Bramble flower

Brambles are ubiquitous in Cheshire at this time of year, with those spiky stems riotously spreading forth from every wild patch and hedgerow. When I first saw these attractive hedgerow flowers out in the countryside I thought they might be some sort of wild rose, but no, they are simply quite large bramble flowers. And the spikes are vicious.

bramble flower

Must remember to pass that way again in a couple of months time to pick the blackberries!

Alien gorse

There was plenty of yellow common gorse on display at Anderton Country Park recently, but I was puzzled by this rather pretty red-flecked plant – a single specimen. A web search suggests it could be gorse bitter pea, an Australian flowering plant, quite out of place in the English countryside – but very pretty nevertheless. This is in a recently regenerated part of the woodland; maybe someone, or some animal/bird, put it there?

red gorse

Wild garlic

It’s wild garlic time in the woods, with that strangely garlicy-but-not aroma. With dappled shade, there can be strikingly lit patches amid the gloom.wild garlic

It lifts the heart, makes the spirit sing, to see such patches. I almost get that sense also with the photograph. But actually it doesn’t bear technical scrutiny. The contrast is too much, the light too bright, the shade too dark. So nothing’s very sharp, if you look up close. Never mind, I love it!

This plant is also called ramsons or wood garlic. The latter seems most appropriate.

 

 

Wild strawberry flowers

Following success in identifying the cuckoo flower, what were these similar small white flowers seen in a huge mass under trees during our next escape to Anderton Country Park? These had a yellow centre.

wild strawberriesThe obvious answer did not immediately occur to me. Scanning through the wildflower book it became clear from the shape of the leaves that it is a wild strawberry, also appropriately known as the woodland strawberry.

Interestingly, my telephoto close-up attempt did not work well – if you look closely, what is best in focus is the grass stalks rather than the flowers.

wild strawberry grass

 

Cuckoo flower

The other day we heard our first cuckoo of spring, in fact the first for several years, in Anderton Country Park. Cuckoos were ubiquitous in my youth, but alas no longer.

We then saw these small white flowers by the canal, which I had seen other years and been meaning to look up. What a surprise, when they turned out to be cuckoo flowers – so named because their appearance tended to coincide with the hearing of the first cuckoos!

cuckoo flower

Buttercup clump

A clump of coarse grass in a grassy field studded with buttercups.

buttercup clump

This was a large field, lots of clumps and lots of buttercups. This was the only framing that seemed to work. What do you think?

The genus ranunculus is poisonous, even to cows in significant quantities. But it’s OK when dried, as in hay.

Spring in George Bush Park

Houston was only relatively recently wrenched from the Texas swamps (founded 1836). The city is now mainly a man-made environment where nature clings on where it can. There are some areas that are in a relatively natural state. George Bush Park is one of these, because it lies behind Barker Dam, which protects much of residential and downtown Houston from flooding after heavy rainfall events. So the park is regularly flooded in varying degrees.

We recently managed a lovely spring walk through a seemingly remote part of the park, actually just a few minutes from Interstate I10. The featured image shows one of the patches of swamp vegetation, which were probably typical of the area before Houston came along.

Much of the land is scrub interspersed with lakes. This new grass was growing just at the edge of a lake as the water receded. The grass was only a few inches high; getting the camera down to near ground level was essential here.

bush grasses

Highlight of the walk was the number of wildflowers in evidence. The spring sunshine had really brought them out. Bees and other insects were in evidence, not so persecuted here as in other parts of Houston. Here’s a selection.

 

Animal tracks in the mud showed signs of grazers and predators of varying sizes, but they keep well away from people, with good reason.

Footnotes

The park is named after President George HW Bush, who we saw was very popular in Houston in his later years.

The park is not virgin land; it was a ranch before being taken over for use as a reservoir.

Barker Dam leapt to worldwide attention during the dramatic events of Hurricane Harvey 2½ years ago, when the dam was tested to its limits.

 

 

Catkins

There’s not much apparently going on in the vegetation of the English countryside early February. Most of it is pretty dormant, apart from the odd flowering gorse and some early bulbs coming up. But we did come across these beautiful catkins in full glory in Anderton Country Park.

catkins

Catkins are actually flowers, with inconspicuous or no petals. They occur on a number of different tree types. This BBC Earth post suggests that these photographed are probably of the hazel tree, which has catkins late autumn, which then lengthen and turn golden with pollen towards the end of January.

Here they are close up.

catkins close

Chicory

Nearly 30 years ago it was Alf who brought to my attention these patches of blue flowers that are frequently seen by the roadside in France and Spain. They are common chicory, a member of the dandelion family (it is also known as blue dandelion). The individual flowers are actually quite beautiful, they last but a short time, with new flowers appearing daily.

chicory flower

Roasted chicory root is used as a coffee substitute or additive, found in some types of French coffee. Interestingly, the salad leaf endive is of the same family, also sometimes known as chicory.

Thistle

The common thistle (cirsium, I think this is) is often disregarded because of its spiky attire, and also because it is somewhat common, probably because the spikes make it difficult for grazers to eat. Take a second look and it can be rather beautiful, both in the heads, intertwined with delicate silky threads…

thistle heads

… and in the flowers that emerge therefrom.

thistle flower

It helps to be using the Panasonic TZ200, a step up in capability from my TZ80, probably largely due to its increased sensor size and enhanced macro capability.

Buttercup meadows

Much of the area to the north east of Northwich town centre was industrial wilderness for a long time. It was like a grey ash-covered wasteland when I first visited Northwich in the late 1960s. But the land is now very much being restored. It was pleasing to recently see these buttercup meadows in full flower in Furey Wood (old tip) and Anderton Country Park (old industrial land).

Yet there is a long way to go. Great biodiversity there is not. The buttercup is the great surviver and coloniser. Like the silver birch tree, it does a great job on reclaimed land. But this is a long way from the incredible richness and biodiversity of the glorious meadows, such as I first witnessed in Switzerland in the 1960s.

Like much of the British countryside, centuries of industrialization and increasingly large-scale farming have taken their toll. This is an over-exploited landscape. There is still a long way to go.

Dandelion Clocks

It’s that time of the year in UK, where dandelion clocks appear in abundance, to the great delight of children, who love to blow the seeds away. I must admit to tending to take them for granted, but when you really take a good look, how amazing are these crystal-like spheres suspended over the grass.

They’re also not that easy to photograph close up with an instant camera. I managed the following with my Panasonic TZ80 travel zoom by using the ‘post-focus’ facility, whereby you can select the best from several frames taken at the same time.

dandelion clock

As a child I once had a project to take dandelion clocks into school for the lesson in the morning. Sadly it was a very windy that morning, and I don’t think any clocks arrived at school intact! Rather traumatic for us children!

Wild Parsnip

On our recent visit to Devon we saw lots of these yellow flowers that look otherwise like the white cow parsley, wild carrot etc. A bit of web research suggests that this is wild parsnip.

wild parsnip 2

Although the root of wild parsnip is edible, the shoots and leaves should be handled with caution as their sap contains photo-sensitive chemicals which can cause a reddening, blisters and burning of the skin. It is regarded as an invasive species in parts of North America.

It occurs to me that I have a similar looking umbellifer in the back garden, a fennel plant, but fennel does not have such poisonous attributes and flowers much later in the year.