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

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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.