Monthly Archives: April 2014

In praise of the Dandelion

The recent warm weather has been excellent for pollinating insects; here’s a superb close-up of a bee visiting a Dandelion flower…..

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The Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is generally regarded as a weed, but it’s a shame to dismiss it thus.  It’s an important nectar source for a number of insects (particularly Bumblebees), especially early and late in the year when other flowers may be scarce.   Its also a food plant for larvae of the White Ermine Moth, and its seeds are eaten by finches.  Dandelions are also of interest to foragers and herbalists, and all parts of the plant can be used.  It’s also a beautiful flower when examined up close, as in this photo – taken today by Nic Cairns at Ecoworks Community Garden.

Hawthorn Shield-Bug

Thanks to the folks at The Sumac Centre in Forest Fields, who sent this picture of an interesting insect seen in their garden :

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It’s a Hawthorn Shield-Bug (Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale), the most commonly seen Shield-Bug.  It will have recently emerged from hibernation to breed, and is often seen in gardens at this time of year.  It’s more common in Southern England, but has been steadily expanding north in recent decades – perhaps due to climate change.

Foraging on the Forest Recreation Ground

I found this interesting report about a foraging walk held last Sunday on the Forest Recreation Ground.  The report is from the Building for the Future Blog, a good Nottingham blog, and contains several useful links to information about common foraging plants.  A worthwhile read!

Bee-Friendly Nottingham

The City Council launched a  new campaign this week, aiming to make Nottingham a better city for bees.  Bee-Friendly Nottingham means the Council will undertake some positive land management for bees, as well as promote bee-friendly practices to residents.  It’s a worthy initiative from the Council, and I hope it will succeed.  Get involved!

Jack by the Hedge

I’m focussing on foraging again today.  Jack by the Hedge (Alliaria petiolata) is a spring foraging favourite; also known as Garlic Mustard, it is a very common native perennial in the cabbage family. The distinctive cross-like flowers which characterise the cabbage family can be clearly seen in this photo by Nic Cairns, taken on St. Anns Allotments:

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All parts of Jack by the Hedge are edible.  The plant has a pleasant garlic taste, which becomes more pungent as the plant gets older. The young tender leaves are excellent at this time of year in salads, steamed like spinach, or as a wayside snack!  This can be a useful fresh green contribution to the diet at a time when not many local green vegetable crops are available. Older plants have long fleshy taproots which can be used like horseradish.

It’s also an important food plant for many insects, including the Orange-Tip Butterfly.  However, it is less beneficial in North America, where it was introduced as a culinary plant and has become a troublesome invasive, to the detriment of wildlife there – an illustration of the dangers of invasive species.  Here in Nottingham though, it’s a welcome find for foragers and for wildlife.

Alexanders on “The Island”

Recently I noticed a vigorous growth of Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) growing on “The Island” wasteland site near the city centre…..

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Alexanders is a tall, glossy plant in the carrot family, with yellow flowers arranged in umbels….

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The species was introduced by the Romans as a food plant; now it grows mostly in coastal areas, although it is sometimes found inland on wasteground.  The inland island where I found it is a former industrial site between Sneinton and the city centre.  Despite various schemes to develop the site, it survives, to the benefit of wildlife and informal recreation.  It’s also the Nottingham focus of the Wasteland Twinning project.

Alexanders is a useful plant for the forager – see here and here for some ideas on how to enjoy it.  However, it should only be used if you are 100% certain you have identified it correctly – it has some very poisonous relatives…..

Bee-Fly

Here’s an unusual photo of an unusual insect – The Dark-Edged Bee-Fly (Bombylius major).  It’s a fly that looks like a bumble bee……..

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There are nine UK species of Bee-Fly, and this is the most common.  It has an imposing appearance due to its long proboscis, but this is used for feeding on nectar from flowers, and the fly is harmless to humans.  Their appearance in gardens is a characteristic sign of spring.  This handsome individual was photographed on St.Ann’s Allotments by Nic Cairns.

The River Leen

The River Leen is much less known and celebrated than the Trent in Nottingham, but it is an important local river, with real wildlife value, and with many attractive stretches.  It rises near Newstead, and flows south for about 15 miles until joining the Trent south of the City Centre.  Here’s a map of the section in the city, from the Wildlife in the City River Leen page………

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Although the river has been extensively altered, diverted and polluted in the past, it has a number of green spaces and wildlife sites along its banks, some of which are highlighted on the map above.  It also hosts some significant species, mostly on its northern sections – Otters have been recorded, and there is a good population of Water Voles, which is Britain’s fastest declining wild mammal.  The endangered White-Tailed Crayfish is also present in some sections of the river; it is a priority for action in the Notts Biodiversity Action Plan.

The Leen is the focus of various conservation efforts.  Some culverted sections have been released, and efforts have been made to improve the water quality. There is also an ambitious project to create a sustainable transport corridor for walkers and cyclists along the city section of the Leen – the City Council’s Access and Biodiversity Study (which also has useful detailed maps of the river’s route).  It will be great if this plan encourages people to use this “green corridor” whilst enhancing the biodiversity of the river….

 

Marsh Marigold

Here’s a photo of Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), from the pond at Ecoworks Community Garden….

kingcup

This perennial relative of the buttercup is a characteristic plant of wet ground, and is an attractive spring flower.  Thanks to Nic Cairns for the image.