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Wildlife Garden blog

2 Posts tagged with the woodland tag
1

At this time of year we are watching for the first signs of life on the ground, and in this exceptionally mild winter the glossy green spikes of bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) leaves had already started poking through the leaf litter in late December followed by the curled leaves of dog’s mercury (Mercurialis perennis). And in a small corner, the blue-green tips of snowdrop have been gently pushing through the soil.

 

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) were not planted in the Garden and do not belong in the woodland plant communities that we're trying to create, but when a single snowdrop flower first appeared a few years ago I didn't have the heart to remove it and I have watched it reappear each year with steady but increasing vigour. Its first flowering date has varied by a few days to a week - the latest being 4 February last year - a harsh winter. We found it in flower at lunchtime today - 27 January -  though there were plenty of earlier sightings elsewhere in the country as reported in The Woodland Trust's Nature's Calendar.

 

Wildlife%20Garden%2027Jan2014_037[1] copy-700px.JPGSnowdrop in the Wildlife Garden - lunchtime on 27 January

Jonathan Jackson

 

But is it or is it not indigenous to Britain? Museum botanist, Fred Rumsey, tells us more about this dainty flower and how it arrived in this country:


Snowdrops are so familiar to us and are so ubiquitous in those areas around where we live that it has been natural to think of them as native.

 

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Common snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) in drifts in a wooded Somerset lane

Fred Rumsey

 

However, this isn’t the case and although we know that they were present in British gardens by 1597, the first records from a wild situation were not made until 1778. Clues to their true status can be gained by looking in detail at where they appear in our landscape and in which habitats.

 

In most cases it is apparent from where the plants have escaped as most plants grow near gardens, when in wilder places they usually appear with other plants of garden origin; seed-set is often poor and most spread is by gradual division of the bulbs. This clonal spread is often most apparent where the double flowered ‘flore pleno’ forms have been planted.

 

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Galanthus ‘Blewbury Tart’: found in St. Michael’s churchyard, Blewbury, Oxon. in the 1970s - it has upward facing rather spiky double flowers

Fred Rumsey


People often don’t realise that there are actually quite a few species of snowdrop (genus Galanthus). Views differ on how many, but most authorities currently recognize 20. These are distributed from southern-central Europe, through the eastern Mediterranean, down to the mountains of the Middle East but with the highest concentration of species and diversity in Turkey and the Caucasus.

 

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Galanthus ikariae: a broad green-leaved snowdrop from the Greek Islands. Plants now sold as this are usually the similar G. woronowii from the Caucasus. It has a smaller green mark.

Fred Rumsey

 

While all rather similar in appearance subtle differences help differentiate them. The key points to look at are the arrangement of the leaves when they emerge: are they separate and facing each other, or does one wrap round the other? Are the margins flat or neatly folded under?

 

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Supervolute vernation: the inner leaf wrapped by the outer, as shown by Galanthus elwesii and very different from that shown by G. nivalis

Fred Rumsey

 

What colour are they: grey, greeney-grey or green; matt or glossy? The flowers too differ: when are they produced, from Autumn to late spring, and in their form - the shape and colouration of the three smaller, inner perianth segments being most useful to tell the species apart.


Much of the horticultural interest in these plants though is not centred on the wild-type species but on the selected cultivars of them, many of which are of hybrid origin. The return of soldiers and tourists from the Crimean wars with floral souvenirs in the shape of the more robust and free-seeding Galanthus plicatus (pleated snowdrop) brought excellent breeding stock back into British gardens. These when mixed with the common snowdrops in our gardens have given rise to some of the most garden-worthy and persistent snowdrop cultivars.

 

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Galanthus ‘Wasp’: a popular cultivar with narrow outer perianth segments and strong markings on the inners which together give its waspish appearance

Fred Rumsey


In recent years these plants have been experiencing a huge surge of interest with many more gardeners overcome by ‘Galanthomania’ - the demand for new and interesting named cultivars pushing prices up to stratospheric levels.

