27 March 2009

Early dog-violet

Now is the best time to see the early dog-violet (Viola reichenbachiana) as it flowers a little before the common dog-violet (Viola riviniana) which occurs in the same areas.  The flowers of the early are slightly paler and have more red in the violet than the common.  They are also narrower and have a purple, as opposed to a pale, spur behind the flower.

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The early dog-violet is an ancient woodland indicator species and occurs mostly on the clay areas of Brede High Woods.  A good place to see it is on the bank of Reservoir Lane on the eastern side of the woods as it drops down the hill from the transmission lines towards the dam to the west. 

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Once you have familiarised yourself with its shape and colour you will pick it up quite easily within the woods themselves,

26 March 2009

Double daffodils, green daffodils

Just off Powdermill Lane in an area of Pond Wood that would have been part of the garden of one of the pre-reservoir houses in Brede High Woods is a fine group of double daffodils.

This is a very old variety, thought to be a form of the wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) dating from at least the early 17th century and variously known as Narcissus telamonius plenus and Narcissus Van Sion.

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Within this group, which must have been here since at least the late 1920s, there was one remarkable green variant.

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This phenomenon, which I am not sure is consistent in the plant year on year, is not unknown with this particular daffodil cultivar.     A. M. Kirby in his 1907 book Daffodils, Narcissi and How to Grow Them wrote "Another vagary of the Double Van Sion is its tendency to produce flowers tinged with green and sometimes almost all green."

25 March 2009

Celandine time

When the sun is shining, the lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) flowers are shining too at this season of the year.


Celandines are fairly widespread in Brede High Woods, often preferring old banks and waysides or some of the damper areas.

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The plant was much used medicinally in the past, particularly as a cure for piles (hence another of its names: pilewort). 

The herbalist Gerard said "the juice of the roots mixed with honie and drawn up into the nostrils purgeth the head of foul and filthy humours."  I should think the power of the inhalation required to draw honey 'up into the nostrils' would be more than sufficient on its own to clear the breathing passages.

21 March 2009

Cherry plum winter

A short distance south west of Austford, to the west of the public footpath are two small trees that are covered in a mass of white flowers.

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They are cherry plums, Prunus cerasifera, a non-native plant that was often used as a stock for other cultivated plums and greengages.  It has also been much used for hedging, especially in its pink flowered and purple leaved forms.  It suckers quite vigorously and often persists after its scions have disappeared.

Apart from its very early flowering, it can be distinguished by its bright green last year's twigs which contrast with the grey older ones..

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Growing where it does it is, presumably, a remnant of the Austford orchard.

17 March 2009

Brimstones and primroses

With the continuing warm weather several butterfly species are on the wing in the woods including peacocks, comma and brimstones.

On the right hand side of the picture below a fine male is nectaring on some primroses at the Old Woodyard. 


The butterflies seem so fresh and bright it is difficult to believe that they have been hibernating since last autumn and are now destined to breed and die before spring is over.

It is only the males that are this bright, citron yellow: the females are paler and can easily be confused with some of the whites when seen in the distance.

16 March 2009

An old summer snowflake

Yesterday I found a large clump of summer snowflake or Loddon lily (Leucojum aestivum) in what used to be the garden area of Austford, the former property by Streetfield Wood at TQ789204.

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The house was demolished in 1934, so this plant is likely to be at least 85 years old and still going strong.  It is not uncommon in this part of the world on roadside verges and similar sites but never far, in my experience, from human habitation.

There are two subspecies L. aestivum ssp. aestivum and L. aestivum ssp. pulchellum and ours appears to be the former, though the differences are slight.

A curious thing about this plant is that no one seems to know, since it flowers in late winter and early spring, why it is called the summer snowflake.

15 March 2009

Goat willow Sunday

The goat willows (Salix caprea) in Brede High Wood and elsewhere in our part of East Sussex have come into flower quickly with the sudden advent of warm weather.  The picture below is of a male, pollen bearing tree.

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This species is also know as great sallow, palm and sally.  It was the tree that poet John Clare was referring to when he wrote: "Ye leaning palms, that seem to look/Pleased o'er your image in the brook" and 'sally' features in Yeats's poem Down by the Sally Gardens, this, I think, referring to a place where sallows, willows and osiers were grown for basket making.

The term 'palm' came about because the sprays of flowers were used in the British Isles on Palm Sunday ceremonies as a substitute for real palms.  This year Palm Sunday is on 6th April, by which time most of the goat willow will have finished, but there will surely be other willow species that will fit the bill.

Sallows are very important for insects that fly in late winter and early spring and the trees can often be heard 'humming' as the insects fly from catkin to catkin.  At night they are often crowded with moths.

Today it was encouraging to see large numbers of honey bees in attendance.  Many of these were taking nectar and pollen from catkins that had fallen to the ground: the last of the winter wine.

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9 March 2009

Buildings of Brede High Woods 4.

The picture below shows a view of the Old Woodyard last May. 

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The buildings on the right have now been taken down and the rubbish cleared up leaving the building on the left in splendid isolation apart from the small wooden office behind.  Here it is on a frosty morning.

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The old Southern Water notices have gone too.

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How well I remember when visiting these woods meant keeping to the public footpaths or trespassing in places where you were unwelcome.  And how it has been totally transformed now that all the woods are open to everyone.

4 March 2009

Late winter walk with hellebores

Thirteen of us set out today for a four hour walk round the woods on a cold, bright afternoon.

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The excitement was all too  much for the little dog.

There were a few early flowers out: primroses, barren strawberry, one wood anemone.

A highlight was the green hellebore (Helleborus viridis), now at its best.  Their colour has a great intensity as I imagine Robin Hood's Lincoln green must have been.

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The plant reminds me of a rule-breaking section from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh:

                                                  the walls
     Were green, the carpet was pure green, the straight
     Small bed was curtained greenly, and the folds
     Hung green about the window, which let in
     The out-door world with all its greenery.