Friday, November 06, 2015

Ten years and counting

4th November was the tenth anniversary of this window box wildlife project.  Generally speaking the box seems to have settled into a fairly stable state with many of the plants happily co-habiting.  And still there is no sign of falling fertility.

The picture above shows the top of the sallow log with its remarkable plant assemblage: various mosses, rushes (Juncus sp.), willowherb (Epilobium sp.), hairy tare, white clover, birch, hazel and yew.  I thought the latter had died, but it perked up in summer and produced some brownish new leaves (between the two clumps of rush).  Just off to the right is a leaf of ragwort.  There are several small plants of this, all relatively recent arrivals.

The picture above is of a berry of tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum), a plant that has been growing in the box for many years.  Most books say the berries are poisonous, but others that they are simply inedible: I suspect the latter is true as no evidence seems to be offered as to the nature of any toxicity.

The specific name of the plant androsaemum is from Classical Greek and means 'man's blood', andros aimon.  This is said to be because the berries, if squashed, produce a red, blood-like juice. They don't.  The named was coined by Dioscorides who was born in what is now Turkey, worked for the Roman army and wrote in Greek.  Perhaps he meant some other plant.

Another verbal curiosity is that as well as tutsan, the plant is known as 'park-leaves'.  Some books say, with impeccable logic, that this is because it grows in parks, but it is not especially prominent in this habitat.  I think a better conjecture, given in The Dictionary of Plant Lore, is that 'park' is a corruption of  Hypericum.  But why 'leaves' instead of  'leaf'?  There is possibly a clue in the Welsh term for the plant dail y beiblau meaning 'bible leaves' (because people used to use the pleasantly balsam scented leaves as page markers in their bibles).  Maybe park-leaves were used in the same way in England.

If anyone has noticed them, the yellow-orange spots on the park-leaves leaves are caused by the rust fungus Melampsora hypericorum, which seems to occur wherever the plant grows.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Fat caterpillar

Noticing that the taller sallow was looking a bit shredded with some sort of feeding damage, I quickly found the culprit was the fat caterpillar above.  It is a copper underwing, Amphipyra pyramidea.  It can be distinguished from its lookalike Svensson's copper underwing by the break in the white line on its side towards the front end (lower left in the picture) and the fact that it has a yellow rather than a red tip to its rear hump.

It is a new record for the window box and must have fed up very quickly as I have not noticed it until today.  The moth flies later in the year and the species overwinters as an egg, indicating that it must have survived in this condition in the window box for six or seven months.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Coppice time

In a brief spell of rather cold sunshine, I tackled the annual job of cutting back the sallows today.  Before and after pictures below.



There has been a surprising amount of growth on the sallows during the year and I continue to wonder where they get the nourishment from as no fertiliser is ever applied to the box.  I suppose it must come down in the rain and, to some extent, through the nitrogen fixing abilities of the clover and vetch.

The stick at the rear on the left is a two-year old wand which I have allowed to grow to about half a metre as a sort of cordon or pollard

With a bit of tidying up the top of the box looks quite presentable and very varied.


It does collect a lot of dead leaves in autumn though and I never know whether to leave them or tidy them away.  Perhaps I could put them into a neat leaf mould pile in some neglected corner.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Close encounter

Because, I suppose, of the recent wet weather the slugs and snails have been active everywhere.  The other day I spotted this tree slug (Limax maculatus) slithering slowly up a sallow wand.  Eventually it progressed onto a leaf already occupied by larvae of the sawfly Nematus pavidus.


The caterpillars kept flicking up their tails to discourage the slug, which quite quickly turned tail and headed into a less crowded area.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Summer variety

Many small things go on in the window box at this time of year and I can easily get overwhelmed with what needs to be worked out or dealt with.  Not that this couple of Sapromyza flies (Dipt: Lauxaniidae) would care about that:



One of the sallows has a fungal affliction that slightly distorts the leaves and there are yellowish patches of  ‘rust’ on the lower surface.  It is undoubtedly a micro-fungus, but I cannot pin it down to a particular species.


The colonies of Aphis gossypii on the tutsan are growing and the ants love the honeydew they secrete.  The abdomen of the ant on the right is gorged with it, but she is still drinking.  The black pods are of hairy tare.

I am still fascinated by the way the top of the small log is turning into a plateau of biodiversity.


One of the rush stalks has grown right through the blade of a leaf on the hazel (see below).  This means the leaf will not be blown away by autumn gales and its nutrients can go beck into the log top.


Saturday, August 09, 2014

The chequered fruit-tree tortrix

The caterpillar I found in a rolled leave of tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum) on 30th June (see below) pupated and hatched into a moth recently.  It turned out to be a chequered fruit-tree tortrix (Pandemis corylana), a species whose larvae are usually found on trees, especially oaks.


Having photographed it, I took it back to the window box and let it go near the plants where I found its caterpillar.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Aphis gossypii

The blackflies depicted here on a shoot of tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum) have been identified by Bob Dransfield, the national aphid recorder as Aphis gossypii, the cotton or melon aphid.


This is a widespread pest in the tropics but not so frequently recorded in Britain.  It can easily be confused with two other aphid species, Aphis chloris and an unnamed Aphis.

Although they are a difficult group, much progress in the identification of British aphids can be made by using this web site: