually grow into a woody stem.

A vascular bundle. From the top down: Sclerenchyma (red), green-staining irregular cells = phloem. This walled cells of the cambium and the large red-staining cells of the xylem. The other big cells are the parenchyma.
See how the vascular bundles are arranged in a dicot plant.
Epidermis, then cellulose cell walls thickened in the collenchyma and parenchyma at the bottom. Remember, red = cells waterproofed (lignified), green = cellulose cell walls which allow materials through them.
Unusual staining, but look at the distribution of these vascular bundles … monocot!

NOTE: over 90 articles available, free of adverts. See: nwhwildlife.org – Rocky Mountains, USA and Index.

An English Oak Woodland in November – textures and colours

David Beeson, 7th November

NOTE: over 90 articles available, free of adverts. See: nwhwildlife.org – Rocky Mountains, USA and Index.

Oaks and bracken (fern)
While oaks dominate, it is a mixed woodland with birches filling any spaces. Birch numbers are declining.
Silver birch grove.
Not all tree trucks are brown.
Not any tree trunks are brown! Algae, lichens and mosses coat the surfaces.
Hazel leaf. The male catkins are already showing – giving us a clue that spring is ahead.
Spindle berries.
Oak acorns are in abundance this year.

And, yes, as it was a dull day, and I wished to raise your spirits, so the images have been enhanced a bit.


David Beeson

4th November

NOTE: over 90 articles available, free of adverts. See: nwhwildlife.org – Rocky Mountains, USA and Index.

Muscardinus avellanarius

As I have mentioned before, dormice are declining and generally rare or uncommon in the UK. They are southern in distribution and have been one of the mammals I look out for more than most.

Less than a month ago I found what I thought were dormouse nests in my own garden. Had I found them out and about I would have certainly said, “Dormouse”. It isn’t quite so easy when it is your own back yard … a little more certainty is needed. So, I sent my photographs of the nests to The Mammal Society. They were not sure. Dormouse, perhaps harvest mouse? Either would be great news, but despite my trying, harvest mice nests have not been found just here. A couple of miles away, yes, but not really local.

My previous camera trap was stolen from the end of my garden. It was padlocked in place and wire cutters were needed to remove it. I’m sure who did it, but proof is another thing.

A new camera trap / trail camera arrived yesterday. And, like a little kid, I rushed out and set it up immediately. It was not a quality set up, but with dormouse hibernation supposedly almost immediate, a night was not to be wasted.

I woke at dawn to FROST. The camera trap recorded 0 Celcius / 32 F and that doubly says ‘Hibernate all ye dormice.’ Not so, my images are crawling with cute dormice and not a common wood mouse is to be seen.

Now, yes, they are rubbish images … just give me time! So, no hibernation and the cuties still active in freezing conditions.

Food? Forest Edge’s own walnuts, shelled to make life easy for them.

Welcome, dormice.

Yes, they seems to enjoy being upside down
Dormice: Britain's sleepiest, and most charming little creatures
Just wait until I get images like this!

Handling, live trapping or disturbing hazel dormice is illegal.