 

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  Galanthus ‘Hippolyta’: a very neat double flowered hybrid raised by H.A. Greatorex in the 1940s

Fred Rumsey

 

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Galanthus elwesii ‘Grumpy’

Fred Rumsey

 

Each year during the brief season some bulbs change hands on internet auction sites for many hundreds of pounds. Flowers in which the green colouration normally just found on the tips of the inner segments occurs over much of the flower seem particularly sought after and fought over, as are those with more peculiarly shaped flowers with all of the segments similar in shape and colour - my favourites of these are ‘Trym’ and ‘South Hayes’.

 

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Galanthus ‘South Hayes’

Fred Rumsey

 

Thank you Fred, and for the beautiful photographs.

0

On return from a week's absence, I was eager to see how our autumn pattern of colours had developed over the past few days in the Garden - ever hopeful that the leathery leaves of the London planes had been whisked away by the high winds last week - they hadn't. But the leaves of field maple had now turned a vibrant yellow and the beautiful honeyed glow of beech had faded. Several hazel have yet to turn colour and many berries and hips remain on trees and shrubs. Here is more, from Larissa who finds some striking comparisons with last year:

 

"This time last year I wrote about the autumnal work we were busy with in the Wildlife Garden. It was 27 November and autumn was well under way. This year, it all seems a bit late. News articles have appeared since October debating whether autumn is late, and by the Woodland Trust’s estimations from data collected in their citizen science project Nature’s Calendar, autumn did arrive around 14 days later than previous years.

 

So it got me wondering and digging around last year’s photos to compare them to this year and there are definitely some variations. The first noticeable difference on last year is the abundance of fruits and berries we have had in the Garden. In fact the rowan (Sorbus acuparia) is still holding on to some fruit not yet eaten by the blackbirds – who haven’t had a short supply of food this year!

 

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Rowan fruits are in abundance this year with large bunches such as this one covering the trees.

© Jonathan Jackson

 

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The rowan tree last year, on 14 November 2012.

© Jonathan Jackson

 

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The same rowan tree this year, on 21 November 2013.

© Jonathan Jackson

 

You can see from the above two pictures the branches of the rowan trees in 2012 were bare compared to 2013, where the leaves are hanging on and the fruits are abundant.

 

At the edge of the meadow, the beech (Fagus sylvatica) and hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) trees last year were already vibrant in mid-November, but the colours still hadn’t matched 2012 by late November this year.

 

2a- 14 Nov 2012 (meadow trees) J. Jackson.jpg

Our beech woodland in 2012.

© Jonathan Jackson

 

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And the beech this year, on 21 November 2013.

© Jonathan Jackson

 

Looking out from the bridge across the chalk pond, you can see from the pictures below the green leaves on the trees that had already turned two weeks earlier last year.

 

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The chalk pond in 2012.

© Jonathan Jackson

 

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And the chalk pond in 2013.

© Jonathan Jackson

 

Our other woodlands such as this coppice area in the centre of the Garden are strikingly different, and the mature lime tree (Tilia x europea) in the centre of the garden still had some leaves late November this year.

 

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Our coppice woodland in 2012.

© Jonathan Jackson

 

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And a similar view of the coppice woodland in 2013.

© Jonathan Jackson

 

Even now, in December things seem behind of last year. We are still raking falling plane tree (Plantanus x hispanica) leaves and looking up at the branches, some still rather full! I can’t help but view them by how many bags they will fill. The Hazels (Corylus avellana), oaks (Quercus robur) and silver birch (Betula pendula) also have many more leaves still attached compared to last year.

 

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Hazel, oak and birch trees still clinging on to some leaves this year ...

© Larissa Cooper

 

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... compared to last year

© Sue Snell

 

But there is a positive side to this. This time last year, the ground was frosty and cold...

 

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Leaves on the ground were covered in frost this time last year.

© Larissa Cooper

 

...which we are yet to experience this year, but when we do, we'll still be out there in the Wildlife Garden, preparing it for you all to come and enjoy when we re-open on a daily basis again in spring!

 

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No frost in the garden yet this year...

© Larissa Cooper

 

You can help the woodland trust monitor wildlife phenology by taking part in their citizen science projects at Nature’s Calendar.

 

Thank you Larissa!

 

And for more autumn delights from the Wildlife Garden you can watch Mark Spencer on his fungal foray in the Garden last month: